The passing of a Turkish titan: Suleiman Demirel

The passing of a Turkish titan: Suleiman Demirel
Obituary: Suleiman Demirel, a major figure in national politics for half a century who served as prime minister and president, dies at 90.
4 min read
17 June, 2015
Demirel was removed twice by military coups [Getty]
Turkey's former president and five-time prime minister Suleyman Demirel, a giant figure in the country's politics for more than 50 years, died on Wednesday, the state Anatolia news agency said. He was 90.

Demirel survived dismissal in two military coups and a ban on holding office to become president and one of Turkey's most respected elder statesmen.

Demirel served as prime minister in the 1960s and 1970s and then again in the 1990s before serving as head of state from 1993 to 2000.

He died of heart failure resulting from a severe respiratory tract infection, Anatolia said, quoting the private Ankara hospital where he was treated.

Demirel's death comes just one month after the general who masterminded the 1980 coup that deposed him - for the second time.
His heyday was during one of the most chaotic periods of modern Turkish history when governments changed sometimes annually under the shadow of the powerful military, with the country beset by daily street violence and an economic slump.

The political survivor

Born in 1924 and trained as an engineer, Demirel first went into politics in the early 1960s in the wake of the 1960 military coup that resulted in the execution of then premier Adnan Menderes.

Leading the centre-right Justice Party (AP), he first become prime minister in 1965 aged 40 - Turkey's youngest ever head of government.

He held together a government for six years, a huge achievement by the standards of the time.

But Demirel resigned in the 1971 coup, which became known as the "coup by memorandum" when the army presented him with a written ultimatum rather than sending tanks onto the streets.

The coup in 1980, the third in the Turkish republic's history, banned Demirel from all political activity and sent him into temporary internal exile at a military camp.

The ban was overturned through reforms agreed in the constitutional referendum of 1987, which Demirel had himself pushed for.

Leading the True Path Party (DYP) which he founded he replace the AP, Demirel won the 1991 elections and he returned to head the government for a final stint.

He became the ninth Turkish president in May 1993 after the death of Turgut Ozal, serving his full term until 2000.

When his single term as president was about to expire - the maximum allowed under the constitution - Demirel tried unsuccessfully to get a second term.

Demirel died a month after the general who masterminded the 1980 coup, Kenan Evren, a former president who died in disgrace after being sentenced to life in prison last June.

Political chameleon

Nicknamed "Coban Sulu" (Suleyman the Shepherd), Demirel was known for his earthy turns of phrase and folksy wisdom, which showed up his provincial roots in the southern Isparta region.

In his later years, he was affectionately known as "Baba" (father).
Critics accused him of being a political chameleon, happy to make common cause with the far right on occasion but also with the Islamists led by Necmettin Erbakan, the father of political Islam in Turkey.

He turned against the Islamists and it was under his presidency that the army ousted Erbakan, Turkey's first Islamic-rooted prime minister, in 1997 in the so-called "post-modern coup".

"Yesterday was yesterday, today is today," Demirel once said to describe his political flip-flopping, adding an immortal line to the Turkish political vernacular.

He was also frequently pictured wearing a fedora hat, which became a symbol of his pragmatic image.

He was also credited with leading key infrastructure projects to modernise Turkey, most notably the first bridge across the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

In his later years, he was affectionately known as "Baba" - father.

The airport in Isparta and the region's university was named in his honour.

In total, Demirel ruled the modern Turkish state longer than anyone else as president and prime minister, with the exception of Ismet Inonu, the second president and right-hand man of its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Only Inonu and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who became president in 2014, have served longer as prime minister.

Demirel was married to his wife Nazmiye for 65 years until her death in 2013. They had no children.