Heper and Sayarı, two leading scholars of Turkey, offer a high-quality and ambitious study that presents modern Turkish political history via the country's chief executives. Political Leaders and Democracy in Turkey develops the accurate premise that in the leader-driven world of Turkish politics, the personal histories, ambitions, Weltanschauung, and political travails of the leaders have shaped Turkish democracy more than anything else while contributing to its occasional demise.
Compiled prior to the November 2002 elections that witnessed the withering away of most parties and leaders in the country and the emergence of yet another powerful leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, this edited volume recites the story of eleven Turkish chief executives of the twentieth century. With the exception of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and İsmet İnönü of the single-party era, and Celal Bayar and Adnan Menderes of the 1950s, all the leaders covered in this book rose to power after the 1950s, and most are still active today, a fact that points to a powerful undemocratizing vector of Turkish democracy: as the book jacket states, leaders "cling on to power with great fervor."
The various accounts make clear that, following the example of Atatürk and with the possible exceptions of Tansu Çiller and Mesut Yılmaz (prime ministers who oversaw the corruption of Turkish democracy in the 1990s),Turkish leaders all come to power with a vision. For example, Süleyman Demirel "wished to create a Great Turkey" while Bülent Ecevit wanted to see a Turkey "where humane values had salience." The foresight of these leaders was, however, often undermined by the highly personalized nature of their regimes. The Ecevit-Demirel rivalry in the 1970s brought the country to the brink of disintegration and led to the subsequent 1980 coup, while the personal conflict between Çiller and Yılmaz took a severe toll for the country. And Necmettin Erbakan, with his self-serving, "provocative" style, "topped other political leaders in inflicting damage to democracy in Turkey."
By simultaneously tracing the development of democracy in Turkey and the all-too-powerful role of its leaders, Political Leaders and Democracy in Turkey sheds light on a major dilemma of Turkish politics: although all people in Turkey want democracy for all, most leaders want it only for themselves.