İSMET İNÖNÜ (1884-1973)
İsmet İnönü was a famous commander in the War of Independence, a successful diplomat at the Lausanne Peace Agreement, and Turkey’s first prime minister and second president. He is regarded as the ‘second figure,’ after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, among those in the vanguard of the foundation of modern Turkey.
İsmet İnönü’s father was an examining magistrate at İzmir Court, Hacı Reşid Bey of Malatya, and hıs mother the lady Cevriye (Temelli) from Bulgaria. He was born in İzmir, but completed his primary education in Sivas on account of his father’s work. İnönü was by no means a successful student at the Sivas Military Middle School, which he entered at an early age. After studying for one year at the Sivas Civil Service High School, he entered the high school department of the Artillery War Academy in Istanbul, graduating with honours. He continued this success at the Artillery War Academy, which he entered next. Graduating from there at the head of his class he earned the right to join the Advanced Military School, which was then a training school for officers.
During his student years, İsmet İnönü was as deeply interested in the problems facing the country as he was by his courses. He began learning French while still in middle school, and learned German at the Military Academy, and was easily able to follow publications in both languages concerning military and political matters. Sultan Abdülhamid’s increasing constraints and the Ottoman Empire’s foreign policy led to dissatisfaction in the youthful patriot. İnönü’s schoolmates felt the same concerns. They would frequently meet to discuss the situation facing the country. That led to his receiving a first disciplinary warning, although the respect he had gained among his teachers and those close to him prevented him being expelled.
In 1906 he was posted to the 2nd Army at Edirne as a staff captain, and at the end of 1907 secretly joined the Committee for Union and Progress. Following the declaration of the second constitutional monarchy in 1908, he became an influential member of the committee in its Edirne headquarters. In November the same year he was promoted to senior captain. At Yeşilköy he joined the Mobile Army, which suppressed the March 31 incidents in 1909, working for a time at headquarters. He then attended the Committee for Union and Progress congress as 2nd Army delegate. At that congress he shared the views of Mustafa Kemal, who believed that the army should remain outside politics, and acted in concert with him. That view attracted some support, but nevertheless remained a minority one. Following the congress, İnönü’s links to the committee were severed.
İsmet İnönü was one whose industriousness, discipline and ability immediately brought him to notice. When the then chief of general staff, Ahmed İzzet Paşa, was tasked with suppressing the Yemen Revolt in 1910, İnönü was selected as his adjutant. Promoted to the rank of major in 1912, he remained in Yemen until 1913, when he returned to Istanbul to take up a post at the War Ministry headquarters alongside Enver Paşa. During that attachment he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and played an influential role in the renewal of the army. Following a request to serve on the front, he was posted to the 2nd Army as chief of staff in October 1915, and was promoted colonel that same year.
İsmet İnönü proved himself to be a talented and successful soldier on all the fronts on which he served during World War I. He served as chief of staff of the 2nd Army and commander of the XX and III Army Corps, reaching the final rank of colonel during the war and serving as undersecretary at the War Ministry. İnönü received 11 awards and medals for his performance in the war, and married a lady called Mevhibe in 1919.
During his time as undersecretary at the War Ministry, İnönü frequently met with Mustafa Kemal Paşa at the latter’s house in Şişli, where they would discuss how to free the country from enemy occupation. At Mustafa Kemal’s request he went to Ankara in January 1920 for meetings regarding the establishment of a national army. He then returned to Istanbul at the request of Fevzi Çakmak Paşa, who had been appointed to the War Ministry. On March 16, 1920, following the occupation of Istanbul by the Allied Powers, Mustafa Kemal ordered İnönü to Ankara. İnönü obeyed at once, and set out dressed as an ordinary private soldier to avoid being recognised, arriving in Ankara on April 9, 1920. He entered Parliament, which opened on April 23, 1920, as member for Edirne and represented the General Staff in the newly formed Cabinet. His task was to form and direct the new national army. During this time, Mustafa Kemal and İsmet İnönü were sentenced to death by the Istanbul government.
While the national army was still in the process of being established, the Greeks invaded the Aegean region and began moving on central Anatolia. The Western front was now the most important and dangerous. İnönü was appointed to command the northern sector of that front on November 10, 1920. On January 6, 1921, the Greeks attacked the Turkish Army on İnönü’s sector between Bursa and Eskişehir. This conflict, known as the First İnönü War, resulted in victory for the Turkish Army, superbly commanded by İnönü. He then put down a revolt led by Çerkez Ethem.
On March 1, 1921, the Turkish Parliament decided to promote İnönü to major-general, after which, as an officer of general rank, he began to be referred to as İsmet Paşa. Shortly afterwards, the Greeks regrouped and initiated a second attack in the area where the First İnönü War had been fought, on March 23, 1921. This conflict, known as the Second İnönü War, again ended in a Turkish victory, and the Greeks began to withdraw. Later still, İsmet Paşa assumed important posts in the Sakarya War, the Grand Offensive and the Chief Command Battle of 1921-1922. His success in these campaigns was rewarded by Parliament with the Independence Medal.
Peace was established with the Mudanya Ceasefire Agreement on October 11, 1922, and international meetings began on the subject of recognizing Turkish independence. İsmet Paşa was appointed foreign minister by Mustafa Kemal, and was thus able to attend the Lausanne Conference.
During the Lausanne Conference İnönü proved to be as talented a diplomat as he was soldier. Led by İnönü, the Lausanne peace talks again ended in another victory for the Turks.
İsmet Paşa once more participated in the Turkish Parliament’s second term as foreign minister. He was constantly at Mustafa Kemal’s side during the foundation of the Republic and the preparation of the new Constitution, and exerted a profound influence. Immediately after the declaration of the Turkish Republic, he was charged with forming the government as prime minister. During his 12 years in that post, he implemented the principles of Kemal Ataturk, re-ordered the Turkish economy and established sound relations with overseas states. In 1937, he asked to resign the post of prime minister, which was duly accepted.
Following the death of Ataturk in 1938, İnönü was elected Turkish president and chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). During the Second World War he scrupulously tried to maintain Turkish neutrality, and was careful to establish multilateral relations with the powers engaged in the conflict. On January 1943 he met with British prime Minister Winston Churchill in Adana, and with Churchill and U.S. President Roosevelt in Cairo in December that same year. He also signed a non-aggression pact with Germany during the war.
Even during the war İsmet İnönü was thinking about the transition to democracy, making this clear in many of his addresses. His aim was to put an end to single-party rule and to move to a multi-party system. Work aimed at bringing this about commenced after the war. The Democratic Party was set up under the chairmanship of Celal Bayar in 1946. When that party won the 1950 elections, the CHP entered Parliament as the opposition. As CHP chairman, İnönü assumed the role of leader of the opposition.
In the 1961 elections following the May 27, 1960, military intervention, he formed three coalition governments as chairman of the party with the greatest number of deputies. When the government he had formed lost a vote of confidence in 1965, İnönü returned to the post of leader of the opposition. He also prevented a cessation of democracy by preventing attempted coups on February 22, 1962 and May 21, 1963. During the Cyprus incidents of 1964 his move to land troops there was blocked by the United States. Following this he turned to a multilateral view of foreign policy.
In 1972, İsmet İnönü had disagreements with the party leadership on a number of issues, and resigned the chairmanship after failing to secure sufficient backing at the party conference. He entered the Senate in 1971, as a result of a constitutional amendment allowing former presidents to do so.
His death was the cause of great mourning at home and overseas, and his tomb is next to that of Ataturk at Anıtkabir.