Süleyman Gündoğdu Demirel, 1 November 1924 – 17 June 2015) was a Turkish politician and statesman who served as the 9th President of Turkey from 1993 to 2000. He previously served as the Prime Minister of Turkey five times between the years 1965 and 1993. He was the leader of the Justice Party (AP) from 1964 to 1980 and the leader of the True Path Party (DYP) from 1987 to 1993.
Having been identified as a potential future Prime Minister by Adnan Menderes, Demirel was elected leader of the Justice Party in 1964 and managed to bring down the government of İsmet İnönü in 1965 despite not being a Member of Parliament. He supported the government of Suat Hayri Ürgüplü until his party won a parliamentary majority in the 1965 general election. Claiming to be the successor of the banned Democrat Party, he was re-elected as Prime Minister in 1969 by winning a parliamentary majority for a second time. Demirel presided over the laying the foundations of the Keban Dam, the Bosphorus Bridge and an oil pipeline between Batman and İskenderun. Despite his economic reforms which stabilised inflation, he resigned as Prime Minister after his budget was blocked by parliament, but formed his third government shortly after. His premiership came to an end following the 1971 Turkish coup d'état, which had been caused by a disagreement between the government and military over the Cyprus dispute, an escalation of tensions with Greece and growing political violence. He was also accused of deviating from the principles of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, which he denied.
Demirel was the leader of the opposition from 1971 to 1975 before forming a four-party government known as the first nationalist front, which collapsed in 1977. He formed the second nationalist front cabinet in 1977 with two other parties, which collapsed in 1978. A rise in global petrol prices led to a surge in inflation and an economic crisis and Demirel's government responded with economic liberalisation, though these reforms were rejected by other parties. This led to a spate of political violence and strikes, during which 42 people were killed in the 1977 Taksim Square massacre. Demirel's minority government in 1979 was unable to elect a president in 1980, leading to the 1980 Turkish coup d'état which banned Demirel from politics. In the 1987 constitutional referendum, Demirel regained the right to actively participate in politics and assumed the leadership of the True Path Party. He won the 1991 general election and formed a coalition with the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP), assuming his fifth and final term as Prime Minister. Following the sudden death of serving President Turgut Özal, Demirel contested the 1993 presidential election and subsequently became the 9th President of Turkey until 2000. With 10 years and 5 months, Demirel's tenure of prime ministership is the 3rd longest in Turkish history, after Ismet Inonu and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On 26 October 2014, Demirel became the first President to unveil a Presidential Library in Turkey. Demirel died on 17 June 2015 at the Guven hospital in Ankara where he had been undergoing treatment for a respiratory tract infection.
Background and early career
Demirel was born in Isparta, Atabey, a town in Isparta Province. Upon completion of his elementary school education in his hometown, he attended middle school and high school in Isparta and Afyon, respectively. He graduated from the school of civil engineering at the Istanbul Technical University in 1949.
Demirel worked in the state department for electrical power planning in 1949. He undertook postgraduate studies on irrigation, electrical technologies and dam construction in the United States, first in 1949–1950, then in 1954–1955. During the construction of the Seyhan Dam, Demirel worked as a project engineer and in 1954 was appointed Head of the Department of Dams. As of 1955, he served as Director General of the State Hydraulic Works (DSİ). In this capacity, Demirel was to supervise the construction of a multitude of dams, power plants, and irrigation facilities. Eisenhower Fellowships selected Suleyman Demirel in 1954 to represent Turkey.
After the 1960 coup d'état, he was drafted to the Turkish Army for compulsory military service. Upon completion of his military service, he worked as a freelance engineer and a representative of Morrison Construction, a U.S. company. During this period, he also worked as a part-time lecturer of hydraulic engineering at the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) in Ankara.
Political career (1960–2000)
His political career started with his election to the executive board of the Justice Party founded by the former General Ragıp Gümüşpala, as directed by the Head of State Cemal Gürsel as the replacement of the Democrat Party that was closed after the military coup of 27 May 1960. Journalist and MP Cihat Baban claims in The Gallery of Politics (Politika Galerisi), that Cemal Gürsel told him:
“We may solve all troubles if Süleyman Demirel can become the head of the Justice Party (Adalet Partisi). I am working very hard for him to become the party leader. If I succeed in this, I will be happy.”
