Tansu Çiller ([ˈtansʊ tʃiˈlːæɾ]; born 24 May 1946) is a Turkish academician, economist, and politician who served as the 22nd Prime Minister of Turkey from 1993 to 1996. She is Turkey's first and only female prime minister to date. As the leader of the True Path Party, she went on to concurrently serve as Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey and as Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1996 and 1997.
As a Professor of Economics, Çiller was appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for the economy by Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel in 1991. When Demirel was elected as President in 1993, Çiller was elected leader of the True Path Party and succeeded Demirel as Prime Minister. Her premiership preceded over the intensifying armed conflict between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Kurdish separatist PKK, resulting in Çiller enacting numerous reforms to national defence and implementing the Castle Plan. With a better equipped military, Çiller's government was able to persuade the United States to register the PKK as a terrorist organisation. Shortly after winning the 1994 local elections, large-scale capital flight due to the lack of confidence in Çiller's budget deficit targets led to the Turkish Lira and foreign currency reserves almost collapsing. Amid the subsequent economic crisis and austerity measures, her government signed the EU-Turkey Customs Union in 1995. Her government was alleged to have supported the 1995 Azeri coup d'état attempt and presided over an escalation of tensions with Greece after claiming sovereignty over the Imia/Kardak islets. Although the DYP came third in the 1995 general election, she remained as Prime Minister until Necmettin Erbakan formed a government in 1996 with Çiller becoming Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Susurluk car crash in 1996 and the subsequent Susurluk scandal revealed the relations between extra-legal organisations and Çiller's government. Revelations that Çiller had employed individuals such as Abdullah Çatlı led to a decline of popularity. Erbakan's government fell following a military memorandum in 1997 and the DYP declined further in the 1999 general election. Despite coming third in the 2002 general election, Çiller's DYP won less than 10% of the vote and thus lost all parliamentary representation, which led to her resignation as party leader and departure from active politics.
Çiller was born at Istanbul; her father was first a journalist, then a Turkish governor of Bilecik Province during the 1950s. Tansu was the only child and she graduated from the School of Economics at Robert College after finishing the American College for Girls in Istanbul. She received her M.S. from the University of New Hampshire and Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. She later completed her postdoctoral studies at Yale University.
Çiller taught economics at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In 1978, she became a lecturer at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul and in 1983 she was appointed as professor by the same institution. She also worked in the now-defunct Istanbul Bank as president of the company.
Çiller entered politics in November 1990, joining the conservative True Path Party (DYP) as economic advisor to former Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel. She was elected to the parliament in 1991 as deputy representing Istanbul. The DYP became the largest party (with 27 per cent of the seats) and Demirel formed a coalition government (49th government of Turkey). Tansu Çiller was appointed economics minister. She was elected to the executive board of DYP and acquired the position as deputy chair.
After the death in office of President Turgut Özal (which according to some was part of the 1993 alleged Turkish military coup), DYP Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel won the 1993 presidential election on 16 May 1993. Suddenly the important position as Prime Minister and leader of the DYP was vacant. The party found itself in an identity crisis. Ciller was no obvious candidate, but the three male contenders could not muster the resources, skill and support to compete effectively. Ciller was a professional urban woman, young and smart with a Western higher education. The media supported her, as well as the business community, and externally she gave the impression that Turkey was a progressive Muslim country. On 13 June 47-year-old Çiller fell 11 votes shy of a majority in the first ballot for party leader. Her opponents withdrew and she became the party's leader and on 25 June, the Prime Minister of the DYP-Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP) coalition government (50th government of Turkey).
Çiller continued Demirel's coalition government, but replaced most of the ministers from her own party. She was the only woman until 1995, when a woman state minister for women and family affairs was appointed. Ciller did not continue Demirel's policies. As Prime Minister she promoted a conservative populism and economic liberalism. She juggled "masculine" and "feminine" styles, boasting of her "toughness" at the same time as she wanted to be the nation's mother and sister. She became a new role model for a woman politician with clout who did not deny her femininity, and she had success, but also created confusion, distrust and disgust. She ruled authoritatively, taking control of the party organization, pursued established male politicies and was uninterested in women's issues.
