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Turkish PM's tears draw ire of families of 1980 coup victims

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 7/21/2010 12:00:00 AM | İZGİ GÜNGÖR

The prime minister's attempt to turn the upcoming vote on constitutional reforms into a referendum on the 1980 military coup has drawn the ire of some victims' families.

The prime minister’s attempt to turn the upcoming vote on constitutional reforms into a referendum on the 1980 military coup by conjuring bitter memories of that period has drawn the ire of some victims’ families.

“Instead of crying crocodile tears, the prime minister should first apologize to the families of 1980 coup victims and visit us to convince us of his sincerity,” Süleyman Kambur, the brother of a young man executed during the post-coup period, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday.

In an emotion-charged speech to his party’s parliamentary group meeting Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan evoked the memory of young leftists and rightists executed following the 1980 coup in calling for a “yes” vote on proposed constitutional reforms. The referendum is set for Sept. 12, the 30th anniversary of the coup.

“We have wanted the trial of the coup plotters for 30 years but the government hasn’t taken any step in this respect throughout its eight-year rule. [Erdoğan’s] tears are fake,” Kambur, the elder brother of coup victim Mehmet Kambur, told the Daily News.

Though the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has claimed that a vote in favor of its reforms would pave the way for the 1980 coup plotters to be tried, Kambur and other victims’ relatives said they would vote against the package.

“We will say ‘no’ in the referendum. Is it possible for us to say ‘yes’ to a constitutional change that is an extension of the 1980 coup period?” Kambur said.

Hüseyin Esentürk, chairman of the Ankara Branch of the Revolutionary 78s Federation, agreed, explaining: “Saying ‘yes’ in the referendum would actually mean saying ‘yes’ to the Constitution of the 1980 coup period as the majority of the 1982 Constitution is maintained [under the amendments].”

Naci Sönmez, the son of Fatsa Mayor Fikri Sönmez, who died due to torture during the 1980 coup period, said, however, that he would definitely say “yes” in the referendum for his father.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, had lobbied for the constitutional reform package to include an article on the prosecution of coup leaders, headed by Kenan Evren.

After initially dismissing the CHP’s demand, the AKP, in a surprise move, included an article that removes the ban on prosecuting the 1980 coup leaders. Many legal experts, however, say any prosecution would not be technically possible or practical due to the statute of limitations.

[HH] Contradicted by the Ergenekon case

Members of victims’ families and other people who lived through the coup period dismissed Erdoğan’s speech as “insincere,” saying there are many conflicts in the government’s policies on the issue.

Mehmet Kangal, the chairman of the Revolutionary 78s Federation, told the Daily News that the laws are not applied to people equally, referring to the coup plotters who currently face trial as part of the Ergenekon probe into an alleged organization accused of seeking to topple the government by staging a coup.

“I believe the alleged Ergenekon gang was the consequence of the 1980 coup period,” Kangal said, adding that all people must be subject to the same laws, implying that not only Ergenekon suspects, but also the 1980 coup plotters should face trial.

Similary, Mehmet Tezkan of daily Milliyet hinted in his column Wednesday that the way the government said it wanted to face the coup period was in conflict with the way it has been prosecuting the Ergenekon case. He also said President Abdullah Gül had hosted coup leader Evren, calling that another contradiction.

Commenting on Erdoğan’s statement that Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay could not attend his father’s funeral during the 1980 coup period, Tezkan said Başkent University founder Mehmet Haberal, who has been detained for the past 15 months as a suspect in the ongoing Ergenekon probe, was not permitted to attend his father’s funeral either.

[HH] ‘A theatric show’

“Why did the government wait for a referendum to prosecute the 1980 coup plotters? It should have already paved the way for it with a small law,” Yılmaz Yukarıgöz, the older brother of Ramazan Yukarıgöz, who was executed in the 1980 coup period, told the Daily News.

“You can’t prosecute them, even if the reform package paves the way for it, unless a change is made in the criminal laws,” he said. “I will thus say ‘no’ to the extension of the coup period. They exploit those who are our honor.”

Speaking to daily Taraf on Wednesday, Erkan Eren, the brother of Erdal Eren, one of the victims Erdoğan mentioned in his speech, said he did not find the prime minister’s approach sincere, suggesting it was only a political ploy due to the approaching referendum.

Esentürk said it became easier for political leaders to shed tears whenever elections are on the horizon.

“What Erdoğan displayed Tuesday was a theatrical show. The AKP is itself the consequence of the 1980 coup period. If they are determined to prosecute coup plotters, why did President Abdullah Gül host Kenan Evren at Çankaya Palace last year?” Esentürk said. “They’re simply exploiting our revolutionary friends.”

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