Exploring the major milestones and key characters from the Republic of Türkiye’s magnificent first century, P2: 1960s-1990s

Sunday, 29 October 2023 marks exactly one hundred years since the Republic of Türkiye was proclaimed. The centenary will see celebrations not only across Turkiye, but also by Turks living all around the world.

This momentous anniversary is the perfect opportunity to reflect on what has been the Republic’s first magnificent century – the major milestones and the key characters that have helped define Turkiye politically, culturally and economically.

Gizem Öztürk provides a chronological guide to the highs and lows, significant events and personalities from these past 100 years. This is the second part of three, looking at the decades from the 1960s to the 1990s.


Türkiye’s first coup d’état

The coup d’état of 27 May 1960 was the first military coup in the Republic’s history, carried out under Lieutenant General Cemal Madanoğlu’s leadership and the military junta ‘National Unity Committee’ led by General Cemal Gürsel. The Democratic Party was targeted for their “corrupt regime” and overthrown, ending President Celal Bayar’s time in office. It also led to the arrest and execution of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and two Cabinet members Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Hasan Polatkan, who died by hanging on 16 and 17 September 1961, as a result of the Yassıada Trials.

Büyük Maksim Gazinosu

The Grand Maksim Music Hall was first opened by pioneering African-American businessman Frederick Bruce Thomas in Taksim, Istanbul, in 1921. The building was restored and re-opened on 28 October 1961 as Büyük Maksim Gazinosu by Fahrettin Aslan and his partner. It quickly established itself as one of the city’s most popular entertainment venues, hosting some of Türkiye’s greatest singers of the 60s and 70s, such as Bülent Ersoy, Zeki Müren, Sezen Aksu, Emel Sayın, Ajda Pekkan, and Muazzez Abacı. These stars performed popular Turkish classical music, folk and blues, and pop, turning Maksim into an iconic venue.

Ara Güler – “The Eye of Istanbul”

Born in Beyoğlu in 1928, Ara Güler was an Armenian-Turkish photojournalist. He became a professional photographer in the late 1940s and during a long and prolific career he captured Istanbul’s working class, their traditions and habitats, along with the city’s cultural sights and key events, earning Güler the nickname ‘the Eye of Istanbul’.

From the 1960s onwards, he worked as a world photo correspondent for the likes of Time–Life Magazine, Paris Match, Stern, and The Sunday Times. Among those he snapped were famous actors, artists and politicians, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Alfred Hitchcock, Maria Callas, Bertrand Russell, Sophia Loren and Winston Churchill. To these he added local notables such as Yaşar Kemal, Aziz Nesin and Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu.

In 1962, Leica Fotografi introduced Ara Güler as a Master of the Leica. It was one of many accolades he would receive during an illustrious career that spanned nearly eight decades. Güler passed away in 2018 and his incredible archive bears testament to a bygone era and the huge transformation Türkiye has undergone.

‘The Ankara Agreement’ with the European Economic Community

Türkiye signed ‘The Agreement Creating An Association Between The Republic of Turkey and the European Economic Community’, more commonly known as the Ankara Agreement, on 12 September 1963. The treaty provided the framework for co-operation between Türkiye and the European Union (EU).

Susuz Yaz the first Turkish movie to win an international film award

Released in 1963, the following year Susuz Yaz [Dry Summer] became the first Turkish film to win awards from international film festivals. Starring Hülya Koçyiğit and Erol Taş, two very popular actors during the golden Yeşilçam era of Turkish cinema, and written and directed by Metin Erksan, Susuz Yaz was selected as a nominee for the best foreign language film at the 37th Academy Awards.

Director Erksan won the special ‘Merito Biennale’ award at the Venice Film Festival. The film went on to win the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival for Best Film — its highest prize —  and the Golden Maya Prize from the Mexican Acapulco Film Festival.

State broadcaster TRT launches

Founded in 1964, Türkiye’s national public broadcaster, TRT (Turkish Radio and Television Corporation) started life broadcasting radio from Ankara. TRT 1 was launched four years, with its first television broadcast taking place on 31 January 1968.