Following the death of Özal, the Castle Plan to attack the PKK (previously approved by the National Security Council) was put into effect (although elements of the strategy preceded the official Plan). Çiller declared on 4 October 1993: "We know the list of businessmen and artists subjected to racketeering by the PKK and we shall be bringing their members to account." Beginning on 14 January 1994, almost a hundred people were kidnapped by commandos wearing uniforms and travelling in police vehicles and then killed somewhere along the road from Ankara to Istanbul. Abdullah Catli, a leader of the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves and an organized crime figure, demanded money from people who were on "Çiller’s list", promising to get their names removed. One of his victims, Behçet Cantürk, was to pay ten million dollars, to which Casino King Ömer Lütfü Topal added a further seventeen million. However, after receiving the money, he then went on to have them kidnapped and killed, and sometimes tortured beforehand.
The EU-Turkey Customs Union agreement was signed in 1995 and came into effect in 1996 during Çiller's government. In March 1995 the 1995 Azeri coup d'état attempt took place; official reports following the 1996 Susurluk scandal suggested Çiller and others in the government had supported the coup attempt, which aimed to reinstall Ebulfeyz Elçibey as president.
After the withdrawal of the Republican People's Party (CHP) from the coalition in October 1995 (the SHP had split, merged, and renamed itself) Çiller attempted to form a minority government, which failed in less than a month (51st government of Turkey). After that she agreed to form another cabinet (52nd government of Turkey) with the CHP and went for general elections, which took place in December 1995. Coalition negotiations were protracted, and Çiller remained in office at the head of the DYP-CHP coalition until March 1996, when the DYP formed a coalition with the Motherland Party, with Mesut Yılmaz becoming Prime Minister.
Çiller was still prime minister during the January 1996 Imia/Kardak crisis with neighbouring Greece.
One of Çiller's major achievements was to transform the Turkish Army from an organization using vintage equipment from the US Army into a modern fighting force capable of defeating the PKK, using hit-and-run tactics. She also convinced the U.S. government to list the PKK as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, which was later followed by the acceptance of the same by the European Union.
With the creation of the Motherland Party-DYP coalition in March 1996 under Mesut Yılmaz (53rd government of Turkey), Çiller became Minister of Foreign Affairs and deputy Prime Minister. After the coalition collapsed in June 1996, the DYP joined a new coalition with the Welfare Party, under Necmettin Erbakan, with Çiller retaining her positions. This was the beginning of DYP's and Çiller's decline. Çiller lost credibility as a political leader because she joined forces with those she criticized the most.
After the November 1996 Susurluk car crash, which prompted the Susurluk scandal, she praised Abdullah Çatlı, who died in the crash, saying: "Those who fire bullets or suffer their wounds in the name of this country, this nation, and this state will always be respectfully remembered by us."
As deputy Prime Minister, Çiller declared that if Greece tried to divide Albania, it would have the Turkish Army in Athens 24 hours later.
Erbakan's Welfare Party resigned from government following the February 1997 military memorandum. DYP and others expected to form a government under Çiller, but President Süleyman Demirel asked ANAP leader Mesut Yılmaz to form the new government instead. Çiller's manoeuvres, political excuses, failed policies and scandals made her increasingly unpopular. 35 women's organizations took her to court because she lacked principles. She was also criticized for undermining democracy
Tansu Çiller was investigated by the Turkish Parliament on serious corruption charges following her period in government. Along with another former Prime Minister, Mesut Yılmaz, she was later cleared of all the charges mainly due to technicalities such as the statute of limitations and parliamentary immunity. At the end of 1998, the corruption files about Yılmaz and Çiller were covered up at the commissions of the Parliament in a common action staged by DYP, ANAP and DSP MPs.
She remained leader of the DYP until 2002; after its November 2002 election defeat, she retired from political life.
Tansu Çiller is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.
Tansu Çiller is married to Özer Uçuran Çiller and they have two sons, Mert and Berk.