Demirel won the 1969 general elections handily, but his government was soon undermined by civil unrest caused by conflicts between leftists and rightists and by a separatist movement among the Kurds. Western Turkey suffered severe earthquakes in 1970–71. Civil strife continued and Demirel was followed by a succession of prime ministers in the early 1970s. In 1973, Fahri Korutürk succeeded Sunay as president of the country. Bülent Ecevit of the Republican People’s party became prime minister in 1974.
Turkey maintained its close ties with the United States in the early 1970s and at the same time cultivated better relations with the USSR. Largely as a result of U.S. pressure, the growing of opium poppies in Turkey was banned in 1971 (effective 1972), although in 1974 the government announced it would allow cultivation of opium poppies under state control for medical purposes only. In mid-1974, Turkish troops invaded Cyprus following a Greek-oriented coup there, and they gained control of 30% of the island. Also in the early 1970s, the discovery of oil on the continental shelf under the waters surrounding the Greek Islands caused further conflict between Greece and Turkey. Largely because of the diplomatic intervention of the United States, Great Britain, and the United Nations, war between the two countries was averted.
Between 1975 and 1980, Demirel and Ecevit alternated as heads of minority governments while economic and social conditions worsened. In 1980 martial law was declared after civil violence claimed over 2,000 lives. Gen. Kenan Evren seized control of the government and forcibly restored order. A new constitution was approved in 1982, reestablishing the unicameral parliament with the proviso that Evren would remain head of state until 1989. The constitution also gave the military influence over civilian matters and autonomy in military affairs. In 1983 the conservative Motherland party won an overall majority, and its leader, Turgut Özal, became prime minister. By 1987 martial law had been lifted, except in the four Kurdish-dominated provinces in SE Turkey where a guerrilla campaign by the separatist Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) had begun in the mid-1980s. In 1987, Özal was reelected.
In 1989, Özal succeeded Evren as president. In the same year about 300,000 Muslim Turks crossed from Bulgaria into Turkey to avoid government attempts to forcibly Bulgarianize them. During the Persian Gulf War (1991), Turkey allowed the United States to launch air strikes against Iraq from Turkey. Although the war caused a massive dislocation of Kurds in Iraq, Turkey kept its borders closed in an effort to avoid an increase in Kurdish nationalism.
Parliamentary elections in 1991 ousted Özal’s Motherland party from government and Demirel, now leader of the conservative True Path party, became the new prime minister. When President Özal died in 1993, he was succeeded by Demirel, and Tansu Çiller of True Path became prime minister, the first woman to hold that post. After an economic boom in the late 1980s, high inflation, a large foreign debt, and the impact of deficit spending led to a financial crisis in 1994. Social stability was disrupted, and Islamic fundamentalists became increasingly popular. Turkey continued periodic assaults on Kurdish guerrilla bases in Turkey and N Iraq, with heavy casualties on both sides. Human-rights groups accused Turkish forces of atrocities against civilians, including the razing of villages to deny Kurds safe harbor and the use of torture and summary executions. In 1995, Turkey joined in a customs union with the European Union.
A close parliamentary election in Dec., 1995, gave the Welfare party (an Islamist party), the largest single share (21%) of the vote, with the Motherland and True Path parties each winning 19%. A series of attempts to form a government resulted in a Welfare–True Path coalition in June, 1996, and Welfare leader Necmettin Erbakan became prime minister, ending 75 years of exclusively secular governments. However, Erbakan’s overtures to Libya and Iran, as well as his support for Muslim education and culture, alarmed the secular military, and he was pressured to resign in June, 1997; Mesut Yilmaz of the Motherland party became the new prime minister. The Welfare party was banned in 1998, and Erbakan was forbidden to participate in politics for five years. Although other Welfare officeholders were allowed to retain their positions as independents, many of them reorganized as the new Virtue party.
Yilmaz lost a confidence vote in Nov., 1998, and President Demirel appointed Bülent Ecevit, now head of the Democratic Left party, to form a government. Following elections held in Apr., 1999, Ecevit continued as prime minister, heading a three-party coalition government. High inflation persisted into the late 1990s. There were increasing disputes with Greece over territorial waters, airspace, and especially the partition of Cyprus. Conflict with Kurdish nationalists also heightened; by the late 1990s, the Kurdish rebellion had cost some 30,000 lives. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in 1999 and sentenced to death for treason. The PKK announced in Feb., 2000, that they would end their attacks, but the arrest in the same month of several Kurdish mayors accused of aiding the rebels threatened to revive the unrest.