Türkiye’s first rock record

Erkin Koray was a free-spirited, guitar-playing singer-songwriter and one of the pioneers of the Anadolu Rock sound. In 1967, Koray released a 45 single called Kızları da Alın Askere [‘Admit Girls into the Army Too’] on one side. The song is widely regarded as the first Turkish rock song and helped propel Koray in front of a bigger audience in Türkiye eager to sample rock in their own language.

Ajda Pekkan – Superstar!

Ajda Pekkan made her pop music debut in the 1960s, initially by singing Turkish lyrics to hit French, Italian and English songs. In 1967, her record İki Yabancı — the Turkish version of Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night — broke sales records in Türkiye.

Pekkan was signed by the Philips label and would go on to release her music abroad. She also represented Türkiye at numerous international music festivals, including the Eurovision Song Contest in 1980. Her good looks, popular appeal and musical success turned Pekkan into an icon and paved the way for many other female pop stars to follow, including Sezen Aksu.


Student leader Deniz Gezmiş executed

Deniz Gezmiş was a student leader who endorsed the “national democratic revolution” ideology — a Marxist-Leninist approach. He founded the armed revolutionary movement, the ‘People’s Liberation Army of Türkiye’ (THKO), with Hüseyin İnan, Yusuf Aslan and three others. Gezmiş campaigned for an independent Türkiye and was opposed to being a member of NATO.

Gezmiş and his friends got into trouble with the police multiple times. However, THKO’s kidnapping of four US privates was what led to their demise. Gezmiş, İnan and Aslan were arrested in 1971 and the trio were hanged on 6 May 1972. To this day, many Turks regard Gezmiş as Türkiye’s Ché Guevara.

First Armenian terror attack against Turks

The first Armenian terrorist attack against Turks in the Republic era was the assassination of Turkish consular officials, Consul General Mehmet Baydar and Consul Bahadır Demir, by Gourgen Mkrtich Yanikian in Santa Barbara, California, on 27 January 1973.

Turkish Aerospace

TUSAŞ (Turkish Aerospace Inc.) was founded on 28 June 1973. It was established under the Ministry of Industry and Technology to boost Türkiye and help make the country’s defence sector more robust. TUSAŞ has developed many prominent aerial vehicles such as the TAI Anka drone, and are also manufacturing parts for Airbus.

Cyprus Peace Operation

On 15 July 1974, pro-Enosis Greek Cypriots, part of the EOKA-B terrorist organisation, carried out a military coup d’état sponsored by Greece, toppled Archbishop Makarios and took over the Cypriot state, installing Nicos Sampson as president. A notorious mass murderer who first came to prominence in the Cyprus Emergency and again at the start of the Cyprus Conflict in December 1963, Sampson had threatened to annihilate the Turks of Cyprus.

Using its right to unilaterally intervene in Cyprus under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, Türkiye launched the Cyprus Peace Operation on 20 July 1974. Conducted by Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit and Deputy Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the military intervention aimed to stop the fighting that had broken out between pro-Makarios and pro-Sampson factions, while also safeguarding Turkish Cypriots.

On 14 August 1974, Türkiye initiated the “Ayşe should go on vacation” plan, code for the Second Peace Operation. Within days, the Turkish forces took control of the northern part of the island, amounting to 37% of the island’s entire territory. The operation led to the permanent division of Cyprus into two ethnic zones, vital to the security of Turkish Cypriots, while also ensuring peace ensued on the island.

Film classic Hababam Sınıfı

The first film of the comedy classic ‘Hababam Sınıfı’ (The Chaos Class) franchise about a group of high school students, was released in 1975. Each actor from the all-star cast is considered a legend in the Turkish world of cinema, the most popular among them being Kemal Sunal, who found fame with his ‘Hababam Sınıfı’ everyman character “Şaban”.

Formation of the PKK: Kurdistan Workers Party

The PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) is a terrorist organisation which is seeking autonomy for Kurds in the eastern region of Türkiye. It was formed as a Marxist-Leninist Kurdish revolutionary group by 22 people, among them Abdullah Öcalan, who was selected as the group’s leader in Fis village, Lice, on 27 November 1978.

The group quickly embarked on a violent campaign, murdering people from other left wing groups, as well as Kurdish tribal leaders. In 1980, the group also claimed their first Turkish military victim, torturing Second Lieutenant İlyas Bayraktutar to death.

