Turkey marks 51st anniversary of first coup amid bitter memories
A group of people rallied last year in İzmir to protest 27 May, 1960 coup. The banner reads: 27 May Never Again.
Tomorrow Turkey is set to mark the 51st anniversary of the first military coup in its history, staged by junta cells nested in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) on May 27, 1960, amid tragic and shameful memories.
1960 stands as a turning point in Turkey's political history as it encouraged the military for the first time to take control of the country when it was uneasy with the political landscape. No one has been tried yet in connection with a role in the coup. There is growing expectation in the society for the figures behind the coup to stand trial, albeit symbolically, because none of the coup stagers is alive.
On May 27, 1960, the military overthrew the government of then-Prime Minister Adnan Menderes. Menderes and his fellow Democrat Party (DP) members were tried in 14 separate cases on Yassıada, an island in the Sea of Marmara. The judges overseeing the case handed down 15 death penalties, 12 life sentences and hundreds of long-term imprisonments. Three of the executions were carried out: Menderes, Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan were hanged.
Celal Bayar, who was president at the time, was among the 15 sentenced to death, but his execution was not carried out because of his age. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is also the leader of the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party), is scheduled to travel to western Aydın province, the hometown of Menderes today in memory of the late prime minister. Erdoğan will address the nation as part of an AK Party electoral campaign there. The prime minister is expected to condemn coups and anti-democratic attempts in his address.
Nilüfer Bayar, the daughter of the late president, said the coup culture and tradition “became established in Turkey” after May 27, 1960. She also accused the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) of lending support to the military to stage a coup in 1960. “Had the CHP not winked at the military, a coup would not have been staged,” she said.
In 1950, Menderes' DP was swept to power with a crushing victory over the CHP in parliamentary elections. The elections ushered in an era after which the CHP was unable to return to power on its own. The DP was victorious in elections in 1955 and 1957 as well. Angered by grinding defeats in the past three elections, the CHP started to accuse the ruling party of violating the Constitution and began to provoke the military against the DP government. A failed assassination plot against then-CHP leader İsmet İnönü, also a former prime minister, in the western province of Uşak in 1959 increased the tension between the ruling and opposition parties.
On April 18, 1960, İnönü openly threatened Menderes with a coup d'état, accusing his party of censoring the press, being engaged in acts that would harm the republic and the principles of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and violating the Constitution. On May 27, the military junta took control of the administration, alleging that the state's secular character was at risk. According to the officers who staged the coup, it was aimed at putting an end to activities against secularism in the country. However, it is widely believed the coup was carried out to restore the administration to its original state, where power was only shared among the elite of the country.
“They [the CHP] were directly behind the coup. The CHP and the junta nested within the armed forces hoped to rise to power with the coup,” Mrs. Bayar stated. According to Bayar, the Turkish nation started to consider military coups as “ordinary incidents” after 1960. “All breakdowns we are experiencing today stem from the 1960 coup. The justice system collapsed and the education system went bankrupt.”
There were earlier claims pointing to a contribution of the CHP in the May 27 coup. According to veteran journalist Orhan Birgit, who recently spoke to the weekly newsmagazine Aksiyon, he worked on organizing students in riots against the government before the 1960 coup. Birgit was a senior CHP official at the time and a lawyer by profession. “I was head of the CHP Beyazıt district office then. A group of [university] students came to me. They asked for my help. They asked me what they could do [to protest the government]. I told them to stage sit-ins on their campuses and to stage demonstrations. However, the incidents later got out of control,” he told Aksiyon.
On Thursday Mahmut Arslan, president of the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (HAK-İŞ), issued a statement on the occasion of the anniversary of the 1960 coup, and stated that the coup remains a “black spot” in the memory of the Turkish nation. “The Turkish nation, which experienced coups and coup attempts on May 27 , March 12 , Sept. 12 , Feb. 28  and April 27 , does not want to experience any other coup,” he stated. According to Arslan's statement, coups and all other anti-democratic attempts are aimed to deal blows to Turkey's adventure for a stronger democracy.
“Democracy in Turkey has been suspended with coups d'état, which came approximately once in every 10 years. … The Turkish nation does not want to see any other coups. The coups have resulted in the treatment of our country in the international arena as a second-class country,” Arslan added in his statement.