1997 coup probe will only be ‘symbolic’ without civilian actors
A full and true confrontation with the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup will not be possible and the trial of its leaders will remain only symbolic unless the coup’s civilian collaborators are brought to justice, observers have said.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) issued a memorandum on Feb. 28, 1997, vehemently criticizing the coalition government led by the now-defunct conservative Welfare Party (RP) and claimed that the government failed to take necessary measures to fight what the army called “reactionaryism.” The National Security Council (MGK) made several decisions during a meeting on Feb. 28 and presented them to then-Prime Minister Nec-mettin Erbakan for approval.
Erbakan was forced to sign the decisions. He subsequently resigned. Fifteen years after the postmodern coup, prosecutors have launched an investigation into the coup and suspects from the military, including retired generals, have been arrested as part of the probe in separate investigations over the past two weeks.
The Feb. 28 investigation has raised calls from some circles who say that the investigation should be limited to the military actors who played a major role in the coup while the civilian and political actors should be left untouched by the prosecutors.
Gültekin Avcı, a former prosecutor, described such calls as “emotional,” dismissing them as nothing more than interference in the judiciary’s job.
“We are not shopping at a supermarket, where we can take this or leave that. It is the prosecutors’ job to decide who will be the suspects in a case according to their evidence,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.
Avcı explained that when a murder is committed, all those aiding and abetting the murderer are put on trial. Likewise, he said, all the actors who aided and abetted the military in the 1997 coup should be put on trial.
“In a thorough Feb. 28 investigation, the number of suspects will be between at least 500 and 1,000. Feb. 28 was a process which continued until the year 2000. A new crime was being committed every day,” he said, adding that without the trial of the civilian actors of the coup, confrontation with the Feb. 28 intervention will remain merely “symbolic.”
Not only were fatal blows dealt to fundamental rights and freedoms after the coup, but democracy and the rule of law were also suspended. The coup introduced a series of harsh restrictions on religious life, with an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the use of the Islamic headscarf. Many military officers were expelled from the military for practicing their religion. In addition, a number of newspapers were closed. A group named the West Study Group (BÇG) was formed within the military during the Feb. 28 coup to categorize politicians, intellectuals, soldiers and bureaucrats in accordance with their religious and ideological backgrounds. There are claims that there were records concerning around 6 million people in the run-up to the Feb. 28 events.
Back then, some newspapers ran a large number of stories warning of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey to prepare the ground for a military intervention, and some of those stories were cited as evidence of the presence of this fundamentalism by MGK generals in a statement the council issued that led to the uprooting of the government. Some university rectors and civil society and labor organizations also instigated fears of religious fundamentalism in the country to prompt the military to intervene.
“Feb. 28 is a coup which was carried out by armed and unarmed [military and civilian] forces hand in hand,” said Bugün daily columnist Ahmet Taşgetiren.
He said he does not know whether it is legally possible to try all the civilian actors of the coup but he believes their names should at least be exposed so that the impact of the coup can be dealt with and brought to a close.
As the leading civilian actor of the era, Taşgetiren pointed his finger at then-President Süleyman Demirel, who he said did not take any action to stop the military although he was aware of its anti-democratic activities.
When then-Prime Minister Erbakan resigned due to military pressure, everyone was expecting Demirel to give the mandate to form the new government to Erbakan’s coalition partner, Tansu Çiller. Despite this, Demirel gave the mandate to form the government to Motherland Party (ANAP/ANAVATAN) leader Mesut Yılmaz, who formed a minority government backed by the military. Demirel was also allegedly aware of the activities of the BÇG.
Bülent Orakoğlu, the then-chief of the National Police Department’s intelligence department, who spoke following the detentions of some active-duty and retired military officers in the second wave of operations last Thursday, said it is the turn of the civilian leg of the coup to face legal action.
“It was the military officers who staged the coup but leading civil society organizations also played a significant role in the intervention. The first operations were carried out against the members of the BÇG, who prepared the necessary environment in the country for a military takeover. … I think the upcoming operation will extend to civilian actors of the coup. It will include [the military’s collaborators] in the media, judiciary, universities and labor unions,” he explained.