Over the next few years, the PKK attracted new recruits and financial support enabling it to launch a more ambitious series of raids. On 15 August 1984, Öcalan gave the order for PKK operatives to target the Turkish military in two attacks, in the Eruh districts of Siirt and the Şemdinli districts of Hakkari. They killed 3 soldiers and wounded 8 others, and also injured 3 civilians. This date marked the start of the bloody campaign the PKK has waged against the Turkish state, resulting in the deaths of more than 40,000 people. The conflict continues until this day.


1980 Turkish military coup

On 12 September 1980, a successful coup d’etat was carried out by the Turkish Armed Forces under Chief of the General Staff General Kenan Evren’s leadership, ostensibly to end political instability across the country caused by the violence between left- and right-wing political groups. Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel and the Turkish Grand National Assembly’s activities were terminated, and Kenan Evren took over as Head of State until 8 November 1982.

Following the coup, martial law was introduced, which lasted until 1983. The Kurdish language being used and women wearing headscarves were officially banned in government agencies. During this period, there was widespread human rights violations with mass arrests, torture and deaths in detention. On the flip side, ‘YÖK’ (Council of Higher Education) was founded and there was a reduction in inflation as a result of the junta rule.

‘Yol’ wins at Cannes

In May 1982, ‘Yol’ [The Way] became the first Turkish film to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the highest prize awarded. Written and co-directed by the controversial Kurdish actor Yılmaz Güney, ‘Yol’ starred big names like Tarık Akan, Halil Ergün and Şerif Sezer as its leads.

Turgut Özal

Following the end of military junta rule, it was the conservative ANAP (Motherland Party) which came to dominate Turkish politics. Its leader, Turgut Özal, became the 19th Prime Minister of Türkiye between the years 1983-1989. Özal saw Türkiye adopt global economic norms, which transformed the country through privatisation of state enterprises and the encouragement of big business.

İbrahim Tatlıses has biggest selling album

Artist İbrahim Tatlıses, famous for his hit Arabesque songs, released Türkiye’s biggest selling album of all time, ‘Mavi Mavi,’ in 1985, which sold at least 3.2 million copies. Sezen Aksu’s ‘Gülümse’ (1991) and Tarkan’s ‘Ölürüm Sana’ (1998) are joint second with sales of 3 million each.

Naim Süleymanoğlu wins gold at Seoul Olympics

Of Bulgarian Turkish descent, Naim Süleymanoğlu was nicknamed ‘Pocket Hercules’ for his 1.47m height and great strength. His name was immortalised in the world of weightlifting at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The legendary athlete won his first Olympic gold medal for the Men’s 60kg Weightlifting category, breaking 6 World and 9 Olympic records.

Süleymanoğlu went down in history as the only person in the world to do a 190kg ‘clean and jerk’ that was 3.15 times his body weight. It is still the highest clean and jerk to body weight ratio of all time.

On 3 October 1988, he was put on the cover of Time magazine with the headline, “Everybody Wins”. Süleymanoğlu went on to win two more Olympic gold medals and overall broke 46 world records in his career.

1990s: ✅

Madımak Hotel massacre

The date 2 July 1993 represents a dark day in modern Turkish history where 35 people, mostly Alevi notables, lost their lives in a hotel fire that was started deliberately.

Alevi musicians, writers and poets had gathered at the Madımak Hotel in Sivas, central Anatolia, for a convention to celebrate the life of 16th-century Alevi poet Pir Sultan Abdal, a central figure in the Turkish Alevi faith. Not long after traditional Friday lunchtime prayers, an angry religious mob surrounded the hotel and set it alight, while chanting against the “infidels” trapped inside.

Eyewitnesses say emergency services failed to intervene and it was some eight hours later that firefighters and police finally tried to put out the fire and help the dozens of victims trapped inside. Thirty years on, the Turkish state fails to acknowledge this was a religious hate crime and many culprits were allowed to escape facing justice.

Tansu Çiller – Türkiye’s first female Prime Minister

Tansu Çiller, the liberal right-wing ‘True Path Party’ (Doğru Yol Partisi) leader, becomes the first and only woman Prime Minister in the Republic’s history on 25 June 1993, remaining in her post for the next three years.

