Zaman daily news editor Fatih Uğur and reporter Mustafa Gürlek undertook what can be considered the journalistic achievement of the year. This achievement is so great that the history of the military coup of May 27, 1960 -- which used to be marked with a festival by Kemalist, militarist and leftist circles until the coup of Sept. 12, 1980 -- will have to be rewritten.
Documents belonging to then-Chief of General Staff Gen. Rüştü Erdelhun, which my two colleagues obtained in a red suitcase as a result of their professional curiosity, disclose the true and accursed face of this first coup, which is glorified by pro-coup juntas and their civilian conspirators.
Since Monday, May 27, the Zaman daily has been publishing these documents, which, 52 years after the May 27 coup, tell the story of the coup as witnessed by Gen. Erdelhun. Thanks to this publication, the general public learned how a chief of general staff was arrested and tried by the soldiers on charges of being “pro-government and against the coup,” a first in Turkey’s history, and how Gen. Erdelhun, an honorable commander who respected the nation’s will, exhibited a dignified stance against the bandits of the junta.
Thus far, the general public had been willfully denied the information about Gen. Erdelhun’s dignified stance by certain pro-junta political, media and academic circles. They even used the case of Erdelhun to conduct psychological warfare operations and created the idea of an “Erdelhun syndrome” to intimidate the honorable commanders who would oppose being involved in anti-democratic coups in coming years. Thus, chiefs of general staff and honorable commanders who displayed democratic stances against junta members and coup perpetrators were threatened with being subjected to a humiliation similar to the one Gen. Erdelhun had gone through at the hands of the low-ranking junta members who were rightly described as “poor excuses for Janissary corps” by Col. Alparslan Türkeş, who was initially a member of the junta, but was later purged by other junta members.
One of the most interesting disclosures of the handwritten notes in the red suitcase is that the coup perpetrators told Gen. Erdelhun, whom they held in custody at the War Academy for days, to “lead the coup.” Gen. Erdelhun narrates that day in his notes as follows: “Until noon on May 27, some military officers kept coming to me and saying that this operation should have been conducted by me. They added that my blind loyalty to the government had resulted in this situation and that I had done damage to myself in vain and that everything happened in just two hours. A retired lieutenant general who was my classmate and whom I held in high esteem came accompanied by some 20 military officers and proposed that I go the radio station and deliver a statement and join the revolutionaries to lead this operation.”
However, Gen. Erdelhun stressed the importance of democracy despite the guns turned on him, and told his classmate that a day earlier he had delivered a speech to military officers at the General Staff headquarters, asserting that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is under the command of the democratically elected governments. He wrote about this exchange as follows: “I thanked him for his interest, but told him that I had delivered a speech denouncing coups at the General Staff headquarters some 20 hours ago, i.e., yesterday, and that I am currently under arrest and don’t know if I am still a chief of general staff and that I will not backpedal from my position even if this will mean my death.”
Unable to persuade honorable commander Gen. Erdelhun to betray the national will, the coup perpetrators hurriedly brought Cemal Gürsel, who had just retired from the Land Forces Command, from İzmir and convinced him to lead the junta. Gürsel’s reward for backing the junta members who challenged the national will was to later become president. He became president, but the country was given the image of a backward country in which democracy would be interrupted regularly once every ten years because of this evil tradition that had started.
As is known, hundreds of people were jailed and the prime minister of the time and two ministers were executed in the aftermath of this heinous coup. But it was the glorious Turkish military that received the greatest blow as the tradition of forming self-centered, profit-driven juntas that are head over heels involved in petty politics started in the military, which used to be considered the home of honorable officers. 13,000 patriotic, honorable military officers, including dozens of generals, were discharged from the army in the aftermath of the May 27 coup.
This pro-coup/pro-junta tradition that saw democracy and national willpower as their enemies continued until our time. Ten retired commanders who were the leading actors of the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997, were detained on Monday, and six of them were arrested by the court. The number of retired or active duty generals who have been arrested so far for their anti-democratic habits and junta activities is more than 100 and every day a new finding emerges that indicates that these commanders are still being guided by the morbid habit of staging coups that started with May 27, 1960.
For instance, in a recent voice recording that is claimed to feature rear admiral Fatih Ilgar, currently in jail as part of the case against the Sledgehammer (Balyoz) coup plan, he says that they will be released by a bill that will be passed in two months and he hurls gross insults at the prime minister and chiefs of general staff. “This country will restore itself either through an economic crisis or civil war. If it’s a war, then we will make it a [civil] war,” says Ilgar.
Likewise, in another voice recording, posted online on Monday, that is claimed to feature Rear Adm. Cem Aziz Çakmak, also currently in jail as part of the same case, Çakmak says that they will soon be released from prison and there will be “revenge for the Sledgehammer [probe]” and that it will hurt many, including children. He says that, based on the information he received from “reliable sources,” he and others will be released from prison in one year. He continues to explain in detail what they will do after they are released from prison: “Many of them will flee the country. Many people will be hurt. I mean, many will be hurt in revenge. There will be many cases of settling of accounts. Including their wives and children... Do you know what will be our first move? They will starve. This is how it will start. Don’t let our appearances fool you.”
That’s it. It is clear that the fight against the morbid disease of coups and juntas that infest the Turkish army like malicious tumors is not finished yet. To treat this disease that makes even high-ranking honorable commanders targets of other groups inside the army, perhaps we need to confront the coup of May 27, 1960 as the source of this disease. So, the perpetrators of this first coup -- which is the mother of all other coups -- must be tried in courtrooms and condemned in history textbooks. Only in this way will we be able to distinguish between honorable commanders like Gen. Erdelhun and others. Only in this way will we be able to glorify dignified military officers who are loyal to the nation and democracy, and punish others as they deserve.