Civil society demands trial of coup generals
12 September 2008
Civil society organizations have become more adamant in their demand that those involved in the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d'état be brought to trial after being encouraged by an investigation launched into the Ergenekon terror organization, a shadowy network whose members with links to the state hierarchy allegedly worked to overthrow the government and lay the groundwork for a new period of military rule in Turkey.
Today, on the 28th anniversary of the coup, there will be many demonstrations throughout Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, Diyarbakir and Malatya, organized by various civil society and rights organizations.
The participants will highlight the fact that the mentality of the Sept. 12 coup is still alive today -- as is proven by the Ergenekon case -- and that those responsible for the coup should be brought to justice, just as suspects in the Ergenekon case will be.
The first hearing in the case of Ergenekon, which is accused of orchestrating various murders and attacks with the intention of creating chaos that would trigger a coup, is scheduled for October. Among the suspects are three retired senior generals, including former Gendarmerie Forces Commander Gen. Sener Eruygur, mafia bosses and public figures such as politicians, journalists and academics. This is the first time in recent Turkish history that a top commander -- retired or on active duty -- is facing charges within the justice system. The generals of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup, however, have never been called to account for the atrocities of the brutal regime they led after granting immunity to themselves through clauses in the constitution they drafted, which remains in place to the present day. The Constitution has been amended many times since then, but the provisions protecting the former generals have been left unchanged. The one prosecutor, Sacit Kayasu, who campaigned to change them, was permanently disbarred.
Civil society groups are planning protests around the country to condemn the coup, with many using the slogan "Ergenekon trial not good enough, Sept. 12 must be tried, too." The largest demonstration is expected to be staged in Istanbul on Sunday. The organizers, which include the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DISK), the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP), the Democratic Society Party (DTP) and the Socialist Platform of the Oppressed (ESP), will urge the public to meet in Istanbul's Kadiköy Square to unite in demanding that the coup generals be brought to justice.
Sinan Tutal, the chairman of the ÖDP's Istanbul branch, said the ongoing Ergenekon investigation and upcoming trial are only a small part of a phenomenon often described in Turkey as the deep state, a term used to refer to shadowy relations between the mafia, politicians, intelligence agencies and security forces, usually governed by ultranationalist groups that have their own political agenda.
"Democracy will never fully be established in Turkey as long as the perpetrators of the Sept. 12 coup d'état are not brought to justice. We will never be able to dismantle the deep state, and the Sept. 12 Constitution will remain in place," Tutal stated. He also accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of not having any real intention of bringing those responsible for the coup to justice.
Another large demonstration will occur Saturday in Izmir's Gündogan Square and Ankara's Sihhiye Square, in addition to smaller demonstrations in the cities of Gaziantep, Malatya and Bursa.
The coalition known as "70 Million Steps Against Coups," a platform bringing together many civil society groups, will today hold a "Conscience Tribunal" in which it will symbolically try the Sept. 12 coup generals and its leader, Gen. Evren, who is living out his retirement years quietly in the holiday resort town of Marmaris, where he has taken up painting as a hobby.
The coalition is made up of the Amargi Women's Cooperative, the Anti-capitalist Group, the Women's Rights Association against Discrimination (AKDER), the Peace Council, the We Are Looking after Each Other Platform, the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (Hak-Is), the Helsinki Citizens Association (HYD), the We Are Not Free Yet Platform, the Proletariat Movement Party (EHP), the Revolutionary Socialist Workers' Party (DSIP), the Young Civilians, the Initiative to Say No to Racism and Nationalism, the Global Action Group (KEG), the Lambda Istanbul LGBTT Solidarity Association, the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER), the Socialist Democracy Party (SDP), the Political Horizon Movement and the Confrontation Association.
The initiative, which recently organized other mass protests against coups and coup attempts in Istanbul and Ankara, in a statement about the Conscience Tribunal, underlined that the Constitution that was drafted after the 1980 coup is a constant reminder of all the violations of the generals involved in the coup.
"Turkey has not yet been able to bring [the perpetrators of] Sept. 12 to justice, although the mentality of the Sept. 12 regime will be before a court in the Ergenekon trial," a statement from the coalition read.
Senol Karakas, a spokesperson for the initiative, recalled that demonstrations against the Sept. 12 coup in the past were largely ineffective, adding that he hopes this will change this year due to the ongoing Ergenekon trial.
"Various demonstrations were also organized in the past, but they mostly were about calling attention to the anguish and pain caused to victims. Today, the obvious connection between anti-democratic interventions, gangs and coups is much more visible and out in the open," Karakas said.
The defendants in the Conscience Tribunal include generals Evren, Sedat Celasun, Nurettin Ersin, Tahsin Sahinkaya and Nejat Tümer. The indictment will be read aloud by Engin Cinmen, the lawyer who organized the "One Minute of Darkness for Light Forever" protest after the Susurluk affair in 1996, when a car crash revealed questionable relations between a deputy, a police chief and a mafia boss. The campaign was Turkey's first mass protest, with thousands in many cities turning off their lights for a minute to show their opposition to deep state formations. Some of the suspects in the Susurluk affair are currently also suspects in the Ergenekon case.
The opening speech in the mock trial will be delivered by Fethiye Çetin, a lawyer for the family of the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who was allegedly threatened by retired Gen. Veli Küçük, a key Ergenekon suspect, shortly before he was shot dead in January of last year by an ultranationalist teenager. Several intellectuals who witnessed some of the atrocities of the coup period will relate their experiences as part of the day's activities. There will also be a protest march called "No to Coups."
Other civil society organizations such as the '78ers Association, whose members were victims of the 1980 coup, will organize mass protests in a number of cities during the week. The main theme of their protests will be Diyarbakir Prison, which, allegedly, was the scene of human rights violations and torture during the Sept. 12 coup and which some analysts consider to be the place that gave birth to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
In addition to the social democratic, democratic, socialist and left-wing groups, right-wing organizations such as the Grand Unity Party (BBP) will be among today's protestors. The BBP Istanbul branch will organize an evening commemoration ceremony for the Sept. 12 victims and will condemn the coup.
Crimes committed by coup generals
According to Hüsnü Öndül, chairman of the Human Rights Association (IHD) -- which was established in 1986 mainly to address serious and systematic violations of human rights under military rule -- it is possible to observe the effects of the coup in every area of life even today, but the costs of it were highest in the immediate aftermath.
In Öndül's words, during the coup "49 people were executed, 171 people were killed by torture and 650 detained for long periods, most of whom were subjected to torture. In the military courts 210,000 cases were opened; 85,000 people faced charges for thought crimes; 1,683,000 people were categorized by the state on the basis of their political and religious beliefs. Prosecutors demanded capital punishment for 6,353 persons; 348,000 people were banned from traveling abroad; 14,509 civil servants were fired under the State of Emergency Law; 18,000 civil servants, 2,000 judges, 4,000 policemen and 5,000 teachers were forced to resign; 23,667 associations were banned, while political parties and unions were shut down. More than 30,000 people were forced to leave Turkey. Thirty-nine tons of books were destroyed, and 937 movies were banned; eight newspapers were closed down for a period of 195 days." He added that the political, economic and social effects of the coup are still evident today due to 675 laws currently in force that were passed during the coup regime.