How to best confront the Sept. 12 coup?
Chile finally prosecuted General Pinochet after a lengthy effort to bring him before the court. Greece did the same with high-ranking generals who staged a coup in 1967. Argentinean Jorge Videla was sentenced to life in prison for interrupting the democratic system in 1976. The Spanish generals whose 1981 coup attempt failed have also been prosecuted.
Hopefully, Turkey will now be added to this list of countries that have faced their histories by making Kenan Evren and Tahsin Şahinkaya stand in the dock 32 years after the Sept. 12 coup d’état. Evren, 94, and Şahinkaya, 86, are members of the military echelon of that time who are still alive, and for whom the prosecutor seeks life sentences. They are unlikely to appear before the court due to poor health, but they would be forced to testify before the court’s second hearing.
This case is likely to become a study of the country’s recent history. Starting from the Labor Day massacre of 1977, the Kahramanmaraş and Çorum incidents, the killings of thousands of youngsters, and the interrogation of prominent intellectuals, journalists, and trade unionists still stand as black stains on our history. Under the martial law decree issued after the Sept. 12 coup, tens of thousands of people were arrested, the political system and democratic institutions were banned, and fundamental freedoms and human rights were violated. Many others suffered from systematic torture and inhumane treatment in the military prisons at Mamak, Diyarbakır and elsewhere. We hope today’s case will pave the way for clearing this country’s poor record in responding to the sour incidents of its past.
But equally important is to use this case to open a new chapter in the evolution process of Turkish democracy. A mature democratic order in the service of each and every person living in this country without any discrimination would be guaranteed to avert any sort of undemocratic interventions in politics in the future.
However, the real test before today’s political parties of today is the renewal of the constitution. The prosecution of two old former generals will have only a limited effect on Turkish democracy if the junta-made constitution cannot be replaced with a modern, pro-freedom, libertarian charter.
In this light, the recent statements of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in which he revealed his “Plan B” for the new constitution are disappointing. Instead of pushing other parties to compromise on drafting the new charter, he said his party would go ahead with those parties that can reach a compromise if ongoing cross-party efforts fail to produce results. A constitution as a document embracing the entire nation, its common vision and ideals for the future is a very important mark of a mature democracy. In fact, adopting a new charter is much more important than prosecuting two former generals in their declining years. The best way to confront the past is to behave responsibly for the future and not lose this golden opportunity for selfish political gains.