Turkey's 1980 coup leaders feeling some heat...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Former coup leader and Turkish president Kenan Evren gave testimony to a prosecutor yesterday regarding, apparently, the 1980 coup. Claiming ill health, Evren managed to have the interview take place at his house, rather than at the prosecutor's office. (Here is Today's Zaman take on the story).

Kenan Evren in 1980


Here's some of what the Turkish Daily Tattler has to say about it:
Evren, the country’s seventh president, had previously said he would never testify and claimed he would commit suicide before that would happen. “I promise in front of my nation that I will not let this matter be dealt with in the courts. I will commit suicide,” he said when the idea of a coup trial was discussed in 2009.
The 1980 military coup was launched “to bring peace to a polarized society where thousands of people were being killed on the streets,” according to the coup generals and their supporters. The results, however, were devastating: 650,000 people were taken into custody and 230,000 were put on trial. Military prosecutors demanded the death penalty for 7,000 people; 517 of them received the death penalty and 50 were hanged
According to Turkey's current constitution, which was created by the military regime headed by Evren, the coup leaders from 1980 cannot be tried for their actions. However, a major initiative of Turkey's current AKP government--which is expected to again win big in parliamentary elections to be held on June 12--is to create a new constitution. There's a good chance, therefore, that the current constitutional provisions protecting Evren and others from prosecution will be overturned.

I think the prosecutor's visit to Evren--less than a week before national elections--should be viewed in the context of the great desire among most people in Turkey to create a more civilian government and, to a lesser extent, to shed more light on the crimes that were committed by the military regime in the 1980s. Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan has done a good job of positioning himself as the 'civilianizing' prime minister, and the pressure on Evren reminds voters that Erdogan, more than any current political figure in Turkey, has been willing to take on the country's military establishment. More than one observer of Turkish politics--whether within Turkey or outside--has justified the Ergenekon investigation in terms of rooting out the military's influence in politics.

Punishing the coup leaders from 1980 remains a point that appeals to voters from a wide cross-section of political perspectives, and, I think, reminds many people of what they might (perhaps only secretly) like about the Ergenekon trials.

We'll see what happens. I doubt that Evren will ever be held accountable for his actions. As is the case with Ergenekon more generally (that is, the original Ergenekon trial, the one about crimes committed by the state against Turkish citizens), my sense is that the most powerful and protected figures will likely manage to work out a way of splitting their differences with one another.

More than anything else, however, Erdogan wants to change the constitution, and he would prefer to do it without having to go to a referendum. If he gets the votes he needs next week, Erdogan will be able to go after the 1980 coup leaders--if he still feels like it--and do a whole lot more as well.

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