1960s and 70s
On 22 March 1963, the imprisoned former President Celal Bayar was released on parole, causing protests in front of Justice Party headquarters. Demirel, who is on the executive board of Justice Party, then resigned from his position, claiming that "There wouldn't be democracy in this country (Turkey) for another 50 years". He remained inactive until the death of Ragip Gumuspala. In June 1964, after the death of Ragip Gumuspala he re-entered politics pursuing to become the Chairman of the Party. However, Demirel faced strong opposition. His biggest rival was Sadettin Bilgic, nicknamed "koca reis" ("big captain" in English). Bilgic supporters accused Demirel of being a freemason, however Demirel averted the crisis with a clever stratagem. Instead of writing to his own lodge, Demirel petitioned a separate freemason's lodge asking whether he was a member or not. As expected, the lodge chairman answered negatively. This turned the tide in Demirel's favor, and he received enough votes to become the Chairman of the Party.
Demirel was elected Chairman at the second grand party convention on 28 November 1964. He facilitated the formation of a caretaker government that ruled between February and October 1965 under the premiership of Suat Hayri Ürgüplü, in which he served as Deputy Prime Minister. Under his leadership, the AP won an unprecedented majority of the votes in the elections of 10 October 1965 and formed a majority government. Demirel thus became the youngest-ever Prime Minister in Turkish history, and the third democratically-elected Prime Minister.
As deputy from Isparta, Demirel became Turkey’s 14th Prime Minister and ruled the country for four years. In the next elections on 10 October 1969, his party was the sole winner by a landslide once again. He resigned after the military memorandum of 12 March 1971. He was not able to win the elections that were held in 1973 and 1977; however, between 1971 and 1980, he served as Prime Minister for three more times, albeit with coalition partners, during 1975–1977, 1977–1978, and 1979–1980, respectively.
Following the coup d'état of 12 September 1980, headed by Kenan Evren, he was banned from involvement in active politics for ten years. In 1986, however, Demirel launched a national campaign for the lifting of the bans and initiated a national referendum on the issue.
The 6 September 1987 referendum allowed him to return to active politics. Only 18 days later, Demirel was elected Chairman at the extraordinary convention of the True Path Party (DYP) that replaced the Adalet Partisi. He was re-elected Deputy of Isparta at the elections of 29 November 1987.
Following the elections of 20 October 1991, Demirel became Prime Minister once again in a coalition government with the Social Democratic Populist Party. (49th government of Turkey)
After the sudden death of President Turgut Özal, he became the ninth President on 16 May 1993, elected by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.
On 10 March 1995, he became aware of a coup attempt against President Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan (prepared by his predecessor Ebulfeyz Elçibey) with the assistance of the Turkish intelligence and security agencies, and warned Aliyev.
He served as President until 16 May 2000 for the constitutional term of seven years.
During his service for the development and industrialization of the country as a director general at the age of 30, and a political party chairman and the youngest Turkish prime minister at the age of 40, his overall tenure was shorter than only Ismet Inönü's and Recep Tayyip Erdogan's.
Following retirement from politics, Demirel has frequently been a panelist and speaker at several universities in Turkey.
Süleyman Demirel was married to Nazmiye Demirel on 12 March 1948. They had no children. She died on 27 May 2013. Süleyman Demirel himself died on 17 June 2015.
The Süleyman Demirel Airport and Süleyman Demirel University, both of which are in Isparta are named after him. So are the Süleyman Demirel Stadium in Antalya and the Süleyman Demirel Medical Centre of the Atatürk University in Erzurum. There are also two important main streets named after him: one in Istanbul and the other in Muğla. On 26 October 2014 Süleyman Demirel Democracy and Development Museum was opened in Isparta.
Demirel was awarded with Istiglal Order for his contributions to development of Azerbaijan–Turkey relations and constructive position on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, creation of unity among Turkic states by President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev on 12 June 1999. He is also a Collar of the Estonian Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, a recipient of the Polish Order of the White Eagle (1993) and a Knight Grand Cross of the Croatian Grand Order of King Tomislav.
In popular culture
Demirel was often nicknamed Baba (The Father) or Çoban Sülü (The Shepherd Sülü (Süleyman)) and humorously Spartacus, after his native city of Isparta. His fedora hat was a famous part of his image.
Although Demirel had retired, whenever there was political distress, Turkish media or his followers (humorously or otherwise) called on him with the words "Kurtar bizi baba" ("Father, save us"). He is well known for uttering phrases such as "Dün dündür, bugün bugündür" ("Yesterday is yesterday, today is today"), usually said when he has changed his stand on a subject. Another example is "Benzin vardı da biz mi içtik?" ("Did we drink the gasoline, as if there were any?"), said when defending his actions during the 1970s energy crisis.
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