An end to the era of coup d’etats

An end to the era of coup d’etats

The 15th Criminal Court of Ankara will start today the trial of the two top leaders of the 1980 military coup in Turkey who are still alive.

This is going to be the first of its kind in a country the recent history of which has been stained with three coups d’etat by its military and a number of attempted ones. Therefore the trial is considered historic.

Retired generals Kenan Evren, 95, and Tahsin Şahinkaya, 87, were two members of the self-declared National Security Council consisting of five top generals who seized power in the early hours of September 12, 1980 from Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel. Claiming that civilians would not be able to stop the political chaos and bloodshed in the country, they closed Parliament, political parties, all trade unions and associations, abolished the political parties, arrested Demirel and other party leaders, hundreds of politicians, thousands of opinion holders and community leaders; in total nearly 600,000 people in a short period of time. 

That was the third one; the first being on May 27, 1960 and the second being on March 12, 1971. Massive and systematic violations of human rights which resulted in murder in torture interrogations, executions without trial, suppression of any relevant opposition, censorship of the press and the isolation of Turkey from most European institutions.

Under those circumstances, the military rule took the country for a referendum in 1982 where the voters were asked to confirm a constitution and at the same time the presidency of Evren, who used to be the head of the coup plotters. The results were declared as 92 percent approval for the constitution that Turkey is still trying to rewrite -which also brought a ban on the trial of the military rule officials because of what they have been doing, a ban on politicians returning to politics and also obligatory religion lessons to schools- and Evren became the seventh president of Turkey.

The ban on politicians was lifted in a 1987 referendum, which enabled, for example, Demirel to be elected as the prime minister once again and then the president. A referendum on September 12, 2010 (ironically on the anniversary of the coup) lifted the ban on the trial of coup leaders and personnel, enabling the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office to open a case against them.

Both of them are old and reported unable to turn up in the courtroom today. But many people will be looking forward to hear the voice of the court clerk to call ‘Accused, Kenan Evren’ today.

It is a rare occasion that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan (the mastermind of the 2010 referendum) and opposition leaders Kemal Kılıçdaroplu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) are on the same page, as they intervene in the court case to complain about their or their parties’ sufferings from the coup, together with hundreds of civil society institutions and hundreds of individuals, including the relatives of those executed or tortured to death during the military regime.

It is a big face-off; it is the first one. The hope is that it will bring the end of an era and push Turkey to a higher level of democracy.

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