Atatürk’s Energy Policies - Gökberk Bilgin

Tomorrow, we will be celebrating the 96th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. We are grateful to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the people who sacrificed their lives for our independence. After the end of the Independence War in 1922, the new administration began working on repairing the economy immediately.

Of course, it was not easy to change the economic structure that consisted of many capitulations, policies against development, and financial constraints. In the Atatürk era, the officials made several pieces of research, organized meetings, and prepared plans for the new Republic to solve its problems by using its resources.

In 1922, primary energy sources were wood and turd that were roughly 80% of the energy sector. Electricity was only available in İstanbul, Adapazarı, and Tarsus. The mining sector was under the control of foreign firms. The companies that operated the electricity terminals had several privileges. In cities, they were using a higher quality type of coal named anthracite. We were importing it from other countries. It was also used in railroads and by the navy. Overall, Turkey had a limited capacity for energy resources and considerably high costs on energy imports.

Starting from the Turkish Economic Congress at İzmir in 1922, the government began to implement the energy policies one by one. First, they worked on the coal mines located in the Zonguldak region. The main aim was to increase production capacity. To achieve this goal, the critical infrastructure in the area developed. Investments in the railroads and ports attracted new investors to the city. With the support of the İş Bankası, national companies, Türkiş, Kömüriş, Kilimli Kömürleri began operations in the area. They build power plants and facilities, and the coal production process becomes more industrialized. In 1924, a mining school in Zonguldak opened and began to educate students. In 1925, with a new law, only the companies that had a minimum 51% share of Turkish citizens were allowed to operate. In 1935, Etibank established for financing the state companies. With this money, starting from 1936, the government bought the foreign shares, and by 1940, the region becomes wholly nationalized.

With dedicatedly following these policies, Turkey managed to increase the lignite production from 9,000 tonnes in 1930 to 185,000 tonnes in 1939; the coal production doubled in the same period, chromium production increased from 28,000 tonnes to 170,000 tonnes. Also, Turkey began to produce iron in the Karabük region with a facility that was started to build in 1936. Overall, there was a 232% increase in the production of the mining sector between 1930 and 1940.

Among the mining sector, there were also policies in the oil sector as well. Compared to the mining sector, Turkey had less human capital for developing an oil sector in the preceding years of the Republic. The government focused on political and economic independence during these years and restricted any different activities within the borders. By implementing a law in 1926, only the state companies were allowed to search and extract oil. In this period, Turkey received help from the foreign consultants and opened 76 wells between 1926-1954. The total production was 160,000 tonnes.

In the electricity sector, there were only three regions that had access in 1923, which were İstanbul, Adapazarı, and Tarsus. With new investments, the number of cities that has access to electricity increased rapidly throughout the following years. By 1930, 15% of the total population had access to power.

Besides these policies, an exciting development happened in 1934. In the Atatürk Orman Çiftliği, Turkey managed to become the first country that produced biodiesel. According to the thesis of Emrah Hatunoğlu from the Turkish State Planning Agency, Atatürk ordered the officials to research the usage of agricultural oils as a fuel. The evidence shows that the research was successful, and during that period, biodiesel was used in tractors. The developed countries of the day, on the other hand, managed to produce a similar type of fuel in the 1950s. It was an excellent example of Atatürk’s approach to finding internal solutions to dependence.

Overall, the Turkish government in Atatürk’s era managed to overcome the economic problems by carefully establishing policies and patiently following them. The industrial plans also supported with improved education institutions. Some policies aimed to create awareness in public towards the energy sector. The systematic actions produced fruitful results, and the dependence on external resources declined significantly in this period.

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