The intention was to exhaust the detainees mentally and in this way get back at them. They were officially accused of violating the Constitution, but the “unofficial accusation” was clear: attempting to give democratic structure to the Turkish military.
In the diaries Erdelhun states that military officers assigned to his care by the junta humiliated and insulted him during his time on Yassıada. The general was kept in detention at the Military War Academy for more than two weeks before being sent to Yassıada to stand trial, where he was accused of violating the Constitution and cooperating with the DP government against the military. Erdelhun was forced to remove his uniform before boarding the plane that would take him from Ankara to İstanbul and to don civilian clothes. “Members of the National Unity Committee [MBK, the architect of the coup] reportedly wanted us generals to be physically harassed by low-ranking soldiers during our journey to Yassıada. Some MBK members who knew me well assigned Fazıl Akkoyunlu to guard me so that I would not be beaten by soldiers. A few generals who walked in front of me through Yeşilköy Square, where groups of non-commissioned officers and other officers had lined up to see us walking by, were physically harassed [by the officers]. As I kept walking, Akkoyunlu ordered the officers not to move and the officers did not touch me. When we stepped onto Yassıada our names were announced over loudspeakers and officers started to boo and swear at us. The next day some of my friends [also military generals] who were brought to the island before me asked how many times I was punched during the journey,” Erdelhun records in the diaries.
Erdelhun was interrogated by a council of military officers established on Yassıada before the commencement of his trial and was asked to accept all accusations directed at him during the trial as denial would change nothing. “They told me that the other had suspects confessed to every crime they had committed and complained that I was denying the accusations. ‘Accept the accusations and let it be over. The result [decision of the court] will not change whether you accept or deny the accusations,’ they told me,” the diaries read. Erdelhun responded that he would not accept the accusations, adding he was ready to confront anybody who claimed he had abused his authority as the chief of General Staff and worked with the DP government against the military.
The detainees were interrogated in unlawful conditions on Yassıada. An investigation was carried out by a team of 31 prosecutors sponsored by the military junta. The investigation and interrogation processes were riddled with human rights violations and unlawful acts. Erdelhun, for example, was interrogated in either pitch black or intensely illuminated rooms. He details the interrogations in his diary: “One of the most unlawful things I encountered [on Yassıada] was interrogation of the arrestees in extremely brightly lit rooms. The interrogation was held by a military judge named Kamil, who used to insult us as he interrogated us. It was not possible to see anything around us when the judge ordered the soldiers to hold a 500-candle lamp toward our eyes.”
In addition, Erdelhun writes how he was mocked by a general, Bahattin Uluç, after he was transferred to the Military War Academy in Ankara. “Uluç started to search my pockets [for security reasons]. He found an amulet in my back pocket and wanted to take it. I said the amulet belonged to my mother and I was keeping it as a memento of her. He looked at me and started to laugh. ‘We know how hodja [meaning devout Muslim] you are,’ he said, and he seized the amulet by force. I said the amulet would curse him one day. ‘Let’s see when it will curse me,’ he said, laughing again.”
General remained handcuffed for several hours after death sentence
Erdelhun records being handcuffed as soon as he was taken out of the court room where he had been sentenced to death, along with 14 other suspects. He was sent to a nearby island, İmralı, where he was supposed to stay until his execution was carried out. The other 14 suspects were transferred to İmralı along with Erdelhun.
“We got off the boat that took us to İmralı and stepped onto the wharf. Our hands were still cuffed. Prison guards came to take us. The guard who held my arm was very excited and shaking. They took our photographs. There were 10 cells in the prison and we were 14 people. Guards took 10 of our friends to the cells and the remaining four, one of them myself, were taken to a room in the prison. Then they handcuffed us from behind. Being handcuffed from behind doubled our sufferings, which were already very hard to bear. I was suffering so much that I would prefer to die than live under those conditions. I tolerated the sufferings until 9 p.m. and later fell asleep. Guards came back at around 2.30 a.m. and moved our handcuffs to the front. I felt happy, I felt the change [in handcuffing style] would mean good news for us. Chief prosecutor Ömer Altay Egesel came at 4 a.m. and told me that my sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.”
Erdelhun spent eight days on İmralı, which provided more favorable conditions for the suspects than Yassıada. The most difficult ordeal at the prison was, the general writes, witnessing the executions of those sentenced to death. “The worst day was Sept. 17, 1961. It was a Sunday. The bars of our prison cells were locked. We were unable to see anything outside. But I felt something extraordinary was going on due to the conversations of security forces inside the building. An ‘Ah’ from behind the bars was the last thing I heard from [Prime Minister Adnan] Menderes. [Then he was hanged.] We spent the entire night praying for the souls of those who were executed.”