The coup was amateurish and childish. The subversive officers succeeded, but they did not know what they should do next or how to rule the country. On the same day, İsmet İnönü, the then-leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), declared his support for the subversive military officers. This support enabled them to seize the reins of real power and establish a functioning administration.
Had this coup not happened, general elections would have been held one year later. The ruling Democrat Party (DP) was already losing electoral support due to growing economic difficulties. As suggested by political analysts at the time, the CHP was most likely to come to power. Thus, what the coup actually did was prevent the CHP from assuming office through democratic means. The CHP was harshly criticized afterwards for supporting this military intervention. The relationship of the leftist ideology with the military was transformed into a policy after this support. The “CHP + military = power” formula has frequently been employed to describe this relationship.
This also served as a major item in debates among the extreme leftist movement that started in the late 1960s and grew in the 1970s. At that time, leftist groups that were close to the Soviet Union advocated the National Democratic Revolution thesis, which basically suggested that they should cooperate with the military in order to seize political power. Similar theses, based on the Baath socialism of the Arabs, are still defended by some leftist groups.
Is Kılıçdaroğlu different?
What newly elected CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said to Murat Yetkin of the Radical daily and to Fikret Bila of the Milliyet daily in connection with the 50th anniversary of the May 27 coup represents a significant change in this long past. Kılıçdaroğlu openly and clearly criticized the coup of May 27. He said those who carried it out today feel ashamed for doing it. Of course, he make no comment about the CHP, which supported the coup then. Still, he made one principle clear: They are against military coups, and no one can defend them. He even went further, suggesting that military spending should be open to transparent audit and that the high military judiciary should be abolished.
It is new for the CHP to suggest the transparent auditing of the military and the abolishment of the high military administrative court. This applies to his statements about the Ergenekon case. For the first time, the CHP, via its leader, says it is against May 27 and talks about auditing the military. We need some time before we can see whether these words will lead to a change in policy. Still, there is clearly a search for change. Fifty years on and the CHP is beginning to rid itself of the heavy burden of the legacy of May 27.
In order to understand how heavy this burden was, we need to take a closer look at the May 27 coup.
What happened on May 27?
On the morning of May 27, 1960, 38 military officers carried out a coup they had planned. Using the troops and firepower they commanded, they seized critical positions. First, they neutralized the commanding generals of the military. They then arrested the president and members of the government. They sent 235 generals and 3,000 military officers into compulsory retirement, thereby taking control of the army. They created a network of interest within state institutions and the private sector. They took control of the high judiciary and removed from office all high judges who were loyal to the law. They appointed professors who flattered them to universities while removing those who were strictly loyal to academic principles. They garnered allies from businessmen. They used the media as their props. They saw the CHP as their political extension.
They then established a system that would permeate their control over power. They announced that they had established the “second republic.” They set in place a constitution and judicial system that would render democratically elected powers ineffective and weak. They turned the legal system upside down to this end. They traumatized democracy and discredited popular preferences. In order to maintain such an irrational and illogical system, a clear violation of human dignity and popular wisdom, they reversed concepts and trampled every value that made people live together in peace. They implanted unfitting and unlawful arrangements. They created a military tutelage that has been continuing for 50 years.
Foreign support for May 27
There is a widespread belief that the May 27 coup was made possible by US support. This comes to the agenda particularly in connection with the Ergenekon investigation. Another frequently voiced argument is that the US has had an effect on important political developments during the 50-year period since.
1960 marks a time when the Cold War was at its peak. Turkey is a strategically important country that forms NATO’s southeastern flank. It is hard to imagine that the US will be indifferent to developments in Turkey. But there is no document or trace of information that would testify to US involvement in the planning of this coup. At that time, a number of underdeveloped countries were moving closer to the Soviet Union through anti-imperialist popular movements. In order to hinder this movement, the US adopted the policy of supporting coups in these countries and establishing good relations with their military rulers, and of preferring to have military dictatorships that were close to itself to democratic regimes that were close to the Soviets. Indeed, the first statement the subversive military officers made after the May 27 coup was to reassert their commitment to NATO. After the coup, the US tried to develop good relations with the subversive officers.
All of the successful or failed coups staged after May 27 followed in the footsteps of this “first sin.” All coups pursued the same pattern and all asserted their allegiance to NATO.
When the Turkish Republic was established, 85 percent of the population lived in villages. Today, only 30 percent of the population lives in villages. Twenty years ago, the public sector accounted for 65 percent of the country’s economy. Today, this figure is 30 percent. The Turkish economy now competes with the world. Turkey has changed considerably. Today, we have come to the end of the 50-year-long history.
Everything that went wrong during these 50 years is the result of the May 27 coup. As we evaluate these 50 years, we should also look at what this nation achieved despite all adversities and obstacles with respect and admiration.
Fifty years have passed since the military coup of May 27. Today, we are still trying to rectify what the subversive officers of May 27 had derailed. To restore confidence in the state, re-establish the rule of law and ensure that 72 million people live as equal and dignified citizens, we must dispense with all remnants of this system.
Turkey suffered an accident 50 years ago. It witnessed a disaster. These 50 years have passed with difficulty. The country suffered from many tragedies and much pain just because of efforts to maintain this coup order. Experience is the most valuable asset for a nation, and today’s democracy is the result of these experiences.