Why is the event called a postmodern phenomenon? The coalition government, made up of Necmettin Erbakan’s religious Welfare Party (RP) and Tansu Çiller’s True Path Party (DYP), was forced to resign without the need for the military to resort to brute force as it did in previous coups. The other significant difference was the broad front that had been built to confront the coalition government. In addition to soldiers, the business community, sections of the judiciary, academia, civil society organizations, labor and trade unions/associations and President Süleyman Demirel were involved. The public voice of this opposition front was the mainstream media. The Hürriyet and Sabah dailies were especially instrumental in launching smear campaigns, floating false rumors and organizing character assassinations. There were also a number of murders committed by unidentified persons thought to be connected to official circles.
Cengiz Çandar, a writer for Radikal, witnessed conversations and events that implicated an American group that would later be called the neocons, which was close to Israel and the Israelis, who developed very tight and lucrative relations with the Turkish military. (See an interview with Neşe Düzel in Taraf’s April 16, 2012 edition.) Most instrumental in this relationship was Gen. Çevik Bir, the deputy chief of General Staff at the time.
At the time, the Turkish military had virtually abandoned its role as a professional defense institution and had taken on a purely political role. Its basic aim was to reshape society from top to bottom in a militaristic way and to create a political system whereby the bureaucracy, at the core of which the military stood, would rule without any accountability or competition from civilian forces. All other institutions and the urban bourgeoisie that was the creation of the state would uphold this oligarchic regime.
In order to legitimize its role, termed its “national mission,” it relied on two things: fear of separatist (Kurdish) and obscurantist (Islamic fundamentalism) threats and the cult of Atatürk, which it believed was the founder of the praetorian system. Staging an armed coup would be too hard to explain to the world (it did not care much about the public opinion it had manipulated). So it prepared the stage for its intervention with its civilian accomplices.
One of the most profitable alliances it forged was with the urban business community of western Turkey. Adm. Özden Örnek, commander of the naval forces, noted in his series “Darbe Günlükleri” (Memoirs of a Coup) (ed. Alper Görmüş, Taraf, April 16, 2012, p.9) that “businessmen approach us soldiers and use us as their guardians against others. What they really want is for us to stage coups while they take their (lucrative) share.”
It is a well-known fact that each authoritarian government is not only repressive but also kleptocratic. The banking system was drained completely, and this theft was reflected on the people as a “working loss,” bringing the living standards of the people down considerably. TL 380 billion evaporated from the banks during this time, and Turkey’s annual tax revenue was lower than this number.
The coalition government wanted to reduce the exorbitant amount of interest paid for state-run economic enterprises. The rich made enormous sums of money by lending to these profitless enterprises. In 1977, the interest expenditure in the general budget was TL 1.9 billion. After the fall of the Erbakan government, in 1998, it rose to TL 5.6 billion and reached TL 10.7 billion in 1999. Those businessmen who supported the Feb. 28 coup were given licenses to establish banks, which the businessmen emptied out after a while. Media barons were also among those draining the banks.
As one general put it, “Feb. 28 will last a thousand years.” That is what they thought in an atmosphere in which civil society and popular will was suppressed. Their dream became the nightmare of the nation. Only 15 years later have they, too, awakened to a reality that is not of their making. Gen. Bir has been arrested. He joins other generals in prison who thought they were the kings of the universe just because they bore the arms the nation gave them to defend the country.