TURKEY: Wild West of the Middle East

  • Share
  • Read Later

Since the birth of the Truman Doctrine, Turkey has been an American outpost. To the tough peasant republic, created 26 years ago by iron-willed, Western minded Kemal Ataturk, the U.S. has sent a steady flow of moral, military and economic help. Last week, from Istanbul on the strategic Dardanelles which Russia has long coveted, TIME Correspondent George Jones cabled:

Istanbul's paved boulevards and narrow cobbled streets echo with the shrill tootle of otomobiller dodging rickety, horse-drawn carts and blind beggars. Smoke-blackened industrial towers, dubbed "Ataturk's minarets," jut skyward between the graceful spires of the Ottomans. The muezzin still calls the faithful to prayer, but in place of flowing robes, he wears a Western business suit. Near the waterfront, hollow-eyed children stare from the windows of tottering wooden tenements. In the dimly lighted bar of the sleek Park Hotel, Turkish intelligence agents mingle with American engineers and Balkan refugees, drinking the latest Yankee concoction of vodka and orange juice, called a "screwdriver."

Istanbul is a symbol of Turkey in its dizzying mixture of progress and backwardness, its perpetual anxiety over war and its hope for a modern future. "This country," says one Marshall Planner, "is the Wild West in the Middle East."

State of Siege. One night, in a village restaurant between the Black Sea and Ankara, my dinner was interrupted by a group of grizzled oldsters drinking raki (grape brandy). One called across the smoky room: "When are you Americans going to stop the Russians?" No country in the West so deeply hates and fears the Russians. Turkey lives in a state of siege. Russian propagandists have been claiming Turkey's eastern provinces for the Soviet motherland. Radio Sofia purrs the happy lot of Bulgaria's Turkish minority; Radio Azerbaijan calls on all Kurds, including Turkey's, to revolt.

Cement pillboxes dot the rolling plains of Thrace; piles of stone lie by the roadsides for emergency roadblocks. From the border of Bulgaria in the west to Ararat in the east, Turkish riflemen stand guard. Almost half a million men are in the armed forces—a staggering burden for a poor country of 19 million people. Defense takes 40% of Turkey's budget.

Day & night Turkish police watch the massive, drafty Soviet embassy in Ankara and the consulate general in Istanbul. Russian cars are trailed relentlessly. (Sometimes four or five Russians will dash out, separate, pile into different automobiles before the one or two Turkish police can figure out which car to follow.) Counter-espionage is big business here. From the time any foreigner, from private citizen to ambassador, enters the country, his movements are known. A vast army of full-time and part-time informers keeps Turkish intelligence posted on who goes where, who meets whom, who said what. Turkey's jittery police often resort to drastic measures. Occasionally an Istanbul newspaper notes briefly and enigmatically that the body of a Turk or an Eastern European has been fished up from the dark waters of the Bosporus. One local definition of such events: "Death from over-interrogation."

The Turkish Communist party is an underground outlaw. Today Turkish Communists and their sympathizers probably number less than 5,000 persons.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3