“What is the meaning of the trial of a coup that happened 32 years in the past?” There are many possible responses to this question.
First of all, Turkey has successively judged many coup attempts in the last few years. But until today not a single honest judgment has been given. The successful 1980 coup, which is being judged for the first time, began its trial on Wednesday. This lawsuit against Ergenekon will judge an illegal organization that contained members of government. Most of their plans and coup attempts were never realized. But judging the Sept. 12 coup, which altered the fate of Turkey, shows that the successful coup-makers are not exactly bright.
The Sept. 12 coup was successful. Turkey’s current Constitution was written by those who executed this coup. For three years the coup planners used the power of the majority to pass laws -- some that have been changed and some that still exist today. Some believe that the 1980 coup, which so dramatically changed the legal structure of Turkey, will not be harshly judged. In fact, the lawyers working on the case are of this belief.
This problem -- the belief that a successful coup that paved the way for a new system cannot be judged -- shows the second meaningful aspect of the trial. This lawsuit is not about whether or not the coup happened; it is about the systematic crimes against humanity committed by those who planned the coup. In the period after the Sept. 12 coup many people were either tortured or murdered. Torture was not the only method of questioning applied as a systematic tool in order to cow the public and bend them towards favoring the regime. Prisons were converted to centers used for torture. Even satirical writers were sent to be tortured. Thousands of people had all their basic human rights taken away from them. The trial that begins this week marks a beginning to punish those responsible for crimes against humanity.
In Chile the trial to judge and convict General Pinochet for “crimes against humanity” can serve as an example for Turkey. The crimes against humanity committed by the coup perpetrators will be judged exactly like Pinochet’s trial.
The third aspect in which trying the coup perpetrators is meaningful is related to Turkey’s plan to draft a new constitution. This year Turkey will create a new constitution to replace the one that was a product of the Sept. 12 coup. This new constitution, which will be created with the participation and compromise of all political parties, will cut the last remaining ties with the old period, thus serving as a beginning for a new period of democracy. The trial of the perpetrators of the Sept. 12 coup will make it easier for compromise among political parties, vis-à-vis the new constitution. All of the political parties in the lawsuit were plaintiffs in the coup case. Continuing to use the constitution made by the coup planners while trying them in court does not seem logical.
Exactly 30 years had passed since the Sept. 12 coup when the 2010 referendum was held. On this anniversary Turkey held a referendum on the Constitution. Today, thanks to this referendum, the Sept. 12 coup trial can take place. Political parties that once opposed these changes are today participating and influencing the coup trial. It is very difficult to continue with this contradiction, wherein a constitution that is not supported politically is in use. It is now necessary to for these parties to be determined in playing a part in writing a new constitution. The coup trial will help create a new constitution.
The intense public opinion about the coup case shows the increase in Turkey’s democratic consciousness. Society is exacting the debts that are owed by the coup and its planners. Maybe the coup trial will allow for Turkey to show off its maturing democracy and democratic consciousness. This coup trial is Turkey’s opportunity to pave the way for a stronger democracy.