Former Turkish president Suleyman Demirel, who once escaped an assassination attempt and went through a military coup, has died of heart failure due to respiratory tract infection at the age of 91 late Tuesday night.
According to a statement from the private Guven Hospital in the capital Ankara, Demirel had been under treatment for renal failure, heart failure and acute respiratory tract infection since May 13.
His doctor Aylin Cesur told a press conference that Demirel was also suffering from diabetes. The statement added that he died at 2.05 a.m. Tuesday night.
Demirel was one of Turkey’s most prominent center-right political figures. He served as the country’s prime minister seven times and was president from 1993 to 2000.
With just over a decade in office as premier, he was Turkey’s third-longest serving prime minister after Turkey’s first Prime Minister Ismet Inonu and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Born in 1924 into a peasant family in Turkey’s Isparta province, Demirel graduated from a 121-year-old high school in Afyon known for producing a number of famous politicians and writers.
He studied civil engineering at the Istanbul Technical University and entered politics in 1962 when he was elected to the executive board of the center-right Justice Party, which he later headed from 1964 to 1980.
At Turkey’s 1965 general election, Demirel’s party won an unprecedented 53 percent of the vote, catapulting him into the role of prime minister.
The Justice Party government led by Demirel between 1965 and 1969 was one of the country’s four periods of single-party-rule.
In the 1969 contest his party was the sole winner by a landslide once again.
However, in the late 1960s there was an increasing social and economic unrest in Turkey – a period marked by strikes and street demonstrations, mostly led by left-wing workers and students.
There were also opposition voices and factions within Demirel’s Justice Party.
Following these, the then-Chief of the General Staff, Memduh Tagmac, handed Demirel the Military Memorandum of March 12, 1971 and demanded he form a strong and credible government, and end unrest in the country.
Demirel was forced to resign and he supported the newly-formed technocratic government of Nihat Erim. In 1973’s general election, his party lost to the center-left Republican People’s Party.
Later in 1975, 1977, and 1979 respectively, he formed governments as prime minister.
During these years, he became famous for a statement of pragmatism: “Yesterday is yesterday, today is today,” — showing his ability to maneuver politically.
However, violence erupted again in the late 1970s which saw escalating conflicts between right-wing and left-wing forces across the country.
Today, the Turkish military of the time is widely suspected of having allowed the conflicts to continue in order to justify the army-led coup of September 12, 1980. Then-Chief of the General Staff, General Kenan Evren, who died recently in May 2015, and some service commanders overthrew the civilian government.
The new regime abolished parliament and the government, suspending the constitution and banning all political parties and trade unions.
Following the coup, Demirel was banned from involvement in active politics for 10 years. His party was closed in 1981, but he stayed in touch with his party members.
In 1986, Demirel launched a national campaign for the lifting of political bans and initiated a national referendum on the issue. The referendum on September 6, 1987 brought Demirel back into active politics.
He was now the leader of the True Path Party (DYP) between 1987 and 1993, when he was elected the ninth president of the Republic of Turkey.
Three years later, Demirel escaped without injury when a man attempted to shoot him as he attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a shopping center in Izmit province.
The assassin, a chemist, faced the death penalty but claimed his aim was not to kill the president but to protest Turkey’s military relationship with Israel.
A medical report at the time said that the assassin had suffered from a paranoid syndrome which led to him being placed in custody at the Bakirkoy Psychiatric Hospital in Istanbul for a year.
The assassin was later released after doctors reported that he had no mental problem; he worked in Istanbul until he died in September 2013.
In 1997, just three years before Demirel’s presidential term of office ended, another military memorandum was given to then-Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan from the right-wing Welfare Party.
Demirel was criticized for not supporting the government against the military during the February 28 Military Memorandum — also known as the ‘Post-modern coup’ – when generals forced Erbakan to sign critical decisions at a National Security Council meeting.
In May 2000, Demirel handed over to the then-president of the Constitutional Court, Ahmet Necdet Sezer.
He mostly avoided making political judgments during the current Justice and Development (AK) Party governments.
In 2003, Demirel was reported as saying: “We have to adopt a Turkish-type presidential system,” suggesting that a new style of government should replace the current parliamentary system – a hot topic which dominated Turkey’s 2015 general election.
Demirel spoke English and was the author of a number of books, articles and essays on politics. There are many high schools across the country, a university, and an airport in Isparta named after Demirel.
He was married to Nazmiye Demirel, who died of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 86 in May 2013.