Remembering the 12 September 1980 military coup of Turkey

Remembering the 12 September 1980 military coup in Turkey

On 12 September 1980, a National Security Council which brings together the chief of General Staff, general Kenan Evren, and chiefs of staff of army and security forces took power by proclaiming a state of siege throughout the country. Politicians, from Ecevit to Demirel, Erbakan, Turkes are arrested, the National Assembly is dissolved and the activities of associations and trade unions are banned. The junta extends to a retired admiral, who becomes Prime Minister, Bulent Ulusu.

In the eight and a half months that followed the massacre of Maraş, in late December 1979, the dead were at least 3856. That of September 12, 1980 was the third coup in Turkey in thirty years. The first was that of May 27, 1960, the second that of March 12, 1971. Between 1971 and 1984 violence and repression against the Kurds and against the left reaches its peak. A generation is essentially destroyed.

The junta exercises legislative and executive power (and the judiciary through the military courts) and says it will bring political stability, an end to civil violence, restore Kemalism and impose the discipline necessary for economic reforms. The junta left power in 1983. The legacy is heavy: some fifty militants (mostly leftwing people) are sentenced to death, more than 400 leftist activists were killed, tortured to death or disappeared. More than 600 thousand people have been taken into custody, 85 thousand incarcerated for long periods. Thousands of trade unionists and intellectuals imprisoned, many academics dismissed. In contrast, the National Security Council authorizes far-right militants like Abdullah Catli (wanted for murder including that of seven students in Ankara) to go to Europe to "fight against the Armenians."

The military act galvanized by what they perceived as the nearing disintegration of some vital values imposed by Ataturk: national unity, 'Turkishness', populism and secularism. Values under attack, according to the military, either the left or right, by Kurds, marxists and the Islamists. The military act with a sense of great urgency in the period in which they hold the power to rebuild the governing authority. An attitude that make some commentators using the term 'velvet coup' to define the globe. Nothing is far from the truth though: in 1983, when returning power to civilian rule, the military has officially 592 deaths on its conscience. Furthermore 60 thousand people are arrested within three years of military rule (according to figures by the generals themselves). Of these 54% are left-wing activists, 14% right-wing militants and 7% of Kurds. These data contrast sharply with those provided by the International League for Human Rights which claims that between September 1980 and September 1982, the Kurds detained have been at least 81 thousand.

The generals create an ultra-nationalist and conservative regime close to the far right and declare that any ideological choice other than Sunni Islam is considered a "perversion" and needs to be treated with psychiatric treatment (with doctors from the school of Lombroso). The use of Kurdish language is banned, on the mountains of Kurdistan appear writings like "happy is he who can say I am Turk", in prison is mandatory reading the "Discourse" by Mustafa Kemal. A draft Constitution is written according to which general Kenan Evren is appointed president of the Republic and exempts generals from any criminal liability. The Constitution eliminates almost all the freedoms that had survived the previous coup in 1971. The new constitutional chart is based on control. It strengthens the powers of the president, giving him the right to dissolve the Assembly and enact laws by decree. It reduces the parliament to a single chamber and reduces the role of political parties.

But perhaps the heaviest article is Article 14 which limits the freedom of individuals and organizations, and prohibits the political struggle based on class, language, race.

A referendum is called to approve the new Constitution. The "yes" 'won' with 92% of the votes. But to vote "no" had been declared an act of treason against the motherland.

These are the figures (possibly they are higher) of the military coup:

650,000 arrests

1 million 683 thousand people investigated

7,000 death penalty demands

517 death penalty executed

50 hanging

98,400 people sentenced for membership of an illegal organization

388,000 people had their passport withdrawn

30,000 people were forced to go into exile

171 people died as a result of torture

937 films were censored

14,000 people were stripped off their citizenship

299 people died in prison

400 journalists were sentenced to a total of four thousand years in prison