A Living Symbol of the "Turkish Model"
10 March 2014
By Amir Taheri
Watching former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi's
trial on television the other day, I caught myself
thinking of other leaders who fell victim to the turns
of the political wheel of fortune. How did they cope
with their fate? Did they thirst for revenge? Or,
pinning hopes on history's judgement, did they try to
move beyond the diktat of the here and now?
Often, the way they behaved played a crucial role in
shaping the course of their nation's politics—for
better or for worse.
Dismissed by the Shah in August 1953, Iran's prime
minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, decided to cut himself
off from the outside and spent years sulking, in line
with well-established Iranian traditions. The "Great
Sulk," as his posture came to be known, deepened the
division within the ruling establishment, paving the
way for the seizure of power by mullahs more than a
quarter of a century later.
In Afghanistan, Muhammad Daoud Khan developed an
almost pathological hatred for his cousin, King
Mohammed Zahir Shah, who had ordered his dismissal as
prime minister. Having nurtured that hatred for years,
Daoud worked with all sorts of plotters to topple his
crowned cousin. His strategy cost him his life and led
to the seizure of power by pro-Soviet communists.
Leafing through the photo album of memories, I was
reminded of Mehmut Celâl Bayar, the third president of
the Turkish Republic and one of the most undervalued
statesmen of the modern "Muslim world."
In 1960, Bayar became a victim of the first military
coup in the history of the Turkish Republic. A
kangaroo court sentenced him to death on a charge of
high treason. The sentence was later commuted to life
imprisonment. However, Bayar was released after four
years in prison.
As founder and principal leader of the Democrat Party,
the winner of the first free general election in
Turkish history, Bayar was regarded by many as the
symbol of the "Islamic trend" in modern Turkey.
Bayar had every reason to be bitter about the way he
had been treated. The son of a Bulgarian immigrant
Muslim family, Bayar had devoted his life to the
Turkish Republic. He had been an associate of Mustafa
Kamal Atatürk, the founder of new Turkey, and had
served in top positions, including prime minister,
before ascending to the presidency.
Bayar had one key feature in common with many other
leaders around the globe: being toppled by the man he
had promoted as head of the armed forces, in his case
Gen. Cemal Gürsel.
Mossadeq was brought down by Gen. Fadhl-Allah Zahedi,
the man who had served as his police chief. Daoud
claimed that he had "propelled Zahir Shah" into
The adage that one is betrayed only by one's friends
has been proven correct in other cases as well. In
Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was toppled and hanged
by General Zia l-Haq, the man he had appointed as army
chief. Later, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was also
brought down by his handpicked army chief, Gen. Pervez
Musharraf. And, let's not forget that it was President
Salvador Allende who put Gen. Augusto Pinochet at the
head of the army in Chile. In Tunisia, Zine El-Abidine
Ben Ali, a middling police officer, was put on the
upper rungs of power by President Habib Bourguiba,
whom he ended up stabbing in the back.
The Bayar case has always intrigued me.
What was the old man thinking, I wondered, when as a
young diplomatic correspondent in 1970 I covered a
visit to Ankara by the then Iranian foreign minister,
Ardeshir Zahedi. During his presidency, Bayar had
visited Iran and had a Tehran street named after him.
After the 1960 coup, the generals urged Iran to change
the name of the street but were met with a resolute
"no" from the Iranians. Zahedi held Bayar in high
regard for helping forge a military alliance
encompassing Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Thanks to a good
word put in for us by Ihsan Sabri Çaglayangil, Bayar
agreed to meet me and a journalistic colleague. The
meeting proved to be a disappointment as far as
chasing "scoops" was concerned. Bayar was not prepared
to talk of "the past that is past," because that was
the "task of historians." Nor was he interested in
sharing his personal sufferings in prison and internal
exile. There was not a trace of bitterness about the
fact that he was still deprived of civic rights and
had his residence watched by the secret service.
‘But what about the future?' we asked him. ‘That is
all that really matters,' Bayar insisted. ‘Our
energies should be directed at giving Turkey a better
future.' At the time, subscribing to a more cynical
view of politicians, we took that as a sign that Bayar
was angling for another position in government and did
not wish to annoy the generals who still held the
strings of power.
How wrong we were. In 1974, the generals invited Bayar
to become a life member of the Senate. He declined,
arguing that one should accept a representative
position only if one is actually elected by the
people. Until his death in 1986, at the ripe old age
of 103, Bayar served as a symbol of patience and
forbearance by putting the nation's interests above
his own chagrin.
He didn't call for the boycott of the new power, let
alone declaring jihad on those who had done him wrong.
Bayar decided to swim against the tide of a Middle
Eastern culture that values revenge, shuns compromise,
and hero-worships those who start fires rather than
those who try to extinguish them. Bayar's
statesmanlike posture forced the generals to
reciprocate. An unwritten rule was gradually accepted
in Turkey's stormy politics under which no one would
turn the knife in a wound simply to settle personal
scores. In the past few years, many have spoken and
written of the "Turkish Model." For me, Bayar—that
cool, composed and charming old man—was the living
symbol of the "Turkish Model," if such a thing ever
Amir Taheri was
born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated in Tehran,
London and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of
the daily Kayhan in Iran (1972-79). In 1980-84, he was
Middle East Editor for the Sunday Times. In 1984-92,
he served as member of the Executive Board of the
International Press Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and
2004, he was a contributor to the International Herald
Tribune. He has written for the Wall Street Journal,
the New York Post, the New York Times, the London
Times, the French magazine Politique Internationale,
and the German weekly Focus. Between 1989 and 2005, he
was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt.
Taheri has published 11 books, some of which have been
translated into 20 languages. He has been a columnist
for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's latest book
"The Persian Night" is published by Encounter Books in
London and New York.