Feb. 28 investigation restores public trust in justice

February 27, 2013, Wednesday/ 16:01:00

On the 16th anniversary of the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup, observers agree that the ongoing investigation into the military players of the unarmed coup has helped restore public trust in justice, but calls are still in place for judicial bodies to prosecute civilian collaborators of the coup as well.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into the Feb. 28 coup in April of last year. Currently there are 72 people under arrest pending trial as part of the investigation. Only one of them is a civilian and the rest are retired members of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). They stand accused of forcing a democratically elected government to step down.

According to Freedom Association (Özgür-Der) Chairman Rıdvan Kaya, the Feb. 28 probe is of huge importance for Turkey because it helped restore the people's trust in justice. “Members of the military were engaged in illegalities during the Feb. 28 era. And they continued their lives [after the coup] as if nothing had happened. This was a source of disturbance in the society. With the investigation, people began to feel that justice will be served sooner,” Kaya stated in remarks to Today's Zaman.

On Feb. 28, the powerful military forced a coalition government, led by late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, to step down, citing alleged rising religious fundamentalism in the country. Erbakan subsequently resigned, and his Welfare Party (RP) was shut down by the courts. The Feb. 28 coup brought a series of severe restrictions on religious life, including an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the use of headscarves by women at university campuses and in positions of public service.

The ban still mostly remains in place. Public offices do not hire headscarved women. Covered women are also denied employment in most private companies, despite the lack of a law that prohibits the use of the headscarf in private businesses. They are not elected to Parliament, either. The ban was imposed for many years on university campuses, and it ended only in 2010.

Kaya also recalled that the Feb. 28 coup did not only deal blows to politics and social life in the country but also to the economy, resulting in the loss of a substantial amount of assets.

According to official data, the state had to pay $142 billion to compensate for the losses that the Feb. 28 coup, dubbed the postmodern coup, left behind. The coup led to the collapse of several banks, and economic measures implemented following the coup undermined an already-struggling Turkish economy.

Retired Public Prosecutor Reşat Petek defined the Feb. 28 probe as “belated but still pleasing.” “I believe the ones who are accused of having committed crimes [during the coup era] should be brought to justice. They should be punished if found guilty, or acquitted of charges if found innocent,” Petek stated, adding that the coup in 1997 was not solely the work of members of the military. Coup stagers were assisted by civilian collaborators, including bureaucrats, businessmen, members of the media and politicians. “I believe that those collaborators should be brought to justice,” he said.

Many say some newspapers had a major impact on the military in its decision to overthrow the government in the run-up to Feb. 28 through fabricated news items about an increasing trend of fundamentalism in the country.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office heard the testimonies of some journalists in 2012 as part of the Feb. 28 probe, but the journalists were not prosecuted.

Reportedly at the heart of the Feb. 28 investigation are the actions of the West Study Group (BÇG), which was established within the military to categorize politicians, intellectuals, soldiers and bureaucrats according to their religious and ideological backgrounds before and after the coup.

Civil Servants' Trade Union (Memur-Sen) President Ahmet Gündoğdu said he applauds the launch of the investigation into the postmodern coup, but that the investigation is not enough to kill the pain of the coup. “There is still much left in order not to experience similar bitter times in the future,” he noted. He was mainly referring to a rapid replacement of the existing Constitution with a civilian one.

The Constitution, drafted under martial law after the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup, has for a long time been criticized for failing to respond to today's needs for broader rights and freedoms. A commission is working in Parliament to draft a new constitution.

According to Ali Bayramoğlu, a journalist and columnist, the Feb. 28 investigation is an “imposition” on coup stagers and their collaborators. Speaking on a television program earlier this week, the journalist said the investigation should continue, with civilian collaborators of the coup being called to account as well. “Businessmen, journalists and all other civilians who contributed to the staging of the [Feb. 28] coup should be included in the investigation. The investigation is not a witch-hunt. It is an imposition on people who were implicated in illegalities in the past,” Bayramoğlu stated.

In an earlier statement, Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy Nimet Baş, who was the head of the parliamentary Coup and Memorandum Investigation Commission, said the impacts of the Feb. 28 coup on the lives of victims would only be cleared with the prosecution of coup stagers and their collaborators and paying compensation to victims.

The commission carried out a deep investigation into all past coups and military memorandums in Turkey, a first under the roof of Parliament. The commission heard the testimonies of more than 150 people as witnesses in eight months in 2012 and wrote down a final report about its findings. The report was forwarded to the parliament speaker as well as the prosecutor's offices investigating the coups. According to the report, the state should officially apologize to victims of coups to heal their wounds.

The report also made other suggestions to reconcile with coup victims and avert possible coups in the future, including to draft a civilian constitution; to investigate unsolved murders at times of military rule following coups; to establish a parliamentary commission to work on laws that serve as legal ground for coups; to do away with all reports of categorization of individuals on their ideological and religious backgrounds that were prepared during and after coup periods; to have the state offer an apology to coup victims; to return properties of businessmen seized during coup periods; to put the National Security Council (MGK) under the control of a civilian structure; to switch to a professional army; to completely abolish the military judiciary and to clearly establish limits of martial law.

Erbakan commemorated on anniversary of death

Former Prime Minister Erbakan was commemorated on Wednesday on the second anniversary of his death. Erbakan, commonly referred to as the “number one victim of Feb. 28,” passed away at the age of 85 on Feb. 27, 2011 -- on the eve of the 14th anniversary of the postmodern coup.

Erbakan's family and followers visited his grave in the Merkez Efendi Cemetery in İstanbul in the afternoon. They recited the Quran beside his grave and prayed for the late prime minister.

Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek issued a message to commemorate the late prime minister, saying Erbakan is remembered for his “strong position” in Turkish politics as well as his “struggle” during the Feb. 28 period. “Mr. Erbakan was a leader who witnessed very hard times of our country and worked for the benefit of Turkey despite all difficulties. He was principled not to be overwhelmed by hardships and trained important [political] leaders of today's Turkey.”

Felicity Party (SP) Chairman Mustafa Kamalak delivered a speech at an event in Konya and said Erbakan was a sincere “believer and man of action.”

“He was an idealist. He was a statesman. He was also a leader for the Muslim world.” Erbakan led the SP before his death.

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