Junta cells nested in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) overthrew the government of then-Prime Minister Adnan Menderes on May 27, 1960. Menderes, his fellow Democrat Party (DP) and a number of high-ranking officers of the TSK were tried a few months later on Yassıada, a small island in the Sea of Marmara, on charges violating the Constitution. Among the sentences handed down were 15 death penalties, 12 life sentences and hundreds of lengthy prison terms.
Three executions by hanging were carried out in 1961: those of Menderes, Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan.
The contributions of several media outlets to the May 27 coup were long disputed, and the statements by Yolaç to the Cihan news agency have verified arguments that the Turkish media played a significant role in the shaping of public opinion before the coup, and in this way, making it easier for the military junta to overthrow the DP government. According to Yolaç, not only Akşam but several other newspapers also worked for the purposes of the junta ahead of May 27. Yolaç’s confessions came only two days before Turkey is set to observe the 52nd anniversary of the first military coup in Turkey’s history. “Uniform-wearing [military] officers started to frequent the Ankara office of Akşam three or four days before the coup was staged,” he said.
Yolaç said he purchased Akşam, which had a circulation of 3,000, to overcome the dire financial straits he was going through at the time. He hired such prominent columnists as Çetin Altan, İlhami Soysal and Aziz Nesin to write for the daily to boost its circulation. However, in time, Akşam adopted a leftist nature and the daily started to suffer huge financial loss because businesses refused to advertise in the publication. Akşam’s Ankara office was being run by İlhami Soysal at the time, according to Yolaç.
In addition, Yolaç said a major visited him in his office three days before the coup and told him that the TSK would stage a coup soon. “I shared that piece of information with then-Education Minister Celal Yardımcı. I told him that a coup would be staged and asked him to resign from his position to save himself [from being arrested by the military junta]. He said he would not leave his position under those circumstances. And I said he had to because he had kids [to look after]. He said he would think about it, and I left his office. A few days later, I heard that he had been arrested [by the junta].”
Yolaç met Yardımcı many years later and asked him why he did not quit when Yolaç warned him about the approaching coup d’état. Yardımcı said he spoke to then-President Celal Bayar about the rumors of a coup, but Bayar did not pay heed to the rumors, saying “Whoever told you that is our enemy.” Bayar was among the 15 sentenced to death after the coup, but his execution was not carried out due to his advanced age.
Journalists fabricated stories about Menderes
Yolaç also stated that many journalists had fabricated news about Prime Minister Menderes and his DP government in the run up to the May 27 coup, fearing they would be punished by the military junta after the coup if they had refused to do so. “Our [journalist] friends were afraid. They fabricated news about Menderes. The military junta didn’t need to pressure journalists into writing such stories. Journalists thought such news would serve their own interests, too. … They knew that the military would seize control of the country and they started to write news in favor of the military.”
In an earlier confession, veteran journalist Orhan Birgit said fabricated news reports were spread before the May 27 coup. “There were fabricated news reports back then. Misinformation is the worst thing on Earth. It also has examples in the West,” he said, speaking to the Aksiyon newsweekly last year.
In Turkey, the media has played a significant role in the shaping of public opinion before coups. Turkey has witnessed four military coups, in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997. Before each coup, people were urged to respect and obey all “actions” to be taken against civilian governments through news reports that appeared in the media.
Birgit said news reports that suggested some anti-government figures had been killed and their remains put through mincing machines before the military seized control of the country in 1960 were also fabricated. He said the rumors of “minced people” were first put forward by a colonel. “That was a clear example of misinformation. It was later revealed that the report was prepared upon a military order,” he noted.