BULENT ECEVIT, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEW TURKISH GOVT.
FOLLOWER OF GITA AND INTERPRETER OF GEETANJALI
Bulent Ecevit, twice Prime Minister in 1970s, now Deputy Prime Minister in the new secular Turkish govt, when in opposition a few months ago, during a Parliamentary debate praised India's democracy and its political leadership,for having got together from the very left to the right of the political spectrum to keep out the religious Bhartiya Janata party out of power , unlike in Turkey , where in a similar situation the secular party leaders had failed to remain together and had allowed Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's Refah party to head a coalition with secularTrue Path party (DYP) of Deputy PM Tansu Ciller. Following the December 1995 Elections, in which Refah had won 160 seats out of 550 ,with the two secular right of center parties DYP of Ciller and Motherland Party ( Anap) of Mesut Yilmaz each getting around 130 seats each and Ecevit's left of center DSP 75 seats, the coaliton govt formed under pressure from secular elite , the West and the Armed Forces between Yilmaz and Ciller collapsed after a few months. The Refah led coalition with DYP formed in July 1996, resigned on 19 June , 1997 after only eleven months, after opposition from secular forces led by the Armed Forces., which accused the govt of promoting Islamic fundamentalism and threatened to intervene unless the Refah led govt quit.
In 1974, on a visit to London I had switched on the BBC Television and saw Bulent Ecevit, then Prime Minister who had just sent the Turkish troops to Cyprus, where they still stay put, being interviewed. When asked what gave him the courage to send in the troops, which many other Turkish Prime Ministers in the past would have liked to do but dared not; apart from other reasons he said that he was encouraged by the teachings of Bhagavata Geeta ; if one is morally in a correct position, one should not hesitate to fight injustice against mighty and even against ones near and dear ones. Earlier I had read an interview in the International Herald Tribune , in which the interviewer remarked on the books in Ecevit's library and among others , he prominently pointed out the Geeta and Nehru's Glimpses of World History, which Ecevit said had affected him profoundly.
Inspite of stereotyped West promoted notion of the terrible Turk, following centuries of Crusades and Jihad between them, Turks are no different than other people and having never been enslaved are a proud people, who hold India and its leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi etc , Indian civilisation and culture and the democratic system in the highest regard., not withstanding their having been on the other side during the Cold War and their quid pro quo support to Pakistan on Kashmir, for the latter's support on Cyprus and other issues.
When I returned to Ankara in 1992, ( having been earlier in Turkey from 1969 to 1973) I requested Mr Ecevit to elucidate his views on Geeta's role in his decision to invade the Republic of Cyprus. He said that Turkey along with UK and Greece was one of the Guarantor powers in the Cypriot Constitution according to which , if a change was brought in the status of Cyprus, it could act with them to restore the situation. The Greek Cypriot leadership in league with Greece after a coup had declared unity with Greece ( Enosis ) and as Britain was dithering ( to take any action ),Turkey had no option but to protect Turkish Cypriots and its interests. As for Geeta's influence in his decison making he said that he abhorred violence in politics and even in international relations, but he was convinced that the situation created by the Greek Cypriots brought the Greek border with Turkey right into Cyprus and enlarged it. It would have led to constant tensions and perhaps a full scale war between Turkey and Greece. So with a heavy heart he ordered the military strike as he felt that he was morally right and the action would ultimately produce less strife and violence in the long run.( While he was quoting Geeta in international media, we , ofcourse, because of our foreign policy compulsions were denouncing Turkish invasion in the UN and elsewhere).
Mr Ecevit mentiond Bhagvad Geeta again when I recalled his defeating the legendary and venerable leader Ismet Inonu ( whom Nehru had met in 1960 during his visit to Turkey ,inspite of the opposition of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes) in the contest for party leadership in 1972. Inonu was the right hand man of Kemal Ataturk,Turkey's liberator, founder and moderniser. Inonu became Turkey's President after Ataturk' death in 1938 ( and earlier was most of the time Prime minister ) and adroitly kept Turkey out of the Second World War-(if the Turks joined the Allies , they would be first overrun by the Nazis and then liberated by the Soviet Russians ) He played a vital role in Turkey's transition from one party rule to multiparty democracy.
