Ismet Inönü (1884-1973) was a Turkish military man and statesman who became the country's second president and played key roles in Turkey's internal and external political affairs.
Mustafa Ismet (Inönü), known generally in Turkey as Ismet Paşa, was born in Izmir at the time his father, Haji Reşid, was serving in the local judiciary there. His mother Jevriye, of the Temelli family, was an immigrant from Bulgaria. After his graduation from grade school, Inönü entered the preparatory military school in Sivas in eastern Anatolia, from which he went on to the artillery school and was graduated in 1903 as a second lieutenant. Eventually he managed to enter the staff officer's school (Erkan-i-Harbiye) in Istanbul, then the Ottoman capital. In this establishment—the institution that produced many of the country's elites—he met and studied with the future leaders of the Young Turks revolution and, especially, of Republican Turkey, including Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), Kazim Karabekir, Ali Fethi (Okyar), and others.
Early in his career Mustafa Ismet attracted the attention of his superiors, who considered him a cautious organization man, adept at careful planning and with a special eye for detail. These qualities made him an aide much sought after, both by the glory-seeking high-ranking officers and by the more professionally oriented group interested in rejuvenating the army and extricating it from politics. Although he eventually established contact with the members of the secret Union and Progress Association, he did not assume a responsible position in that revolutionary organization. However, after the successful coup of the Union and Progress in 1908 he fought, along with Mustafa Kemal and others, the unsuccessful battle to assume the army's political neutrality.
Successful Military Career
By 1910 Mustafa Ismet had become a kolaga (high-ranking captain); he was sent to Yemen to quell the Imam Yahya's rebellion. In 1913, now a staff major, he returned to the army headquarters in Istanbul. One year later he took an eye-opening trip to Europe, visiting Vienna, Berlin, Paris, and Switzerland. Upon his return, he found himself immediately engulfed in war preparations as a member of the staff of the First Army, commanded by Liman von Sanders, the German officer who represented the kaiser.
During World War I, which the Ottoman state fought on the side of Germany, Mustafa Ismet acquitted himself well on various fronts. It was during a tour of duty on the Russian front (in the Caucasus) in 1917 that he renewed his acquaintanceship with Mustafa Kemal—then serving as regional commander on that front—and became his deputy. The basis for the lifelong friendship between the two men was established. Their widely differing temperaments and personalities were complementary, Mustafa Kemal being a politically oriented military genius capable of broad, visionary planning while Mustafa Ismet had an unparalleled gift for successfully implementing these plans with faithfulness and care. Together the two left an indelible mark on the history of Republican Turkey.
The end of World War I found Mustafa Ismet on the Syrian-Palestinian front where the Ottoman army suffered its final defeat at the hand of the British and was forced to sign the surrender armistice in October 1918. From 1918 to 1920 he occupied various positions in the Istanbul government. Finally he joined the nationalist movement in Anatolia, which had begun as a popular resistance to the invasion of the British, French, and especially the Greeks, but soon, under the command of Mustafa Kemal, became a unified, nationalist-Islamic movement of liberation. The Greek army which had landed in Izmir on May 15, 1919, with the intention of annexing western Anatolia began its march into the interior of Turkey to stamp out the national resistance movement.
Mustafa Ismet was war minister in the cabinet established in Ankara shortly after the British—who occupied Istanbul—had disbanded the duly elected parliament, arresting many of the deputies and forcing many others to flee. Those who fled to Ankara had joined with others, newly elected, to form a populist national assembly that convened on April 23, 1920. The convening of this assembly marked the final break between the monarchy and its supporters in Istanbul and the nationalist movement centered in Ankara. As might be expected, both Mustafa Ismet and Mustafa Kemal were condemned to death, in absentia, by the sultan's government.
At this critical time Mustafa Ismet was placed at the head of the nationalist army and charged with the task of stopping the Greek offensive. This he did in two fateful battles in the winter of 1920-1921 at a site in western Anatolia known as Inönü. When the family name law was enacted in 1934 the surname Inönü was bestowed on him by Mustafa Kemal—now called Atatürk—as a permanent memorial to his feat of leading the young nationalist fighters to their first crucial victory over the Greeks. Ismet Paşa subsequently commanded the troops also in their victory at the battle of Sakarya and in their final defeat of the Greek army in 1922. Then, after the liberation of the country from foreign occupation, Inönü assumed important diplomatic and political responsibilities as the chief Turkish delegate at the peace negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Lausanne Treaty of 1923 not only established peace between Turkey and the Allies and Greece but also drew the boundaries of the republic.
Establishing a Republic
Atatürk became the first president and Inönü the prime minister of the newly proclaimed republic. Inönü left the premiership for a brief interval but returned to that post on March 3, 1925—in large part in order to enforce stern measures against the rebellion of Seyh Sait—and remained in it until October 25, 1937. Thus most of the major reforms associated with the republic after 1925 were undertaken during Inönü's tenure as premier and as a leading member of the ruling Republican People's Party (RPP). (After the proclamation of the republic, the party added "Republican" to its name.) Inönü obviously followed the instructions of the president during this time, but still he managed to imprint the government with many of his own ideological views and personal characteristics. Socially a conservative, he relied on the bureaucracy to control the economy and society, including the industrialization that started in 1931. He thus unfortunately perpetuated the worst features of the Ottoman bureaucracy that had inhibited the freedom of initiative and kept the economy in stagnation.
