A military coup in retrospect
In the last week Turkey has debated a lot with recalled memories about how the country faced the September 12, 1980 military coup thanks to the first-ever court case in an Ankara lot; most of the debates were in reference to the indictment which said the generals had manipulated the bloody left-right clashes in the country in order for the conditions to become ripe.
But not much talk about the bigger picture, other than an urban legend about one American official saying to another, ‘Our boys did it.’
Without jumping to consequential conclusions, let us remember some important developments in the region as Turkey is running toward the 1980 coup wall.
- May 1977; Likud won the elections in Israel; for the first time in the country’s history a party with stronger religious motives came to power. Israel started to follow a tougher line regarding the Palestinians.
- July 1977; General Zia ul-Haqq toppled Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan. Haqq’s coup d’etat has been regarded as the beginning of country’s journey to becoming a nuclear power and also hosting a number of radical Islamist groups.
- April 1978; Soviet armed forces entered Afghanistan following a pro-Soviet coup in the country. The Mujaheeden resistance supported by Western countries led by the U.S. paved the way to radical groups like Taliban and Al Qaeda taking root.
- October 1978; Karol Josef Wojtyla, a Catholic priest from Poland was elected pope under the name John Paul II. The fact that the pope was elected from an Eastern Europe communist party-rule country was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.
- February 1979; on Feb. 1st Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran from his exile in Paris. The day is regarded as the start of the Islamic revolution in Iran.
On the same day in Turkey, Abdi İpekçi, a prominent liberal-left journalist was shot dead in Istanbul, which has been regarded as the jump in violence in the country.
Containment of the Soviet Union was the strategy of the Western alliance NATO then. The rise of religion in politics in countries surrounding the Soviets seemed a help at first, but the Iran example was alarming. Another fact which was not helping was Turkey’s veto on Greece’s return to NATO’s military wing; Athens had opted out following Turkey’s military intervention in a Greek right-wing coup in Cyprus in 1974. That veto was making the Aegean Sea vulnerable to possible Soviet moves.
Israel declared Jerusalem its capital in July 1980. Necmettin Erbakan, the Islamist partner of Süleyman Demirel’s right-wing coalition withdrew support and put down his foreign minister in a parliamentary vote. Erbakan’s mass protest of Israel on Sept. 6 in Konya, which turned into a challenge of the establishment, was shown as a justification of their final move of overthrowing Demirel six days later.
The first decision of the military-rule government was to lift Turkey’s veto on the Greek return to NATO, upon U.S. demand.
Greece was taken into the European Community (now EU) in 1981.
Later in 1981, the same right-wing militant that shot İpekçi in Istanbul, named Mehmet Ali Ağca, committed to kill Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. He was caught, tried and served his sentence and is now free.