Politician and statesman, the eighth Prime Minister of Turkey (B. 13th October 1927, Malatya – D. 17th April 1993, Ankara). His full name was Halil Turgut Özal and he was the son of Memet Sıddık, a bank clerk and Hafize Hanım, a primary school teacher and brother of Korkut Özal, a former minister, the father of Ahmet Özal, a former deputy.
He attended various primary and secondary schools around the country because his father’s profession required them to move a lot. When he was four years old, they moved to Bilecik/Söğüt. He started his primary education there and completed it in Silifke where they moved later. He was sent to Konya High School since there wasn’t any High School in Mardin where he completed his secondary education. However, when his brother, Korkut, completed secondary school, they both were sent to Malatya, where their uncle, Süleyman Doğan, resided. In the end, the family gathered in Kayseri and Özal graduated from high school in Kayseri. Afterwards, he passed all three exams for three different faculties and he chose to attend the Department of Electrical Engineering of Istanbul Technical University.
He had financial difficulties during his education at the university and this was the main reason for him to work in various charitable organizations after he began to work. Once when he worked in the State Planning Department, he gave the clothes he wore to a poor person because he had not money on him. The poverty and difficulties he had in his life had an important role in that behaviour. During his university life, he took an active role in youth-led movements, and he was the president of the charity department of students’ union. With his brother, Korkut, he established “Anadolu’nun bağrından kopanlara İstanbul’u Tanıtma Kulübü” (T.N. Society of the promotion of Istanbul to those who come to Istanbul from Anatolia)
In 1950, he graduated from the Department of Electrical Engineering of Istanbul Technical University. He worked at General Directorate of State Water Works and at the General Directorate of Electrical Power Studies (EIEI) in Ankara. He got married there but it lasted for a short time. After his divorce in 1952, he got married to Semra Hanım working in EIEI. They had three children. Soon after they got married, he was sent to the USA for specialization training for his job. After he returned to Turkey, he was appointed as the Technical Consultant of General Directorate in EİEİ. In 1958, he worked at the secretariat in the Planning Commission and in 1959 he joined the army as reserve officer in Ankara Ordnance School for his military duty. Süleyman Demirel, the General Manager of General Directorate of State Water Works, was a student there as reserve officer. Özal was a soldier during the 27th May coup d'état. After his duty in military, he went back to his office in the General Directorate of Electrical Power Studies and also attended the foundation of the State Planning Department (DPT).
In 1965, he became the private technical counsellor of Prime Ministry. In 1967, he was appointed to the Secretariat of the State Planning Department. He was among the legislature for the financial law in 1970. He resigned from this duty on 12th March 1971. He went to the USA and he worked there as a private counsellor in Industrial Administration of the World Bank until 1973. When he returned to Turkey, he worked as an administrator in private banks, iron and steel plants, in the automotive industry and in some private companies in textile, food and casting industries.
In 1977, he was a candidate for deputy of Izmir within the Milli Selamet Party but he was defeated in polls. After that, he worked at the Union of Metal Goods Industrialists (MESS) as the chairman. In November 1979, during the government formed by Süleyman Demirel, he turned back to the civil service and he was appointed as the Prime Ministry Undersecretary and to Deputy Undersecretary of the State Planning Department. He was a member of legislature for the Economical Precaution Package published on 24th January 1980 and he took all responsibilities of those economical judgements.
At the beginning of 1980 when those precautions, known as the “24 Ocak Kararları” (T.N. Ordinances of 24 January), were taken, economy of Turkey was faced with growing problems especially in terms of external financing. Production growth rate, which started to fall down in the second half of 1970, dropped below the population growth rate in 1979 and in the same year, inflation increased progressively. Ordinances of 24 January intended to reduce inflation and to straighten balance of payment by using exchange rate and money supply. Within the scope of stabilization program, which was intended to encourage exportation and to apply free market economy rules, value of Turkish Lira was reduced to around at the rate of 50%. Multiple exchange rate was narrowed down and rate of interests were increased. On 1st July 1980, when state supervision on rate of interests was removed, the era called Temmuz Bankacılığı (T.N. July Banking) began.