In economic matters he proved a failure. His railroad building policy and promotion of monopolistic economic enterprises were two of the better known examples of his flagrant lack of economic know-how. Yet, paradoxical as it may appear, politically speaking Inönü was in favor of a somewhat liberal policy in recognizing the individual's sphere of free activity (but always under the paternalistic eye of the government). Eventually the stagnation of the economy, coupled with the uncontrolled growth of the rigid and increasingly unproductive bureaucracy—which had become both the regime's tool for control and Inönü's main power base—led to a break between him and Atatürk.
In 1937 Inönü was replaced as premier by Celal Bayar. Bayar, who was the head of the private economic-financial group known as the Iş (Labor) Bank, used private enterprise methods and achieved remarkable success. However, the death of Atatürk in 1938 put an end to what appeared to be a liberal economic trend, as Inönü became the president of the republic and the head of the ruling party. He was proclaimed milli şef (national chief) and the lifetime head of the Republican People's Party.
During World War II Inönü pursued a policy of neutrality, despite the binding alliance with England and France signed in 1939. This made the Allies wary of Turkey and led to a cooling of relations that in 1944 and 1945 left the country apparently isolated, encouraging the Soviets to demand territory in the north and military bases on the straits. The renewed Soviet expansionism and rising internal dissatisfaction with his regime induced Inönü to seek to align Turkey with the West and to opt for domestic political liberalization. In 1945 and 1946 he made the decision to permit the establishment of opposition political parties and to create the legal framework that lead to the emergence of a pluralist social and political system. The growth of the pluralist socio-economic system was the most profound and continuing revolution experienced by Turkey. Inönü, perhaps by miscalculation, was its architect and must be credited as such, although in the subsequent years he did not hesitate to play a destabilizing role when he found himself in political difficulty.
Political Parties vs. the Military
Inönü and his party were ousted from power in 1950 as a consequence of popular elections. At that time he refused the offer of four army generals to keep him in power by military might, accepting the role as head of the opposition to the victorious Democratic Party of Celal Bayar and Adnan Menderes. However, he had difficulty adjusting to the loss of power and the assumption of a secondary role in Turkish public life. He kept his image of himself and his party as the true masters of the country, the defenders of modernism, entitled by tradition and precedent to decide its ultimate destiny regardless of the electoral wish. It was this attitude that irritated and appeared threatening to the Democratic Party—especially as the army, the press, and the bureaucracy sympathized with Inönü's view. The Democratic Party leadership reacted by trying to silence Inönü and the opposition. The escalating confrontation between the RPP opposition and the ruling party culminated in a successful military coup on May 27, 1960. Democratic Party deputies were arrested and tried wholesale.
From 1961 to 1965 Inönü, again premier, heading during that period three different coalition governments, played a significant role in neutralizing two abortive coups and in achieving a degree of balance between the advocates of free economy and those of expanded statism. After 1965, however, Inönü encouraged the rise of a leftist statist-bureaucratic wing in his own party, supporting Bülent Ecevit, who became party secretary. This policy caused various groups favoring a more liberal economic policy and political pluralism to leave the Republican People's Party. To assume a more populist posture, the RPP gradually abandoned its strident secularism and, eventually, its nationalism and Kemalism. From 1963 until 1969 Inönü regularly supported the radical element of the party against the conservative Kemalists. Until 1969, as the full-fledged chairman and father-figure of the party, he was in full control and still able to chart a fairly cautious policy. Then his position among the younger, radical elements eroded as the party appeared unable to attract young blood and, in fact, found its own young people attracted into the more radical parties of the left.
The military intervention of 1971, caused by a dramatic surge of the left, brought about the open break between Inönü and the radicals in his party. The leftist bureaucratic, statist element headed by Ecevit had adopted increasingly socialist postures. While Inönü opposed the military intervention, he found it expedient to support it publicly; Ecevit, Inönü's protegée, who appeared as the "enfant terrible" of Turkish politics at that time, condemned the military action. Eventually the conflict between Inönü and Ecevit was resolved in the party conventions of 1971 and 1972. Inönü's candidate for the secretariat was defeated by the Ecevit group. Inönü attempted to stop the further ascendancy of the leftist-Marxists by resigning his position as party chairman. His effort proved futile. Bülent Ecevit was elected party chairman and thus was able to chart a course for the Republican People's Party and the country that proved to be disastrous. Ecevit allied himself completely with the Marxists in the party and followed an erratic economic and political course that brought Turkey to the brink of disintegration. The Republican People's Party was eventually shut down by the military after 1980.
Inönü died in 1973 and was buried with great honor in Ankara, close to the tomb of Atatürk, his mentor and friend. In the early 1980s there were some attempts to reassess Inönü's place and role in Turkish history. The new Social Democratic Party functioned as a sort of reincarnated RPP, headed by Ismet Paşa's son Erdal Inönü, a physicist by profession.
Further Reading on Ismet Inönü
There is no single, full-sized book on Inönü in English or French. Most of the available information on him is to be found in general histories of Turkey or the biographies of Atatürk, such as Lord Kinross's Ataturk: The Birth of A Nation (1965). For the period of 1940-1959 see Kemal H. Karpat, Turkey's Politics (1959). In Turkish literature one may cite, as main sources, Şevket Süreya Aydemir's multi-volume Ikinci Adam [Second Man] and Metin Toker's Inönü ile On Yil [Ten Years with Inönü] (Toker is Inönü's son-in-law).