September 12, 1980…
The “coup trial” reminded me of some odd days. When my plane landed at Ankara’s Esenboğa airport towards midnight of the night of September 10, like most Turks I had long concluded a bet with my friends, Osman, who was a lawyer with the Central Bank, and Cudi, of the People’s Liberation group.
I bet that before the end of September 1980 the military would take over. At the time I was part-timing between the Daily News, a literature department and my fiancée.
Osman picked me in his “marvelous” Anadol car – according to a city legend cows loved eating the fiber-body of that “Turkish-made” car – and all the way on that long road from the airport to our student home we discussed when the generals would take over.
At the time there was incredible air pollution in Ankara, as in most Turkish cities, as natural gas was not yet even in our dreams and we were mostly using heavy-pollutant cheap lignite for heating. The next morning, with a nasty feeling in my throat because of the pollution, I went to my faculty.
After an hour or so I moved on to the newspaper, which was then in a downtown office on Tunus Avenue, then to the printing works and editorial offices in the middle of the nowhere on the Eskişehir highway. In the afternoon, watching through the window of my boss’ room, we saw tanks and military vehicles heading toward the city, and murmured to each other that something odd was happening.
My boss picked up the phone and talked with someone on the other end about the strange parade of war machines on the highway. Later, I was told that he was speaking with then Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel, who told him there was nothing abnormal going on.
In the evening, as youngsters dating during those years tended to meet at patisseries, I met with my fiancée at Arı Cinema’s patisserie (which is now a TRT studio). After spending some time with her, we retreated to our usual evening pastime: ideological debate on the problems of the country at either one of our houses, or the same at someone else’s house. That night it was our turn to play host.
All through the night in the dining room of our basement flat, with ten others we discussed the approaching coup, the mounting social and economic problems of the country and our bright ideas on how to resolve them. Why were we so politicized? Perhaps we did not have money and the cheapest way to entertain ourselves was to engage in heated debates with each other. Perhaps we still believed that we might make a difference.
During our discussions that night we were not aware that at some other places in the Turkish capital some were issuing the final orders of a “military operation,” which would suspend Turkish democracy and close down political parties, run over the entire nation like a bulldozer, order state-murder of over forty people at the gallows, introduce the free-market economy, kill all labor rights, place universities in a Higher Education Council dungeon, and sow the seeds of a depoliticized Turkey from which we are still struggling to emerge.
Early next morning, I was greeted at the front door with the barrel of a tank and an order from a young soldier to stay indoors; the coup was staged. I dashed back to our basement flat, woke up the others and in great pain we started the coup-ritual, the burning of “hazardous” books as we were instructed to do by our next-door neighbor, a trade unionist who had been a victim of the 1960 coup.
Most of us were lucky; we lost only our precious books. We were neither killed nor tortured in one of those notorious prisons. Only Cudi was killed sometime later…