Coup lingo: Deciphering vocabulary of Feb. 28 coup
Tanks from the Ankara Etimesgut Armored Division on the streets of Sincan in Ankara in 1997. This show of force was interpreted as a warning from the military to the government. (PHOTO AA, HİKMET SAATÇİ)
Just like the coups that preceded it, the Feb. 28, 1997 process also sparked a special vocabulary of words and phrases associated with it.
While a phrase such as “the ripening of conditions” brings to mind the Sept. 12, 1980 coup, phrases such as “silahsız kuvvetler” (unarmed forces) and “bir üst düzey yetkili” or “one high-ranking official” bring to mind the days of the Feb. 28 process. While coups have important effects on day-to-day life in a country, they also leave significant traces on our subconscious and the language, or lingo, that we use.
Don’t let the words “process” and “postmodern” used in conjunction with the Feb. 28 coup divert your attention, for Feb. 28 was a very real coup, as confirmed by the events that both led up to it and followed it. The bringing-down of the elected Refah-Yol government, the direct intervention in the government that was to replace it, as well as the attempts to design both economic and social life: All of these are classic characteristics of a coup.
As to the coup being described as “postmodern,” this is due to the way it was executed as well as the tools that were used in carrying it out. The use of psychological warfare rather than actual military power and the fact that the aforementioned “unarmed forces” rose to the forefront of the tableau -- these factors along with the creation of a literature unique to the coup were all facets of its postmodern status.
And in fact, the words that spilled forth from the tongues of the main coup instigators themselves, as well as those who actually suffered as a result of the coup, quickly turned into popular sayings and fast became a part of our daily political rhetoric. In fact, just making a list of some of those words is really enough to prove allegations of the coup.
What follows are some words and phrases that would fill any dictionary of lingo you might read about the Feb. 28, 1997 coup in Turkey:
“A top-ranked military authority”: This was a favored phrase from Gen. Çevik Bir, the deputy chief of General Staff. Everyone knew that any piece of news starting off with these particular words had been put forward and ordered prepared by him. It was thus a “famous” unknown known by everyone.
“Postmodern coup”: The middle name of the Feb. 28 coup. It basically describes a coup that takes place without the military even having to leave its barracks, a military able to get results just by showing the tip of its bayonets.
“Unarmed forces”: A plan attributed to one of the most critical names in the military intervention, retired Adm. Güven Erkaya of the Naval Forces. The plan was announced through a column written by the then editor-in-chief of the Hürriyet daily, Ertuğrul Özkök. Some writers even referred to the plan later as a type of doctrine. In order to force the elected government to pull back, certain organizations and labor unions, led by the media, spurred into action. A heavy role was also handed off to the justice system in all this. It was the first time that such support and accommodation for a coup attempt were so highly rewarded, and this role, played by the above-mentioned groups, was thus named “unarmed forces.”
“Briefing”: The process of relaying plans prepared in the military headquarters to the unarmed forces for implementation. Mass briefing sessions were carried out with the operational units of the media and the justice system, where information and plans were transferred.
“Gang of Five”: This refers to the five “civil” society organizations that stood in rank formation before the coup instigators like so many reserve troops receiving battle plans. Two of these were labor unions, two were merchant organizations and one was an employers’ organization.
Memorandum: A military term that describes something prepared before the actual action plan. By adding lies to words from Şemdin Sakık -- one of the leading commanders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the 1990s who was captured by a joint operation of Turkish Special Forces and the peshmergas of the northern Iraq regional government in 1998 in northern Iraq -- both journalists and civil society organizations were targeted. Cengiz Çandar and Mehmet Ali Birand were declared traitors, and both lost their jobs. Akın Birdal was the target of an assassination attempt, but managed to escape with his life and six bullets in him. And though the General Staff accepted this memorandum as official, the suspects never faced any sort of investigation.
West Study Group (BÇG): This was the inner-group of junta members, a group formed within the ranks of the Naval Forces, and a group that represented all the supporting units of the coup. It worked like an intelligence organization, carrying out detailed categorizing of people both inside and outside the military. It is now estimated that the BÇG had files on the private lives of around 6 million people. The BÇG was incensed when a police officer doing his job caught red-handed Kadir Sarmusak (who faced charges of leaking classified documents from the military [concerning its role in the Feb. 28 intervention] and caused tensions between the military and police in 1997); the BÇG later took every opportunity it could to get revenge on the police forces and their intelligence units.
