The Evren-Şahinkaya case has proven to be a litmus test for the nation’s “old elite.” The trial, which began last week in a sort of pushy way, helped them to identify where they stand with regard to the question of facing history and confronting crimes against humanity.
“I would never, ever be present at the trial as a co-plaintiff,” countered Tarık Akan, the movie actor, whom many remember from his role in the masterpiece “Yol” (The Road) by the late Yılmaz Güney. “I would instead join those who follow the Sledgehammer case.” Akan added that he never believed that the so-called “Sept. 12 trial” would end with a verdict and that it was only a “show to conceal” what he calls “the serious violations of human rights occurring in today’s Turkey.”
He was joined by some columnists who drew comparisons between the Turkey of the early 1980s and 2012. “I am not impressed at all” wrote one, attempting to water down the weight of the Evren-Şahinkaya trial. “This takes place while the institutions of Sept. 12 are all still intact.” Some columns produced bewilderment simply because they were written by columnists who were not even born in 1980, but contained “observations” to juxtapose the realities of that time and the present! Most of them seemed to discard the facts of the parents and relatives of those who have asked for justice for decades.
An academic -- an internationally renowned expert on earthquakes -- made headlines by writing a letter to a columnist, expressing the wish to join the trial as a co-plaintiff in favor of the ex-junta members, claiming that “the Turkish people were all behind the coup and that in Sept. 12, 1980, his foreign guests strolling along the Bosporus were all stunned to see scenes of cheerful people, welcoming the putsch.”
On the side of the major politicians or militants active at that time, the reactions were not that different. Süleyman Demirel, the prime minister who was ousted by the generals, refused to express any sort of satisfaction. “Coups should never interfere in politics, and also, they never should be allowed to make their way into courtrooms [to be judged],” he said. Deniz Baykal, a key figure in the Republican People’s Party (CHP) at that time, did not utter a comment on whether or not he welcomed the launch of this judicial process. Many of the frontline figures of the underground left, (Dev-Yol, etc.) were also marked by obstinacy, failing to praise the move by the prosecutors.
Are they justified in their skepticism? Or, given the suffering and deep humiliation they were subjected to, do these views reveal some points profoundly inherent in their psyche and political culture?
Past examples, particularly the ones in Argentina, Spain, Uruguay and Paraguay, show similarities. In all those societies, there was a polarity between a drift for democratization and an admiration for militarism. Spain, for example, has not yet been fully able to come to terms with its dark past because of the unwillingness within to face realities. In all those examples, people who justify the disruptions of freedom and rights clearly are those who (want to) belong to the elite and enjoy the benefits of conformism.
In the case of Turkey, it is slightly more complicated.
Because the attitudes of the left, exposed here through its defiance to the Sept. 12 trial, differs from the examples I mentioned. While it is true that the academician conveys reactions from a purely elitist point of view: He sees himself as part of the Kemalist camp, which had internalized its ideology in all walks of life and constantly reproduced mythifications of the Turkish military as a faultless, almighty and legitimate political force. For his “category,” the coup was -- and would continue to be -- justified, because the “cattle” called society needed to be “guided” by a powerful shepherd.
The tutelarists’ view is therefore more understandable than the others. But, the case of defiance within the media has actually very little to do with a “rationally critical” stand. It has much more to do with its continuous contempt for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and may be summarized as such: “Whatever it does cannot be, must not be for the good, there must be something concealed behind.” This infantilism is widespread and leads to ridiculous arguments and nonsensical juxtapositions in columns.
The politicians belong, simply, to the past; possibly still unaware of the reasons why they do. They have known no other way of acting. The militarism, as an element of admiration and fear, had always been present in their lives.
Remain the Marxists. More than anything else, their obstinacy to accept the realities of today has to do with their bitterness at “losing the struggle” by “wasting the lifetimes.” It has to with their denial of facing alienation from the masses. They were not only the victims of brutal fascism, but also of their own inability to adapt to changes, to transform themselves and to update the ideology they believe in. They cannot accept the fact that the “opposite camp” can be more courageous by following an agenda for change.