MESA Banner
Red Scares and the Formation of a Frontline Cold War State in Turkey, 1950-1953
This paper argues that involvement in the Korean War (1950-1953) marked a crucial turning point for the development of the Turkish state. It looks at several major trials from this period—in particular, prosecutions of students and instructors at Istanbul University—and argues that anticommunism became a primary purpose of the state, serving to organize and unify the activities of officials in much the same way that other aims like reaching the “level of modern civilization” had done for decades. This focus on communism was not inevitable. When Turkey’s Democrat Party (DP) came to power in 1950, as a result of the country’s first free-and-fair elections, there was little space for communist activity. The “transition to democracy” that had occurred over the past five years had been accompanied by unrelenting pressure on left-wing activists. A general amnesty passed by the DP in 1950 released famous political prisoners like Nazım Hikmet into an environment where any new activism was unlikely to have much success. Even so, between late 1950 and 1953, the DP oversaw large-scale arrests and prosecutions of citizens accused of communist activities. This “Red Scare” was part of Turkey’s deepening involvement with America’s anticommunist economic and security order. In July 1950, the DP government committed Turkish soldiers to fight in Korea; within weeks, neighboring Bulgaria announced its intention to allow up to 250,000 Turkish Muslim to cross the border in Turkey. Faced with these challenges in distant lands on Turkey’s western border, DP leaders became acutely concerned with suppressing communists and encouraging anticommunist organization throughout the country.
Geographic Area
Sub Area