Choosing a coup among the coups

November 25, 2012, Sunday/ 16:04:00/ EKREM DUMANLI

Former Chief of General Staff Gen. Kenan Evren and former Air Forces Commander Gen. Tahsin Şahinkaya, who are the only survivors of the top brass of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup, testified Wednesday in the Ankara 12th High Criminal Court, which is hearing the 1980 coup trial.

The most powerful generals of that time were questioned by the court via teleconference from their hospitals. The young generations cannot know how these two ill and bed-bound men, who are trying to answer questions, spread fear among the public. These two men, whose every word was once law, spoke in faltering low voice and with appeared weak. Sometimes, they tried to lash out as they did in the old days.

For example, Evren said: “In the past that coup junta hanged people from both the right and left wings to ‘be fair.' We did so because we did not want people to think we favored either side. So we hanged one from the right and one from the left, then one from the right and one from the left and so on. We did so to show that we were fair.” Within his logic, Evren was right; however, his personal rightness is not appropriate conscientiously and in terms of legality. Hanging people, one from the right and one from the left, just for the sake of being fair and manipulating people's perceptions, is not the true way to establish justice.

Then Evren summoned up his courage and voiced an interesting theory that disclosed the mentality of all military coups that Turkey has faced. Yet, interestingly, Evren's lawyers have focused on this defense, which does not make any sense in terms of universal legal criteria. Should we take this as a joke or irony? If Evren is right, we need to ask the generals who staged the May 27, 1960 coup d'état, "Why did the military court decide to hang Talat Aydemir, who had been tried for his coup attempts in the 1963, and his team?

Evren said: "We made a 'revolution', we did not attempt to stage a coup. Everybody should know that making a revolution and attempting to stage a coup are different things." This simple but assertive theory indicates an important separation in his mind. What is Evren trying to say? He says: "I did make a revolution, and I was successful. Then I prepared a new constitution and new laws. Thus, according to these laws, you cannot try me with such charges."

First of all, we need to discuss the term "revolution." We need to discuss whether we can define the thing that Evren made as a revolution by looking at the contemporary examples, staring from French Revolution. Revolution, reform, coup, gang... These terms are usually used interchangeably in Turkish, but they have different meanings. Sept. 12 was an act by the military aiming to capture the people by using weapons that are entrusted to them to protect the people. It was an imposition of Kemalist ideology that was poorly developed, rather than a reflection of the social and political demands of society.

They assumed that they would raise a new generation via unending brainwashing in schools. They assumed that they would ensure social change by making peace between the left and the right by beating both sides. Anyway, whether Sept. 12 was a revolution or a coup is the topic of another discussion. The issue that we need to discuss today is: Can we try coups whether the coup attempt is successful or unsuccessful? The shady incidents that occurred in the pre-coup period have become more complicated since the coup. No one has dared to investigate the torture cases.

What have the suspects of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases said? "We did not stage a coup. You cannot try us because of a failed attempt." In other words, what the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer suspects are saying is the complete opposite of Evren's theory. In fact, the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer suspects are charged with plotting to overthrow the government. However, the suspects and their lawyers claim that an attempted coup cannot be used as evidence in the trial.

These two extreme arguments cause confusion in public opinion. One says, "I made a revolution, and I was successful; thus, you cannot try me," while the others say, "Even if I attempt to stage a coup, I failed; thus, you cannot try me because of my failed attempt.” According to the coup plotters, what they are saying is regardless of whether the attempted coup was successful or unsuccessful, we cannot try them!

The coup plotters should not be offended by us, but a coup is first and foremost a crime against humanity in every part of the world. Now, irrespective of their rank or position, age and health conditions, those who seized control over the country or who attempted to do this have been called to account for coup changes in a court.

The fate of coup plotters in countries that have experienced many coups in their history such as Argentina, Chile, Greece and Spain is known. Now, Turkey is on the right track. This is why coup supporters are trying to discredit and sabotage the ongoing coup case investigations and cause the courts to slip.

Indeed, the Turkish people will not allow attempts to send the coup perpetrator to oblivion and leave an open door to the coups. Otherwise, God forbid, if the conditions are changed in the future, they would spread fear among the public and lay the groundwork for a coup. As long as a group of people who consider coups as a legitimate right continues to exist, we have to strengthen our democracy within the legal boundaries.

As long as the gray cloud over the death of Özal is not cleared up

When the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office recently issued a warrant to exhume the remains of former President Turgut Özal for toxicological testing, we all felt a strong stab of sorrow in our hearts.

I am sure that everybody said, "If only it had not been needed!" Although everybody was sorry for the exhumation of his body, there is a wide consensus that the court's decision was correct because the question that boggled the minds of people was, "What if Özal was poisoned, or he was a victim of assassination?"

Finally, upon the demand of the prosecutor, Özal's body was exhumed, and the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) started the tests. Then we learned that when Özal's body was exhumed -- 19 years later after his death -- his body was in a condition suitable for [forensic] examination. This would eliminate ever-increasing suspicions concerning his death. If the officials from the ATK had said: "We did not detect any poisonous substances in the late president's remains. He died of natural causes," we would have been happy; but that didn't happen.

It is clear that the late president was poisoned. Otherwise, how can we explain the four different poisonous substances detected in his remains? Then the next questions that we need to ask are much more challenging: "Who killed Özal? What was the reason? Who was the hit-man?

Özal may rest in peace only if we can answer these questions. An important process has been started to ensure his eternal peace, but also to promote Turkish democracy. Who was not happy with the steps that Turkey had taken? Who wanted to prevent the change and transformation process that Turkey has undergone? We need to clear up the gray cloud over the death of Özal in order to understand the real value of Turkey's lost years.