Remembering an Atatürkist coup
Thirty-two years ago, on this very day, Turkey experienced its third military coup, which would prove to be its most brutal one. A junta led by Gen. Kenan Evren, then the chief of General Staff, not only overthrew the democratically elected Parliament and the government, but also initiated a nationwide manhunt. The generals ordered the arrest of all politicians and activists from all camps, whose total number would amount to a staggering 600,000 people. Some of these detainees were held without trial for many months, only to be released later without any conviction. Thousands were subjected to brutal torture, during which 175 died and many others were left disabled. Fifty people were sent to the gallows.
In short, during the military rule that began on the morning of Sept. 12, 1980, and continued for more than three years until the general elections of November 1983, a reign of terror was unleashed on the whole country. The generals claimed to have ended the “state of anarchy and terror” that preceded the coup, but their violence proved to be much worse.
But what was this coup all about? And who was to blame?
For decades, the Turkish left, which suffered heavily under the coup, including in its torture chambers, blamed none other than “the CIA.” The Turkish military, they believed, acted on the orders of their masters in NATO, who were concerned about averting a “Marxist victory” in Turkey. Urban legends grew about how Paul Henze, “the station chief of the CIA in Ankara,” called Washington on the morning of Sept. 12 to happily note, “Our boys did it.”
The result of this analysis was that Turkey had to be saved from “imperialism,” particularly the American variety, in order to be saved from future coups. That is why the Turkish left focused its political energy on “anti-imperialism,” believing that a “fully independent” Turkey would be a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic nation.
However, all this amounted to wishful thinking, and a wishful neglect of the elephant in the room: the ideology of the Turkish military, which gave it both the mindset to launch military coups and the rhetoric to justify them. And this ideology was nothing other than the Atatürkism that the generals were shouting out loud at every instance and every corner.
A prominent voice within the Turkish left, Oral Çalışlar, who himself was a victim of the 1980 coup, wrote a piece in daily Radikal yesterday about this. Titled “The Atatürkist September 12,” Çalışlar’s piece acknowledged the truth that the Turkish left denied for decades: Like all of Turkey’s other coups, Sept. 12 was a Kemalist coup, pure and simple.
“When we were imprisoned,” Çalışlar said, recalling his days in a military prison, “the soldiers gave us a book titled ‘Revolutionary History’, the foreword of which was written by Gen. Kenan Evren.” He then explained: “This was a book similar to our official history classes in schools. It was full of stories of Atatürk’s heroism and his ‘reactionary,’ ‘pro-Caliphate’ opponents… ‘Atatürk is the savior of the homeland, the founder of a new country,’ read the cards that were given to us. We were made to memorize and recite these slogans; otherwise we were severely beaten.”
In short, if there was one “culprit” responsible for the Sept. 12 coup, it was none other than the so-called “progressive” official ideology of the Turkish Republic, which the Turkish left has embraced and defended enthusiastically. It has long been time for them to wake up and call a spade a spade.