On September 12th, 1980, after the coup d'état, Özal was the Vice-Prime Minister and Ministry of State in charge of economy in the Government of Bülent Ulusu formed on September 20th and he continued to apply the Ordinances of 24 January. Tax changes, which couldn’t be applied at first, were imposed in 1981. On April 30th, 1981 they decided to determine the value of Turkish Lira daily. Özal resigned from his duty after the Bankerler Olayı (T.N. Banker Incidents) which resulted in the collapse of brokerage market on 20th April 1981. He worked in İslam Kalkınma Bankası (T.N. Islamic Development Bank) and worked in various companies as counsellor.
On May 20th, 1983 Özal founded the Anavatan Party (ANAVATAN) and became its leader when it was allowed to found political parties after the 12th September era. The Anavatan Party, which supported reducing state supervision on economy, deregulation of foreign trade, encouragement of foreign capital, applying economic liberalism allowing rivalry and having close relations with Middle East countries, was one of the three political parties who were allowed to participate in the election. On November 6th, 1983 his party won the elections and he formed the government to become the 19th Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey on 13th December 1983.
On April 13th, 1985, he was elected as the General President of the Anavatan Party in its first general congress and he again won the national elections in 1987. On 21st December 1987, he formed the second Özal Government. On 18th June 1988, he survived an assassination attempt during the party congress. One bullet wounded his finger. That day, he was elected as the general president of the party again by unanimous vote. Afterwards, he was elected as the president and he became the eighth President of the Republic of Turkey on 9th November 1989 after Kenan Evren resigned on 31st October 1989.
Turgut Özal changed the mentalities in economy, philosophy, politics and foreign policy with his manner of rule. He adopted a policy, open to innovation and he courageously adopted courses of actions which would change fate of Turkey. He tried to apply and adopt liberal economy and liberal thought fully.
Everyone waited impatiently to see if he, as a president of a laic country, would attend to the Friday prayer or not and he went to Ankara Kocatepe Camii (Mosque) and attended to the Friday prayer. That day, there, in Kocatepe, was a stampede and everyone wept for joy. Özal, who wished that Turkey would play an important role in the region, died on April 17th, 1993, when he returned from his exhausting visits to Balkans and Middle Asia. Because of his sudden death, it was claimed, especially by his family, that he was poisoned. He was buried where Adnan Menderes also rests by his will saying “Upon my dead, bury me in Istanbul, I want to be under the morale of Fatih Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror till the Judgement Day.”
La Turqie en Europe (France, 1988), Turgut Özal’ın Anıları (Prepared for publication: Mehmet Barlas, 2000).
REFERENCE (Başlıcaları): Emin Çölaşan / 24 Ocak... Bir Dönemin Perde Arkası (1983), Özal Ekonomisinin Perde Arkası (1984), Türk ve Dünya Ünlüleri Ansiklopedisi (c. 8, İstanbul 1985), Büyük Larousse Sözlük ve Ansiklopedi (c.17, 1986), Yavuz Donat / Özallı Yıllar 1983-1987 (1987), İhsan Işık / Bir Portre: Turgut Özal (İki Yobaz, 1996, s. 113-118), Beşir Ayvazoğlu / Bir Cumhurbaşkanının İçimizden Biri Olarak Portresi (Defterimde Kırk Sûret, 3. bas., 1999, s. 84-88), İhsan Işık / Türkiye Yazarlar Ansiklopedisi (2001, 2004) – Encyclopedia of Turkish Authors (2005) - Resimli ve Metin Örnekli Türkiye Edebiyatçılar ve Kültür Adamları Ansiklopedisi (2007) – Ünlü Devlet Adamları (Türkiye Ünlüleri Ansiklopedisi, C. 1, 2013) - Encyclopedia of Turkey’s Famous People (2013), Oktay Ekşi / Bir muhasebe (10.11.2004), Çetin Altan / Bizim Oligarşik Kadırga ve Turgut Özal Pragmatizmi (Milliyet, 19 Nisan 2006), Sema Dülger / Dünden Bugüne Devletin Zirvesindekiler (2007).