Parliamentary Politics in Early Republican Turkey: Contestations over Settlement, Land Use and Property Rights

By Yelda Kaya
Submitted to Session P4979 (Peasants, Land, and Politics, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Lengthy discussions were extremely rare in the Grand National Assembly of early Republican Turkey, which is hardly surprising for a one-party parliament whose deputies were handpicked by the leaders of the governing Republican People’s Party. The Law for Providing Land to Farmers of 1945 is commonly considered the first instance of opposition. This paper argues that 1945 was not the first time that dissent surfaced within the parliament. My contention is that property rights on land tended to provoke backlashes in the otherwise submissive parliament of 1923-1945. At times, members of the parliament appeared confident in voicing their objections. At other times, opposition is harder to detect, as it was not put in words. But even so, it is possible to detect the impact of parliamentary resistance by examining how government bills changed as they proceeded through both the reviewing committees and the general assembly.

This article follows the above research strategy to examine the making of a series of laws that sanctioned intervention into property relations on land in variety of ways. These are the deportation, land distribution and settlement laws of 1920s and 1930s. Although none was about property rights per se, in each case, even the prospect of a possible infringement on rights of landowners proved enough to stir up the parliament. The findings of the archival research expose that while some of the bills were eventually modified in ways that favored property owners, more often the result was vaguely formulated provisions.

Such research findings affirm the hypothesis that there were occasions Kemalist leaders failed to impose their will on the parliament. Then the question arises: how was it that a handful of politicians successfully challenged what appears to have been an all-powerful government? This question has been posed in relation to the parliamentary opposition to Law for Providing Land to Farmers and the dominant tendency has been to associate those who confronted the government with landowning interests. I instead argue that it is necessary to scrutinize deeper the institutional mechanisms through which powerful interests in society were reflected in high politics. The republican regime instituted and, in turn, operated within a legal system responsive to property rights claims. It was this legal system, I conclude, which gave the Council of State the leverage to overturn certain government decisions and strengthened the hands of those who upheld the rights of property owners in the parliament.