Financial crisis of 1994

In the 1980s, Türkiye opened up to liberal economics and trade, which led to rapid growth. However, the government’s expansionary fiscal policy and the overvaluation of the Turkish Lira after the capital account liberalisation in 1989 led to a severe financial crisis in the Turkish economy in 1994. During the first quarter of 1994, the Turkish Lira depreciated by almost 70% against the United States Dollar (1 USD was equivalent to 41,000TL in 1994), resulting in a 5% drop in GDP and cost of living crisis for workers.

First Turk to climb Mount Everest

On 17 May 1995, Nasuh Mahruki became the first Turk and Muslim to climb Mount Everest. Later in 1996, he officially became the first Turk to climb all Seven Summits.

Türkiye’s Customs Union Agreement with the EU

Türkiye’s Customs Union with the European Union came into force on 31 December 1995. The agreement covers all industrial goods but does not address agriculture (except for processed agricultural products), services or public procurement. It was the EU’s first substantial customs union with a non-EU country.

Kiss Kiss / Şımarık becomes Türkiye’s biggest international hit song

In 1997, Turkish popstar Tarkan released Şımarık, written by Turkish pop legend Sezen Aksu. It topped the charts in Türkiye and went on to become a hit all over Europe and the Latin America. The vibrant pop track is the most covered Turkish song, sung in over 20 different languages. Its English version, called Kiss Kiss, was sung by actress turned singer Holly Valance, who scored a number one hit with it on both sides of the Atlantic. It makes Şımarık/Kiss Kiss Türkiye’s biggest overseas hit of all time.

Ahmet Kaya 

On 10 February 1999, famed Turkish Kurdish folk singer Ahmet Kaya was named Musician of the Year at a major music awards ceremony in Türkiye. When he used his acceptance speech to announce his intention to record a video and album in Kurdish, a language banned in Türkiye at the time, all hell broke loose. He was booed and attacked on the night by fellow artists, and subsequently driven out of Türkiye, dying in exile in Paris the following year. His stand for Kurdish rights has since been cited as a turning point in Turkish consciousness and the discrimination of Turkish Kurds.

İzmit Earthquake

The İzmit Earthquake struck in the early hours of 17 August 1999. With a 7.6 magnitude, it was one of the most devastating disasters in Türkiye. Its epicentre was the Gölcük district of Kocaeli, near to the city of İzmit and its destructive impact was felt in Istanbul over 100lm away. The death toll was over 17,000, with a further 45,000 injured and 500,000 people left homeless.

Engineer Üzeyir Garih’s vision for a water pipeline to the TRNC

One of Türkiye’s greatest engineers of the modern era was Üzeyir Garih. He was also a writer, investor and businessman, who co-founded the Alarko conglomerate with fellow Turkish Jew İshak Alaton.

In the mid-90s, Garih suggested an underwater pipeline to the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, which suffers from chronic water shortages. Many dismissed this idea, so Garih’s company Alsim Alarko undertook a feasibility study. The promising results were presented to former Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit in 1999, who quickly became an advocate. However, it took over a decade before the plans became active.

In 2012, then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave the green light for work to formally start. Alsim Alarko spearheaded the design and initial consultancy, identifying the international partners and suppliers who could successfully deliver on such a complex and unique project.

The pioneering pipeline, 107 km long, was completed in 2015 and marked a global first in engineering due to its unique method of laying the underwater stretch of pipes – 80km in total – under the Mediterranean Sea.


Main image, top, clockwise top left:  1980 military coup head and former president Kenan Evren, Erkin Koray, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Aida Pekkan, Naim Süleymanoğlu, cropped Hababam Sınıfı film poster, laying of smart water pipes between Türkiye and the TRNC, 1974 Cyprus Peace Operation poster, TRT1 logo,  former Prime Minister and President Turgut Özal, Türkiye’s first female Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, scene from the 1999 İzmit earthquake as people inspect wreck of houses in the city,  Turkish Republic centenary logo, and Turkish Aerospace / TUSAŞ logo.


Exploring the major milestones and key characters from the Republic of Türkiye’s magnificent first century, P1: 1920s-1950s