Turkey's ninth president and former Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel has told a parliamentary commission tasked with investigating past coups that he regrets the 1960 military coup and that Turkey would be different if that coup hadn't happened, but also that he did not think that an intervention that took place in 1997 was illegal.
Ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) İstanbul deputy Nimet Baş, who is also presiding over the Parliamentary Commission to Investigate Coups and Military Memorandums, told reporters that Demirel had told commission members that coups are “bad in every way.” He reportedly regretted the 1960 coup and said Turkey would be in a different situation if it hadn't experienced the coup and hanged Prime Minister Adnan Menderes.
Demirel spoke to the members of the commission at his Ankara home on Thursday. Members of the commission, which has decided to hear 180 witnesses as part of the body's investigation into past military takeovers in Turkey, visited Demirel at his home on Güniz St.
Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Manisa deputy Selçuk Özdağ, another member of the commission, said in remarks made to Today's Zaman: “He said coups are bad for Turkey, they should never repeat in Turkey. He expresses the opinion that coups have harmed the country's economy and democracy greatly.”
However, Demirel also told the commission that he did not view the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention, which resulted in the resignation of the government in power in the summer of that year, as a coup d'état.
Özdağ noted, “He said the 1971 intervention was staged by a left-wing group inside the military that existed at the time, and noted closing down the political parties had very bad consequences.”
He also said that Demirel was threatened during his years in politics at various times by generals who would show him photographs of former Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, who was hanged following the 1960 coup.
The commission decided earlier this month to establish three sub-commissions to investigate the May 27, 1960; March 12, 1971; Sept. 12, 1980; and Feb. 28, 1997 coups. The sub-commissions will also investigate the April 27, 2007 e-memorandum in which the General Staff threatened “action” if the AK Party government did not do more to preserve the republic's secular tradition. The e-memorandum came amid a political crisis to elect the country's president.
Demirel is often accused of turning a blind eye to the activities of an illegal group within the military known as the West Study Group (BÇG) during the Feb. 28, 1997 coup period. The BÇG used to categorize politicians, intellectuals, soldiers and bureaucrats according to their religious and ideological backgrounds. As an investigation is under way into the participants of the Feb. 28 coup, there is mounting pressure for Demirel to be put on trial for his role in the coup.
Baş reiterated that Demirel was the prime minister during May 12, 1971 coup, prime minister during the Sept. 12, 1980 coup and the president during the Feb. 28, 1997 so-called post-modern coup. Baş also said they discussed almost all Turkey's coups in a four-hour meeting, but had little time left to discuss the Feb. 28 process, in which a civilian government was forced to resign by the military. She added that Demirel told the commission he expects to meet with commission members to discuss the last coup in some detail.
Baş further stated that Demirel said there is no “defensible side” to suspending democracy no matter what rationale is behind such an action, noting that during certain periods people might be afraid to defend democracy, which he said was understandable.
The experienced Turkish statesman also said politicians were not strong enough to defend democracy and that coups should be assessed within the time period they took place in.