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April 18, 2012, Wednesday

The coup trials: justice or revenge?

The Feb. 28 investigation, which started last weak, received unprecedented support from the opposition parties and yet their support was conditional. Almost all the opposition parties requested that the investigation be kept within the limits of the military barracks and should not be enhanced to include the civilian arm of the coup.

An important civilian element of the coup was the use of media outlets by the military leaders of the coup to misinform the public and run a smear campaign against religious leaders. These so-called journalists are alarmed at the prospect of their crimes being disclosed to the courts by their associates in the army.

We will see whether the prosecutors have or will have enough evidence against any so-called journalists of the coup era, and whether they will be courageous enough to punish their crimes as well. Today I want to go a step further and question the very relationship between justice and retaliation.

Already, during the Sledgehammer trials President Abdullah Gül warned the Turkish legal apparatus that the legal procedures should not be used for revanchism, a French word Gül exported from the dictionary of Balkan territorial politics to Turkish legal terminology that can be translated roughly as “desire for revenge and retribution.” From that point on, the opposition parties began to criticize the government for supporting the prosecution of former coups and coup attempts based on revanchist instincts. Columnists opposing the Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and related trials adapted the new rhetoric and voiced their calls for a “trial for justice and not for retaliation!”

This superficial rhetoric misses the delicate relationship between justice, the human will for revenge when wronged and the social contract in which the regulatory body of the state can take on behalf of the victim in the name of justice. The state is able to take this “revenge” in the name of ensuring social solidarity and the prevention of chaos within the limits of the law.

It is true that the prosecutors and judges should not act on retaliatory instincts, but it is also true that the justice the judge doles out should give the victim a feeling that the wrong has become undone and the criminal is paying for the crime. The punishment should be such that it will prevent others from committing the same crime. In the plain language of the Turkish street we say, “Justice takes our revenge!” It must do so…

Revanchism on the other hand, underlines a different and inhumane logic. This is the logic of blood feuds: “Tribe A killed five people from tribe B and hence tribe B decides to kill five people from tribe A.” This is not justice. This logic has no chance of preventing chaos; it does not guarantee social solidarity and it does not deter further crime.

I have never been a complainant or a defendant in a court, but if I had been wronged I would expect justice to erase the desire for revenge in my heart. The desire for retaliation is a human instinct but it needs to be controlled when there is no state authority. When state authority does exist, you should deliver that desire to the state apparatus so that it can take revenge for you in the name of ensuring social solidarity and justice. It is the right of the victim to expect tranquility of the soul after the decision of the court.

Justice is not less than revenge, it is more than that! And that is what I expect from the Sledgehammer; Ergenekon; Sept. 12, 1980 coup; Feb. 28, 1997 coup; and April 27, 2007 coup attempt cases.

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