May 27, 1960, represents the beginning of the history of coups in Turkey. The Zaman daily has done a great job marking this year’s 52nd anniversary of the 1960 coup.
The daily has begun publishing the personal diaries and memoirs of Gen. Rüştü Erdelhun, who was serving as chief of staff at the time the coup was staged. These notes bear historic witnesses to the dark side of the coup.
Erdelhun was one of the last intellectual military servicemen. He spoke seven languages. He had a brilliant military career, fighting as an officer in the War of Liberation, serving in crucial positions in the Korean War and assuming key posts in NATO, thanks to his competence in English. He was an experienced, knowledgeable and democratic military serviceman.
On May 27, 1960, his door was broken down and he was arrested in his home. In notes published by Zaman Daily the insults and torture to which he was subjected are described in detail. The documents also reveal, importantly, that the officers who staged the coup first offered him a leadership role. Erdelhun made a choice between serving jail time and serving as head of state. He picked the former; he did so because he was committed to democracy. As an intellectual aware of the evils associated with the involvement of the military in politics, Erdelhun explained why he could never approve of a military coup.
Erdelhun’s notes shed light on the most crucial element of the coup: the reaction of the army. The events of May 27 was to prefigure the advent of military rule in other parts of the world, including Egypt and Greece. In the 1960 coup, 37 military officers of different rankings formed a junta within the army and seized power. Their first target was the military hierarchy. The chief of staff was placed under arrest and subjected to humiliation and torture. The majority of the army was opposed to a coup, and for this reason pro-junta elements worked to expand their sphere of influence within the army. As a result of this, 3,000 military servicemen were forced to retire. The military faced a great challenge.
Erdelhun’s notes and memoirs show that this coup was staged by a small group within the army rather than the military as a whole. It was because this small group claimed to have the support of the army that the coup was attributed to the general staff, despite the fact that high-ranking officers and the institutional hierarchy were opposed to the coup.
While the May 27 coup was the work of a small junta, it gained social support due to the backing of the People’s Republican Party, the political opposition. The Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) cooperation with the junta led to the erosion of the party’s image. The coup organizers were a small group, willing to accept the support of the ruling Democratic Party’s opponents in order to remain in power. They subsequently put in place a military guardianship order, with the support of Jacobin elites. This order remained intact until the referendum held on Sept. 12, 2010. The constitutional amendments adopted on this date ended the military guardianship order, clearing the way for the prosecution of the coup planners.
Erdelhun’s records now shed light on the unknown details of past events, following the military guardianship regime. The diaries tell the story of a dignified man, loyal to democracy and the rule of law, the story of his struggle and of universal values. His records identify the first victims of the military coup: honest military servicemen. Coups are not just perpetrated by the military; coups are also perpetrated against the military.