The day before he came into our lives

The day before he came into our lives

Belgin Akaltan -
The day before he came into our lives

DHA Photo

Sept. 12, 1980, coup leader Kenan Evren died last week on May 9, 2015. So much was written after his death that I thought there was probably nothing else left uncovered about him and the era he symbolizes.  
The only thing I can write about is my personal evolution, being from the generation that experienced that era. 

The day before Evren came into our lives, there was an “undeclared civil war” in Turkey, which had been ongoing for years. The cliché of “brothers killing each other” was actually happening. Cities were divided; streets were divided; families were divided. Turkey was divided into left and right. There was no center. You were either a leftist or a rightist. 

People were shot on the streets. Some days, 15 people died, other days, 25. If you sat long enough on a balcony or terrace in Ankara or Istanbul, you would hear about five or six armed clashes throughout the night. You would hear all kinds of shots, even machine guns; we once saw a rocket launched in Ankara on the days leading to the Sept. 12 coup. Some people were shot and killed “by mistake.” If somebody shouted your name in the dark, you ran away fast; you might be shot. 

I was a student at Ankara University’s Political Sciences Faculty. We could not go to Bahçelievler in Ankara to collect our student loans without hiding our school identity cards. Schoolmate Hakan Yurdakuler was shot and killed at the entrance of the school, on the stairs. A classmate was left paralyzed for life. Schools were divided, so were politicians, police, prosecutors and teachers. Every other day writers, journalists, union leaders and judges were assassinated. Bombs were planted. Massacres were committed. 

We – the ordinary people - all wanted the army to take over. We thought they were the only power to stop this meaningless bloodshed, this insane anarchy. Schools were mostly closed; it was dangerous to commute anyway. 

I and many others had developed personal security measures like never sitting by a window at a restaurant, cafe or a bus. Whenever a big noise was heard that sounded like an explosion, everybody would take cover; that was routine.  

I believe the worst thing this country has ever seen in these modern times is first, the earthquake and second, those anarchy days before the 1980 coup. Even during the 2001 economic crisis, I was telling desperate people this country has gone through a civil war in which brothers killed each other. I said, “If we were able to overcome that, then we should be able to overcome anything. We are a strong nation.”

When Kenan Evren and the military seized power on the day of Sept. 12, 1980, we were all relieved; we were happy. At least our right to live was given back to us. We would not be shot on the street, in a cafe, on the bus or at school. It was much later when we realized that we were made to think that way and in fact, this was a heavy blow to our semi-democracy, the products of which we are still suffering from.  

There were doubts but he symbolized peace and an end to civil war. He looked like a father but then he turned into an abusive megalomaniac and an increasingly violent one. 

Kenan Evren thought he knew everything; he knew the best for his “people.” He genuinely believed he was the best thing that had ever happened to this country. He never hesitated to think there could be something wrong. What does this remind me of? If you try to rule a country as if you are ruling an Aegean military unit or a Kasımpaşa street, this is what happens. 

A foreigner wrote on his Facebook page, “My newsfeed is full with Turkish friends saying ‘go to hell’ to Kenan Evren.” It should be bad to be hated by a whole nation. It should also be bad to be hated by half of the nation. 

Anyway, then those days came when something was wrong; the right to live was not enough…Then, the arrests and tortures came. We heard unbelievable horror stories… We tried not to believe them, but they were true. Hundreds of people died in torture sessions, thousands were left wounded and millions like us left wounded in the heart. 

Kenan Evren did not commit the tortures himself but he was the symbol of this horrendous military regime. He is the one who defended it all. 

In his column, daily Hürriyet writer Kanat Atkaya wrote about the death of İlhan Erdost, a publisher, who was arrested with his brother Muzaffer Erdost during those days because of Friedrich Engels’ book, “Dialectics of Nature.” The two brothers were beaten mercilessly by four soldiers inside a military vehicle. When Muzaffer saw his brother collapse on the floor of the vehicle, he begged the kicking soldiers “Don’t beat him, beat me. He has a bad back.” They were not even able to walk when they reached the prison building. “A sergeant started beating us again. We were begging the sergeant to stop; he told us ‘You should have thought about that before.’ His words made the soldiers beat us more fiercely…”  

According to journalist/writer Hasan Cemal’s book, the Erdost brothers were beaten until they reached their ward. When they were in the ward, İlhan Erdost said, “I am nauseated; I will throw up.” Those were his last words. He was taken out on a stretcher: “His mouth was open; his eyes were closed. I wanted to kiss him...
My brother was gone. He died there...” İlhan Erdost had two daughters; one was 2.5 years old and the other was only a few months old. 

Now everybody says “go to hell,” but saying something bad of Kenan Evren was unthinkable at that time.  

Daily Radikal columnist Cengiz Çandar wrote, “Figures tell us what kind of a political-social disaster Sept. 12 was, with 650,000 people detained, 1,633,000 blacklisted and 210,000 cases opened. Death sentences were asked for 6,353 people. Five-hundred seventeen people were sentenced to death. Fifty people were hung. In prison, 299 people lost their lives. While being tortured, 171 people died. Fourteen people died in hunger strike…Tens of thousands of people’s personalities were killed under torture, under oppression, under cruelty… In the years of Kenan Evren’s rule, a generation of Turkey was destroyed. Spiritually destroyed. They were maimed and tortured, not just their bodies but also their personalities were traumatized…” 

If I am a bitter person now, it is because of Evren and what he symbolizes.  

I’m not a victim of the Sept. 12 era but my soul is pierced. I am bitter, I am frightened; it took me years to normalize. If I cannot join demonstrations easily and if I am shy in seeking my democratic and economic rights, believe me, it is because of Kenan Evren. More precisely, it is because the fear he planted in us... I still have a sick notion that if I or anybody in my family is politically active, it automatically means torture. 

If I can be happy only under the influence of antidepressants, it is because I belong to the generation which was suppressed, frightened, never enjoyed total freedom, traumatized…

Kenan Evren is the symbol of these fears. He lied to us, he patronized us, he misinformed us. People suffered under his regime, he made us feel desperate. We were made to think he was the only alternative. He acted as the only wise person in the country, one who knew everything. Yes, just like today.