Turkish Premier Ecevit consulted Bhagavad Geeta both in war and peace
Note ;In early 21 century ,with the rise of religious fundamentalism and obscurantism ; in the wake of collapse of the Soviet Union aka scientific socialism and even moderate socialism ,with Islamic fundamentalism tearing into the core of Pakistan and the rise of Hindutva in India, under the command of Narendra Modi ,who let lose a pogrom against Muslims ,Bharat is inching towards his becoming India's prime minister .God forbid .In Ataturk's Jacobean secular Turkey ,an authoritarian dictator and Islamist Tayep Erdogan is ruling in Ankara ruthlessly since ten years .It would be therefore difficult for Indians to believe , specially hardliners that Turkey had a liberal , socialist and multi-culture loving prime minister in Bulent Ecevit, just over a decade ago.
In 1974, on a visit to London from Paris , where I was then posted ,I switched on the BBC TV and saw Bulent Ecevit, then Prime Minister for the first time ,who had just sent the Turkish troops to Cyprus, where they still stay put, being interviewed. When asked what gave him the courage to send in the troops, which many other Turkish Premiers in the past would have loved to do but dared not. Apart from other reasons Ecevit responded that he was inspired by the teachings of Bhagavad Geeta; if one was morally in a correct position, one should not hesitate to fight injustice, against mighty and even against ones near and dear ones. Earlier I had read an interview in the International Herald Tribune, in which the interviewer remarked on the books in Ecevit's library; among others, he prominently pointed out the Geeta and Nehru's Glimpses of World History. Ecevit said they had influenced him profoundly.
In spite of stereotyped , West promoted notion of the terrible Turk, following centuries of Crusades and Jihad between them, Turks are no different than other people .Having never been enslaved ,they are a proud people .They hold India and its leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi , Indian civilisation and culture and the democratic system in the highest regard, not withstanding their having been on the opposite side during the Cold War and their quid pro quo support to Pakistan on Kashmir, for New Delhi's support for Archbishop on Cyprus.
When I returned to Ankara in 1992 as Ambassador, (having been earlier posted in Turkey from 1969 to 1973) I requested Ecevit to elucidate his views on Geeta's role in his decision to invade the Republic of Cyprus. He said that Turkey along with UK and Greece was one of the Guarantor Powers of the Cypriot Constitution, according to which if a change was brought about in the status of Cyprus, it could act with them to restore back the situation. The Greek Cypriot leadership, after a coup, in league with Greece, had declared unity with Greece (Enosis) and as Britain was dithering (to take any action); Turkey had no option but to protect Turkish Cypriot community and its own strategic interests.
Ecevit added that he abhorred violence in internal politics and also in international relations, but he was convinced that the situation created by the Greek Cypriots enlarged the Greek border with Turkey to include Cyprus. It would have led to constant tensions and perhaps a full scale war between Turkey and Greece. So with a heavy heart he ordered the military strike as he felt that he was morally right and the action would ultimately produce less strife and violence in the long run. (He has been proved correct.)While he was quoting Geeta in international media, India, of course, because of our foreign policy compulsions were denouncing Turkish invasion in the UN and elsewhere.
In a military exercise in 1979, Ecevit was greatly pained and concerned with the agony of an injured horse, much to the disgust and chagrin of his Military Chief, Gen. Kenan Evren.
Ecevit mentioned Bhagavad Geeta again when I recalled his defeating in 1972 the legendary and venerable leader Ismet Inonu (who had warned Nehru during the 1960 visit to Turkey , not to trust the Communists aka China and against opposition sent some mountain guns to India after 1962.) Ecevit stood for the Republican Peoples party leadership against Inonu who was the right hand man of Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's liberator, founder and modernizer .After Ataturk' death in 1938 Inonu became president .Earlier he was most of the time prime minister .Inonu on Ataturk's advice adroitly kept Turkey out of World War II. He then played a vital role in Turkey's transition from one party rule to multiparty democracy.
After the 1971 Army ultimatum which forced Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel to resign, Ecevit and Inonu, though together in opposition, had different perceptions of the political situation. Ecevit had opposed the ultimatum, while Inonu had acquiesced in, not to exacerbate the situation at that juncture. Ecevit said that he had the greatest regard for Inonu, a father figure (Bulent's father was Inonu's personal physician and close friend) and who was his teacher and leader (like Dronacharya!), but he differed from his teacher very strongly and in order to make up his mind and choose the right path, he again studied Geeta before taking up the political fight against Inonu. Inonu lost and resigned from the party .He died a year later at the age of 89.
As a result of Ecevit's stand against military intervention, his party did well in elections in 1973, as I had predicted to Mrs Ecevit .He formed a coalition government with the National Order party of Najemettin Erbakan, thus giving a foot hold to an Islamist party for the first time .Now Erbakan's protégé Islamist Tayep Erdogan is ruling Turkey with a strong hand since 2002.
Ecevit was born at Istanbul in 1925 and as a young man took some Sanskrit lessons at the Indology department of Ankara University. When posted as Cultural Attache at the Turkish Embassy in London, his love for poetry and philosophic bent of mind drew him to study Rabindra Nath Tagore's Geetanjali and Bhagvata Geeta... He learnt Sanskrit to better understand Geeta and Bengali to appreciate and translate Tagore's writings .He was surprised to find similarities between Turkish and Sanskrit and Bengali, not only in the vocabulary but in the syntax also. He repeated this when I presented to him my essay on the influence of Turkish on Hindustani languages. He said that he had translated only a few poems from Geetanjali. He would like to do more but his profession gave him little respite. He also translated Ezra Pound and TS Elliot.
Tagore's works, Geetanjali ( in full), Gora, Hungry Stones, the Gardener, Chitra, Stray Birds etc, perhaps more than 20 works have been translated into Turkish , most longtime ago, some later. In 1971, after the military crackdown on leftists, mysteriously Upanishads, Geeta, Geetanjali etc were banned. On enquiries, it was revealed that these books were found along with writings of Karl Marx, Engels and Lenin in a leftists den .In the maze of the bureaucracy as no one went through them, all were banned. The ban on Indian writings was soon lifted. The leftist students apart from Karl Marx and Mao also studied the Naxalbari movement of Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal.
During president Shankar Dayal Sharma's visit to Turkey in 1993 Ecevit was invited to visit India .In 2000 he also fulfilled his dream of going over to Shantiniketan, where he was honoured for promoting Bengali literature.
Bulent Ecevit, five times Turkish Prime Minister and a key political player for almost half a century died on 6 November, 2006 aged 81 after a long illness . Apart from 1974, he was twice premier from 1977 to 1979, with his last stint from 1999-2002. Representing the coalminers of Black Sea coast town of Zonguldak, as labour minister he gave the Turkish workers the right to strike for the first time in Turkey. Apart from being a poet, Ecevit had also worked as a journalist.
K Gajendra Singh, served as ambassador to Turkey from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.