Ideology on Trial: Comparing Trials of the Pan-Turanists and Leftists at the Dawn of Cold War Turkey

By James Ryan
Submitted to Session P4891 (Law and Ideology in the Turkish Republic, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries; Democratization; Ethnic Groups; Foreign Relations; Human Rights; Middle East/Near East Studies; Modern; Nationalism; Turkish Studies;
In the years just before and after the end of World War II, as Turkey tentatively backed away from its commitments to Nazi Germany, and lurched towards a new alliance with the emergent Anglo-American victors in hopes of securing protection against Soviet demands on its territory, two high-profile political trials resulted in the silencing of prominent proponents of fascism and socialism in Turkey. This article compares the 1944-45 trial of a group of twenty-eight writers, college students, and former military officials known as the “Pan-Turanists” – Turkish ultranationalists who envisaged a “Greater Turkestan Union” and were supported by the German embassy – with the 1946 trial of three leftists who wrote for Tan – a popular daily newspaper in Istanbul that was destroyed in a riot the year before. In the case of the Pan-Turanists, the closed-door proceedings ultimately sent a dozen of the group’s members – including the eventual founder of the Nationalist Action Party, Alparslan Türke? – to prison, where some would experience torture. The editors of Tan would escape prison terms but were financially ruined in their defense and robbed of their livelihood, resulting in their self-imposed exile to the Soviet Union in 1950. Utilizing American and Turkish archival material, as well as periodicals, and memoirs of the trials participants, this paper elaborates on the ideological effects of Turkey’s putatively pragmatic diplomatic policy during the war, and argues that the suppression of radical viewpoints during and after the war hindered the early development of Turkey’s first successful opposition party, the Democrat Party, which ran in its first parliamentary election in July 1946. Understanding the effect of these trials is crucial, as they laid significant groundwork in the domestic arena for Turkey’s Cold War era partnership with the United States, established strict, legally enforced ideological boundaries for the early multiparty period, and would fuel the political narrative of leftist and nationalist opposition politics in Turkey in the decades following their conclusion. More broadly, the paper asks key questions about the role of political trials in democratizing governments, and the role of legal ideology in defining ethnicity and citizenship.