After the 1971 Army ultimatum which forced Prime minister Suleyman Demirel to resign, Ecevit and Inonu had different perceptions of the political situation. Ecevit had opposed the ultimatum, while Inonu had acquiesced in,not to exacerbate the situation.at that juncture.Ecevit said that he had the greatest regard for Inonu, a father figure ( Bulent' s father was Inonu's personal physician and close friend) and who was his teacher and leader( like Dronacharya !) , but he differed from his teacher very strongly and in order to make up his mind and choose the right path , he again studied Geeta before taking up the poltical fight against Inonu..Inonu lost; he resigned from the party and died a year latter at the age of 89.
Ecevit was born at Istanbul in 1925 and as a young man took some Sanskrit lessons at the Indology department of Ankara University .Like our Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ecevit is a poet, but a leftist and had also worked as a journalist. Represening the coalminers of Black Sea coast town of Zonguldak,as a labour minister he gave the Turkish workers the right to strike for the first time in Turkey .He has translated Ezra Pound and TS Elliot.He was Prime Minister in 1974 and twice from 1977 to 1979. in coalition govts, once with Necemettin Erbakan, the first Islamist Prime Minister. In a military exercise Ecevit was greatly pained and concernrd with the agony of an injured horse, much to the disgust and chagrin of his Military Chief, Gen. Kenen Evren.
When Ecevit was posted as Cultural Attache in the Turkish Embassy in Londonin 1950s, His love for poetry and a philosophic bent of mind had brought him to the study of Rabindra Nath Tagore's Geetanjali and Bhagvata Geeta.. He learnt Sanskrit to better understand Geeta and Bengali to appreciate and translate Tagore's writings ( and he was surprised to find similarities between Turkish and Sanskrit and Bengali , not only in the vocabulary but in the syntax also). He said that he had translated only a few poems from Geetanjali. He would like to do more but his profession gave him little respite. Tagore's works, Geetanjali ( in full), Gora, Hungry Stones, the Gardener, Chitra ,Stray Birds etc ,perhaps more than 20 works have been translated into Turkish , most longtime ago, some recently.
In 1971, after the Military crackdown on leftists, mysteriously Upanishads, Geeta,Geetanjali etc were banned. On enquiries, it was revealed that these books were found along with writings of Karl Marx, Engels and Lenin in a leftists den and in the beauracracy as no one went through them , all were banned. The ban on Indian writings was soon lifted. ( During the early 1970s Naxalism and Kanu Sanyal and Charu Majumdar were seriously studied by the leftist students in Ankara )
Ecevit was invited by President Shankar Dayal Sharma to visit India during his visit to Turkey in 1993, but the continued and almost perennial political crisis in Turkey has not allowed him to come to India. He is of course very keen to visit Shantiniketan and listen to Bengali as it is spoken in Calcutta. And perhaps learn a thing or two from India's Deng Xiaoping , Jyoti Basu. Only Calcutta can have a Karl Marx street and a Siemen's street under the same regime.
PM Ecevit during his visit to India in 2000 went to Shantniketan where he was honoured for his work.
I hope this will add to the knowledge about Indo Turkish relations .
I am circulating it to some on my mailing list of over around 400 which comprises of ,politicians including ministers ,policy makers ,retired and active diplomats, civil servants , military officers, journalists ,think tanks, university professors, faculty at diplomatic and defence institutes, business consultants and others in India, US ,Turkey, Jordan ,Romania and many other countries .Exchanges with them keeps me up to date and on my toes. .
Cheers Gajendra 22 Feb 2010.Delhi
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