In a land traumatized by economic woes, political paralysis and the worst daily terrorism toll in the world, the two-day Bairam holiday marking the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan burst today on this troubled capital with all the relief of a summer thundershower on the surrounding parched plains of Anatolia.
For a few days, at least, it was a time of national escapism from the harsh and ugly realities of terrorism that have come to haunt daily life in Turkey in recent years.
Turks speak of the daily "kill ratios" as if it were the early days of the Vietnam war. This year began, officials said, with five to six killings a day. Last month, the average shot up to 12.5 death a day. Last weekend, there was one 24 hour period in which 24 persons were gunned to death across the country.
In the dusty sun-scorched streets of Ankara, the end of the fast was announced by strolling drummers and flute players who meandered, with no particular sense of purpose, along the sidewalks. They threaded their way between pairs of helmeted soldiers, holding automatic rifles at the ready.
The nation's politicians, unable to pass a single legislative bill in more than three months because of a total deadlock over the long overdue election of a new head of state, fled the capital like lemmings for beach resorts along the Black and Aegean seas.
Even the Ankara police chief fled his daily worries for a week's rest at the beach resort of Bodrum, across from the Dodecanese island, south of Izmir, Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel preceded him there by several days. i
"We don't have much to be happy about these days," said businessman Sinan Burkan as he nursed a tea, in lieu of the chronically unavailable Turkish coffee, at a small outdoor cafe along Ataturk Boulevard. "So we welcome whatever opportunity, no matter how brief, to forget the problems that mold our life."
"If I could believe that our government, our politicians could actually resolve our national crisis," Gurkan said, "then I could really enjoy this holiday better. But I don't have much faith that our problems are going to be solved any time soon. That is the Turkish tragedy."
Police officials here estimate there are some 50 or so groups of the extreme right and left, well-armed and at war with each other and the state in a desperate gamble to upset Turkey's precarious democracy.
What began as small armed clashes on university campuses among rival ideological groups in the mid-1970s has now spread throughout Turkey like a plague.
In 1976, there were only 82 people killed by the new terrorist groups, according to official figures. Every year since then, the number has mushroomed: in 1977, there were 231 killed, in 1978, it was 1,170 and last year the number swept over the 2,000 mark. Already this year at least 1,400 persons have been killed and 10,000 wounded in terrorist attacks.
"We are passing through a very grave and serious time in our history," said Bulent Ecevit, the former prime minister, as he sat morosely amidst the fine books of art and poetry in the study of his apartment outside Ankara. "Our country has been dragged into a cycle of accelerated terrorism by the extreme right and the extreme left."
Pinpointing the problem is not solving it, however, Ecevit, who lost the prime ministership to his rival and antagonist Demirel last fall, has few real answers to the problem which he failed to curb -- as Demirel has since his takeover.
Being politicians, both Ecevit and Demirel blame each other for the state's failure to deal with the explosive terrorist issue. Ecevit accuses his rival of tolerating, if not outright encouraging, extreme right-wing groups to appease Alparslan Turkes' rightist Nationalist Action Party. This is one of the two minor parties keeping Demirel's Justice Party in power.
Demiral counters by asking why Ecevit, a Social Democrat, has not denounced the extreme leftists in the ranks of his own Republican People's Party. For Demirel, the problem is all on the left, or the "communists," as he calls them all, and not a question of the right at all.
Ironically, both the extreme right and the extreme left, for their own reasons, are trying to egg on Turkey's Army to intervene, as it did in 1960 and in 1971. The extremists think their desired collapse of the present democratic system would be greatly enchanced by a military takeover.
The military, however, has shown every sign of being more than aware of the trap that the extremists have tried to set. Under Chief of Staff Gen. Kenan Evren, the military has remained scrupulously neutral in the political fray as the only united and unpoliticized institution in the land.
Part of the armed forces' caution stems from a very cold-blooded realization of their limitations in combating terrorism. For the past several years, they have had 20 of the nation's 67 provinces under tight martial law, with their urban centers, like Ankara, patrolled around the clock by armed, battle-ready soldiers. The military high command, sources close to it say, is very much aware that by taking over the government it could probably do little more than it is already doing today.
The military also understands Turkey's crying need for massive economic support from the West if the country's near-moribund economy is to be revived. It is aware that such aid -- which this year alone has totalled $3 billion -- would dry up at the first sign that democracy was being overthrown.
The military, instead, has sought to prod the politicians to greater action in the hope that they can rise above their traditional enmities and petty feuds to work together on policies of national salvation, particularly in the field of internal security.
Such pressures bore some fruit late last month when, under military urging, Demirel and Ecevit met and agreed to support five new emergency antiterrorism measures to be introduced in the legislature. Two of these would provide greater powers to martial law administrators and another would increase judicial penalties for convicted terrorists. The other two would seek to speed up court procedures and provide government compensation to the families of policemen and soldiers slain by terrorists.
Unfortunately consumation of the new antiterrorism pact between Demirel and Ecevit remains stalled by the three-month deadlock in the legislature over the election of a new national president. With the two leaders totally opposed to each others' candidates, more than 100 ballots have been cast with no winner. This has paralyzed the National Assembly's ability to deal with such crucial legislation as a much-needed tax reform and the new anti-terrorism measures.