Two major earthquakes hit NW Turkey in 1999, killing thousands. Greece sent aid to Turkey, and when Turkey did likewise after an earthquake in Greece, it marked the beginning of an improvement in bilateral relations. Late in 1999, Turkey was invited to apply for membership in the European Union (EU); the action reversed a 1997 rejection of Turkey’s candidacy that was prompted by Turkey’s human-rights record. President Demirel sought a second term in 2000, but the constitutional amendment that would have permitted a second term failed to win the required votes in parliament in early April. Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the president of Turkey’s highest court, was elected to succeed Demirel later the same month.
An yearlong effort in 2000 to bring Turkey’s long-standing inflation under control began to undermine weaker banks late in the year, causing a drop in the stock market and requiring a $7.5 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan in December. Disagreements over the pace of reform between the president, who favored stronger moves, and the prime minister aggravated the crisis, and when the Turkish lira was floated in Feb., 2001, it sank more than 30%. In March and May, as Turkey’s economy continued to falter, agreements were reached with the IMF on additional economic aid and an economic reform package. Although the immediate crisis was stemmed, economic difficulties continued into 2002; the recession was the country’s worst since World War II.
The Virtue party was banned by Turkey’s high court in June, 2001, on charges of pro-Islamic and antisecular activities; its members in parliament were, however, allowed to keep their seats. The center-right Justice and Development party was subsequently formed as its successor. A split in Ecevit’s government over whether to pass reforms needed to join the EU paralyzed the government in 2002 and led to the defection of many high-ranking members who supported passing the reforms. The erosion of the coalition forced (July, 2002) the ailing Ecevit to call for new elections. A reform package, including legalizing the use of Kurdish in private education and in broadcasts, was passed in August, and emergency rule in the four Kurdish-dominated provinces was ended in stages in 2002.
The parliamentary elections in Nov., 2002, resulted in a landslide victory for the Justice and Development party, which won 34% of the vote and 66% of the seats in the national assembly; the Republican People’s party was the only other party to win enough votes to qualify for representation. Abdullah Gül became prime minister because the Justice and Development party leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had been banned from running in the elections. The new parliament, however, passed a constitutional amendment permitting Erdoğan to run, and he was elected to parliament in a Feb., 2003, by-election and became prime minister.
In Dec., 2002, the EU refused to set a date for the start of negotiations for Turkey’s admission to that body. The decision was prompted by EU uneasiness concerning the state of Turkish democracy and human rights and, many Turks believe, by EU discomfort with the fact the Turkey is an Islamic nation. Relations with the EU further soured in early 2003 when UN-sponsored Cyprus reunification talks collapsed, due in large part to Turkish Cypriot rejection of the proposed terms. Subsequently in 2003, however, the parliament passed a series of reforms designed to facilitate Turkey’s admission.
In Mar., 2003, the Turkish parliament refused to grant the United States permission to invade N Iraq from bases in Turkey, despite the Turkish government’s having negotiated a multibillion-dollar aid package in exchange for such rights; most Turks opposed U.S. military action against Iraq. Although permission to overfly Turkey was subsequently granted to U.S. forces, U.S.-Turkish relations were strained, and the situation was aggravated by Turkey’s considering invading N Iraq to forestall any attempt by the Kurds there to move toward independence.
Erdoğan’s government supported renewed UN-sponsored negotiations on reunifying Cyprus, and pressed for ratification of the accord (Apr., 2004) by Turkish Cypriots. Rejection of the accord by Greek Cypriots, however, left the situation on the island unresolved. In May, 2004, Congra-Gel, the PKK’s successor, announced that it was ending its cease-fire because of government attacks against it. Revisions to the penal code, the final part of the package of reforms sought by the EU, were passed by the Turkish parliament in Sept., 2004. At the same time, however, it was evident that there was strong sentiment against admitting Turkey in a number of EU countries, and a suggestion of possible new conditions for Turkey’s admission to the EU elicited a strong protest from Turkish leaders in Dec., 2004. That same month the EU agreed to begin negotiations in 2005 with Turkey on its admission.