He was born in 1899 in Trabzon. After attending elementary school and middle school in Erzurum, and Edirne in Turkiye , he graduated from Kuleli military high school in İstanbul. During World War I, he fought in 1917 at the Palestine front and became a prisoner of war of the British in Egypt in 1918. After his release, he fought first on the southern front, then on the western front during the Turkish War of Independence.
Sunay completed his military education in 1927, and graduated from the military academy in 1930 as a staff officer. Rising through the ranks to become a general in 1949 and then a four-star general in 1959, he held important military posts. In 1960, he was appointed army chief and later joint chief of staff. On March 14, 1966, he was appointed to the senate by Cemal Gürsel under his presidential contingency.
When Gürsel's presidency was terminated due to ill health in accordance with the constitution, Cevdet Sunay was elected 5th president by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on March 28, 1966. He maintained his office despite increasing terrorist activity, student riots, and threatened coups. He served the constitutional term of seven years until March 28, 1973 and became then a permanent senator.
He was married to Atıfet in 1929. They had three children.