We are putting the Sept. 12 coup on trial all right, but ...
It represents an event of historic proportions that those responsible for a military coup that achieved its goals now have to face justice for the first time, despite all the claims of inadequacy. The outside world will interpret this trial as Turkey calling to account the architects of a military coup in her past.
In its present shape and form, April 4, 2012 represents a date when Turkish democracy passed a significant threshold. It affirms with enormous symbolism that the era of coups in Turkey has drawn to a close and that democracy has entered a new path, where it will tread on an entirely civilian course, as it well should.
Complementing the denoted shortcomings of the ongoing trial with an account of the events that led Turkey to the Sept. 12 coup would also be quite sagacious.
The Turkish Republic witnessed one of the most embarrassing periods in its history with respect to human rights violations during the Sept. 12 coup d’état. Statistics tell us that some 650,000 people were taken into custody, another 230,000 tried, 50 executed by hanging and around 200 more tortured to death under detention. The Sept. 12 coup was a period of latitude for torture, when boundless cruelty was let loose.
This truth is what lies behind the growing call in the shape of a robust social consensus in Turkey to call the Sept. 12 coup to account, in relation to “crimes against humanity.”
Sept. 12 still with us
Another dimension of the issue concerns the legacy of the military coup that has continued until the present day. We are up against a deeply disturbing paradox here. On the one hand, Turkey has put the generals responsible for the coup on trial, while she continues wearing the same dress woven by the Sept. 12 constitution on the other.
Regardless of all the criticism leveled against Sept. 12, it continues to live with us in the year 2012. The incumbent government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), for instance, sees no harm in flexing its power muscles through certain institutional structures established by the coup, such as the Higher Education Board (YÖK), or taking advantage of the 10 percent electoral threshold.
If there is to be a genuine reckoning with Sept. 12, then it has turned into an urgent obligation for Turkey to take off this dress and move on with a new and civilian constitution.
For a more convincing trial...
There is yet another paradox: the start of the Sept. 12 trial coincides with another epoch in which Turkey’s democratic credentials are progressively deteriorating. The prevalent perception in the Western world today takes notice of Turkey’s remarkable economic growth, alongside the arrested deputies and journalists behind bars and the rampant, systematic problems with regard to freedom of speech and demonstrations.
It constitutes no source of pride for us that we still lead Europe in rights violations at the European Court of Human Rights. The manner in which certain high–profile trials are run and the ongoing contention over evidence only serves to deepen the judiciary’s problems.
Moreover, while the inglorious practices of Sept. 12 at the Diyarbakır Prison are gone, it still draws the Kurds’ ire that prominent figures of the Kurdish movement and elected mayors in the region remain behind bars.
To further elucidate the picture we are facing with respect to freedoms, is it not a thought provoking contradiction that publisher Ragıp Zarakolu, who was arrested on both March 12 and Sept. 12, is once again serving time behind bars in 2012, at the Kandıra F–Type Prison?
Turkey first needs to cast away the shadows lingering over its democratic record if efforts to call Sept. 12 to account are to gain credibility.