Even after 39 years, the bloody Sept. 12, 1980 military coup stands out as a black stain in Turkish history.
The last military coup carried out through the chain of command in the history of the Republic of Turkey is infamous for its executions, assaults, and human rights violations.
In the early hours of Sept. 12, the coup plotters seized power in the country, in the third blatant intervention by the armed forces in Turkey’s history, following the May 27, 1960 coup and March 12, 1971 memorandum.
The National Security Council, consisting of then-Chief of General Staff Kenan Evren — who led the coup, and later was president — the commanders of the Turkish land, air and naval forces, and the commander of the gendarmerie forces, took control of all the levers of power.
Flouting democracy, the putschists annulled the country’s Constitution and dissolved the parliament.
After declaring martial law, they targeted non-governmental organizations and halted the activities of many, aside from the Turkish Aviation Association, Children’s Protection Society, and Turkish Red Crescent.
Also closing the country’s political parties, the plotters carried out a series of executions that still haunt the nation’s conscience.
Executions, trials in aftermath of coup
The first executions — of two political figures — were carried out on Oct. 9 that same year.
Erdal Eren, 17, was sentenced to death on March 19 for killing a military policeman before the coup. Eren was executed on Dec. 13, 1980 after a court tampered with his age in order to carry out his sentence.
Evren’s remarks about the incarcerated Eren and others slated for execution — “Shall we not hang them but feed them, then?” — still burns in people’s minds.
The coup is known as the bloodiest military intervention in Turkey’s history, coming after years of political unrest that claimed hundreds of lives.
More than 650,000 people were detained during the 1980 coup period, while 230,000 were put on trial, mostly for political reasons, and 50 were executed. A further 299 died due to torture and unhealthy prison conditions.
Some 14,000 people were deprived of Turkish citizenship, nearly 1,000 people were tried for being a member of the prohibited organization, and 30,000 people, including teachers, were dismissed from their posts.
Around 1,000 movies were also banned, and dozens of journalists faced prison sentences of up to thousands of years.
Coup plotters appear in court for 1st time
In 1982, a Constitution prepared by the coup plotters won 92% approval in a “controlled” referendum. It included a section that prevented the trial of the putschists for a lifetime.
In a Sept. 12, 2010 referendum, that section was removed from the Constitution, paving the way for a number of criminal complaints against the plotters and those who carried out orders during the coup.
In its wake, top prosecutors in the capital Ankara launched a criminal probe into Evren and former air force Gen. Tahsin Sahinkaya.
The two were brought to court, which marked the first time in Turkey’s history that the coup plotters appeared in a courtroom.
The trial of Evren and Sahinkaya began in 2012 with the prosecution arguing the two had attempted to “eliminate” the Turkish Constitution and override the parliament; both generals were also demoted to the rank of private.
The two ex-generals did not attend the court proceedings, citing poor health, and instead appeared via video link from the hospital.
Evren was sentenced to life in prison on June 18, 2014 for his role in the coup but passed away in May 2015, at age 97. Sahinkaya followed him just two months later, in July.
Ankara’s Criminal Court No: 10 dismissed the 1980 military coup trial after the bench listened to pleas from the lawyers for the two late defendants and declarations by those involved in the case.
* Contributions and writing by Sena Guler