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Turkey: The Armed Forces Coup and Interim Rule, 1960-61
Country Study > Chapter 1 > Historical Setting > Turkey after Atatürk > The Armed Forces Coup and Interim Rule, 1960-61

THE ARMED FORCES COUP AND INTERIM RULE, 1960-61


Atatürk had always insisted that the military forces, as a national institution above partisanship and factionalism, should stay out of politics. The military leadership traditionally had subscribed to this viewpoint, with the proviso that a major role of the armed forces was to act as guardian of the constitution and Kemalism. By 1960, with the military already deeply involved in political affairs because of the government's use of martial law to enforce its policies, the senior command concluded that the government had departed from Kemalist principles and that the republic was in imminent danger of disintegration. On May 27, 1960, Turkish army units, under the direction of the chief of General Staff, Cemal Gürsel, seized the principal government buildings and communications centers and arrested President Bayar, Prime Minister Menderes, and most of the DP representatives in the Grand National Assembly, as well as a large number of other public officials. Those arrested were charged with abrogating the constitution and instituting a dictatorship.

The coup was accomplished with little violence and was accepted quickly throughout the country. The government was replaced by the Committee of National Unity (CNU), composed of the thirty-eight officers who had organized the coup. The committee acted as supreme authority, appointing a cabinet, initially consisting of five officers and thirteen civilians, to carry out executive functions. The number of civilians in the cabinet, however, was later reduced to three. General Gürsel, who had fought at Gallipoli under Atatürk, temporarily assumed the positions of president, prime minister, and defense minister. At the outset, Gürsel announced that the committee's rule would be of an interim nature and that government would be returned to civilian hands at an early date.

The most pressing problems the CNU faced in the first months after the coup were economic. The ousted regime had been responsible for inflation and heavy debt, and emergency austerity measures had to be taken to stabilize the economy. An economic planning agency, the State Planning Organization, was established to study social and economic conditions and to draw up the country's five-year development plans.

In January 1961, a constituent assembly was formed in which the CNU participated. This interim legislature produced a new constitution, which, after much debate, it ratified in May and submitted to a popular referendum in July. This constitution, which created Turkey's so-called Second Republic, contained a number of substantial departures from the 1924 constitution but continued to embody the principles of Kemalism. The new constitution was approved by 60 percent of the electorate. The large opposition vote was a disappointment to the CNU and showed that sympathy for the DP persisted, particularly in socially conservative small towns and rural constituencies.

Meanwhile, the trial of some 600 former government officials and DP functionaries had begun in October 1960 on the island of Yassiada in the Bosporus. All but about 100 of those tried were found guilty, and fifteen death sentences were pronounced. Partly in response to public appeals for leniency, the death sentences of former President Bayar and eleven others were commuted to life imprisonment, but Menderes and two former cabinet ministers were hanged.

Fourteen political parties offered candidates in the October 1961 election, but only four won seats in the bicameral Grand National Assembly created under the new constitution. The results gave the CHP 173 seats in the lower house -- the 450-member National Assembly -- and only thirty-six in the 150-member Senate. The Justice Party (Adalet Partisi -- AP), generally recognized as the heir of the DP, obtained 158 seats in the lower house and seventy in the upper. The remaining seats were divided between the New Turkey Party and the Republican Peasants' Nation Party, subsequently renamed the Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Haraket Partisi -- MHP). The New Turkey Party was led by onetime DP dissidents who had broken with Menderes in the mid-1950s; the MHP attracted militant rightists. Because neither of the two larger parties commanded a majority, formation of a broad coalition either between the two larger parties or between one of them and the two smaller parties would be necessary.

Data as of January 1995




Last Updated: January 1995


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Turkey was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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