The general wished he were somewhere else than the room in the military hospital of İstanbul, from where he was interrogated by judges, prosecutors and lawyers from the plaintiffs’ office via teleconference in Ankara. When other questions followed from the courtroom -- more than 250 of them -- he at times closed his eyes.
It was Tahsin Şahinkaya, one of the two “suspects” of the coup in the autumn of 1980, then serving as the air force commander. Together with Kenan Evren, the chief of General Staff at that time, they are the two surviving members of the junta that turned everything upside down in Turkey.
Şahinkaya read out a statement: “Generals of the Turkish military did the most righteous thing. … The Sept. 12 intervention [coup] is a large incident that took place in Turkish and world history. Historic incidents are tried solely by history…”
This was, if anything, a declaration that the Ankara High Criminal Court is illegitimate and a humiliation in the face of all attempts for justice.
Şahinkaya knew the answer to the question, of course: The “right to remain silent” never existed in the vocabulary of either the military or the police. The interrogation centers on the period where torture was systematic, with unspeakable forms of it used on those who declined to respond.
It was the rare time in modern world history when sadism in uniform was applied en masse. Şahinkaya was right in a sense: Sept. 12 went down in history, yes, but as an example of state terrorism.
As summarized by this paper yesterday: “Some 650,000 people were detained during this period and records were kept on 1,683,000 people at police stations. Over 230,000 people were tried in 210,000 cases, mostly for political reasons. A further 517 people were sentenced to death, while 7,000 people faced charges that carried a sentence of capital punishment. Of those who received the death penalty, 50 were executed. As a result of unsanitary and inhumane living conditions and torture in prison, a further 299 people died while in custody.” More than half a million were tortured.
In addition, people fled the country, filling the refugee centers in Europe; some -- like the Kurds, Alevis and Assyrians -- left in thousands, forming influential diasporas, filled with a justified hatred for Turkey’s notoriously ruthless, internally glorified militarism. In addition, the regime had stripped tens of thousands of their citizenship, shuffling the problems to countries such as Germany, France, Switzerland and the UK.
While Şahinkaya was silent, his commander Evren, in his mid-90s, showed no sign of redemption. “Even today, we would do it again,” he said. But the highlight of his testimony was his response about being “fair” in hanging people then: “Executions were done with people, as one from the left and one from the right. With this we wanted to draw attention that we do not take sides.”
The question we all ask now, leaving aside all this sickening part, is whether or not this trial will be able to meet public expectations. In a sense, the court is doing what was once unimaginable; there are people in their 60s and above who had never thought the coups stagers would be tried.
But the danger is that all the hopes of hundreds of thousands of families may fade, if the prosecutors and judges do not advance boldly.
First of all, all the officers accused of subversive activity seeking “shelter” in the Gülhane Military Academy of Medicine (GATA) has become a pattern that undermines the courts, at best delaying and obstructing justice. This must be noted.
But, what comes next matters even more. Evren gave interesting hints that the coup plans were prepared at the 1st Army Headquarters (in İstanbul) and approved in the main headquarters in Ankara.
This means that there is all the proof available in military archives (nothing gets lost in the Turkish capital). These documents must be vigorously demanded. As soon as we know who gave the crucial orders and approvals, based on this data, we will know who the criminals were.
No silence, then, will be enough to hide the truth.