Bülent Ecevit, former prime minister of Turkey and poet, has died at 81

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Bülent Ecevit, former prime minister of Turkey and poet, has died at 81. Ecevit was in a coma for nearly six months following a stroke.

Ecevit was the prime minister of the government ordering a military intervention on July 20, 1974, to prevent a coup in Cyprus by Greek forces, dividing the island and setting the stage for the foundation of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Following the September 12, 1980, military coup led by General Kenan Evren, Ecevit was incarcerated and was suspended from active politics for life. A referendum in 1987 lifted his ban from politics, and he became the chairman of the Demokratik Sol Parti (Democratic Left Party) in 1989, inheriting the position from his wife, Rahşan Ecevit.

He was a deputy prime minister under the last government of Mesut Yılmaz and then was briefly caretaker Prime Minister in the run-up to the 1999 general elections. In those elections, Ecevit's party gained the largest number of seats, leading to Ecevit's final stint as Prime Minister in a coalition with the Anavatan Partisi (Motherland Party) of Mesut Yilmaz and the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party).

The short-term economic pain caused rifts within his coalition and party, and eventually forced new elections in 2002. Ecevit, at this time visibly frail, was unsuccessful in leading his party back into the National Assembly. Ecevit subsequently retired from active politics in 2004.

Bülent Ecevit was not only a politician but a poet and writer. He studied Sanskrit, Bengali, and English and translated works by Rabindranath Tagore, T. S. Eliot, and Bernard Lewis into Turkish.

Ecevit was hospitalized at the Gülhane Military Hospital in Ankara and placed in a medically induced coma after suffering a stroke on May 19, 2006. He died on November 5 without regaining consciousness.