The rolling of tanks through Sincan: This refers to the rolling of 20 tanks through the city of Sincan in response to a “Jerusalem” night held there and attended by the Iranian ambassador of the time. The most tragicomic aspect to this incident was that the tanks were even ordered to roll through a second time to give journalists, who were unable to take photographs the first time, the opportunity to snap some photos.
“Wheel balancing”: In the wake of the tanks rolling through Sincan, Bir asserted, “We have carried out a ‘wheel balancing’ on democracy.” And now Turkey is trying to change the entire mechanism, not just the wheels, since the coup mentality cannot seem to find a balance on its own.
“National Security Council” (MGK): This is a tutelage and control mechanism that was placed at the very top of the state when the 1961 constitution came into play.
“Green capital”: A suspicion-inducing label affixed to some citizens guilty of nothing other than trying to do business. Campaigns were carried out to try and finish off the trade lives of these citizens. Sadly, sometimes this went as far as the rabid pursuit of köfte sellers who happened to be bearded. It was an aspect of the whole operation most enjoyed by large media conglomerates.
“Unbroken education”: Here, the reference is to the schools seen as a source of political Islamic bogeymen. Some of the goals were to make private schools state-run and to see imam-hatip high schools cut off at the pass. This implementation wound up plunging an already-troubled middle school atmosphere into complete chaos and causing serious problems for millions of students.
“F-type”: This refers to the rationale and reason behind the witch hunt targeting civil servants in different positions within various state institutions -- first and foremost the police forces -- by the Feb. 28 process. “F-type” refers to claims raised by the secular establishment that suggested that followers of the Gülen movement infiltrated key position in state institutions.
“Pressing the button”: The first step in a lynch attempt aimed at eliminating the schools opened up and backed by Fethullah Gülen. Though television speaker Ali Kırca may intimate that he was the one who “pressed the button,” it later emerged that the conspiracy theory videos on this matter were prepared by the junta itself. The rejection by the State Security Court (DGM), which was trying Gülen, of a request by lawyers for expert witnesses to examine these tapes, was noticeable. The real source of the videos, with their cut and paste editing, was proven if not in court at least among the public.
“Susurluk”: A reference to a famous incident where the deep state was caught red-handed, and where, just as it was not adequately followed up on, the sensitivity among the public on the matter went as far as transforming itself into a process of taking out a government. In this sense, Susurluk deserved an Oscar for “most successful psychological operation.”
“Refueling in mid-air”: The name given to the desire by the Welfare Party-True Path Party (RP-DYP) government to see their formula for a rotating prime ministerial system put into action. RP leader Necmettin Erbakan offered up his resignation, saying, “I am turning over the position of prime minister to my partner, Tansu Çiller.” By adding enough signatures by MPs to form a government, he tried to then “refuel in mid-air.” But the “control tower,” or the Çankaya presidential palace, intervened, and the plans fell apart. Under threats from the junta, the DYP was divided, and Refah-Yol was over before it had even begun.
“Coalitions with names”: While previous coalitions had always been referred to by shortening their party names, after the 1995 elections, there were coalitions such as Anayol, Anasol and Refahyol.
“Symphony and modern Turkey”: When President Süleyman Demirel jumped onto the stage at a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony by the Presidential Symphony Orchestra and declared, “Here is modern Turkey!” it made headlines. It is not, however, known whether performances by the symphony in cities and towns across Turkey actually changed anyone’s lifestyle or outlook.
“One thousand years”: The life span attributed to the Feb. 28 coup, which one general had said would last 1,000 years. However, it lasted slightly more than a decade. It seems that its end corresponds to April 12, 2012 -- the day when prominent generals were detained for their role in the coup.
“Çevik Bey”: Çevik Bir, who decided after retiring that he would be interested in being elected president, appeared once before a select crowd at the Rumeli Businessmen’s Foundation. People who it was thought could put some wind in his sails were invited to the event. But the first blow was struck by one Orhan Keçeli, who asked: “Can I call you Çevik Bey?” And thus, the magic of the moment was destroyed. And it was not just the magic that was destroyed: His body began to shake: Çevik Paşa had never been referred to as “Bey,” and he was no longer referred to as “paşa.” Next, a question posed by Murat Birsel, “What three moves would you make in your first 100 days?” managed to anger Bir. Suddenly, Bir’s dreams of Çankaya had fallen apart. He would have to now console himself with memories from the days when he assisted Gen. Kenan Evren.