Coups and coup attempts in the past severely undermined Turkey’s political and economic development, a top Turkish official said on Saturday.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency on the anniversary of the Feb. 28, 1997 coup against former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan’s government, Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey’s presidential spokesperson, spoke about all facets of the country’s checkered history of military rule, its impact on Turkey’s present, and the efforts to forge a brighter future.
Anadolu Agency (AA): It has been 24 years since the military coup of Feb. 28, touted by the executors as a “balance adjustment to democracy.” How would you describe that particular power grab?
Ibrahim Kalin (IK): It was an assault on democracy and the people’s will by advocates of the tutelary regime. Like other coups in Turkey, it was executed by a mindset that advocated the suspension of democracy and ignoring the people’s will.
This mindset was prevalent among some civilian and military bureaucrats, and members of the business community and the press. Unfortunately, the history of democracy in Turkey is stained; Turkey has experienced coups, in different forms, in almost every decade – in 1960, 1971, 1980, 1997, 2007, and the last on July 15, 2016.
Whatever form they took, every coup undermined Turkey by deterring its economic and political progress. The fortunate thing is that the Turkish nation responded strongly to these coups, expressing its own power and wisdom.
Remember, some leaders of the Feb. 28 coup had claimed that it “will last for 1,000 years.” Nevertheless, the nation sent them packing in a short time; just five years later, in 2002, the Justice and Development (AK) Party came to power through popular elections.
AA: The one thing in common in the lead-up to all the coups was a vulnerable political environment – in particular, weak coalition governments causing political instability. In your view, has Turkey’s presidential system eliminated this risk?
IK: One of our primary motivations in the drive to introduce a presidential system was removing structures that promoted a tutelary regime by not allowing people direct access to the state without intermediaries.
I believe we have attained this goal, which I see as a vital achievement for Turkish democracy. Secondly, through the presidential system, we have protected the civil and elected administration.
The narrative trumpeted by supporters of military coups was that the inability of civilians to properly govern the country caused political and economic crises. By introducing an efficient mode of governance, we took away this excuse. Therefore, this new system blocks the possibility of tutelary regimes.
AA: What role did the media play in the coup of Feb. 28?
IK: As it did in the past, the Turkish media failed this test too. They supported and aggrandized the organizers and executers of the coup. However, this was nothing new; this was exactly how the media acted after the coup on May 27, 1960.
Similarly, it was the media’s provocative attitude and incessant scapegoating of politicians that proved pivotal in the developments leading to the military coup in 1980.
In 1997, the media, by aligning with different interest groups, including judicial bodies and business circles, took part in immensely unfair attacks on certain segments of Turkish society.
Women students who wore the headscarf suffered most from these attacks. They were socially excluded as if they are not from this country; as if they are not supposed to study natural or social sciences.
The media also specifically targeted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was jailed at the time just for reading out a poem. As such, that period constitutes one of the darkest chapters in the history of Turkey’s media.
AA: The Feb. 28 coup involved some international actors behind the scenes, as was the case in 1980 and the defeated coup attempt of 2016. Could you please elaborate on this aspect?
IK: Nowhere in the world do coups happen only because of a country’s internal dynamics; there are almost certainly links extending to the international system. In some cases, these foreign actors are directly involved. In others, they give the necessary room, remain silent, and prepare the ground, playing their part in various ways.
When it comes to a country such as Turkey, which holds a vital place in the global order, the international system and actors have always been involved in such moves, be it the 1960 or 1980 coups, or other power grabs and attempts.
AA: Under Turkish law, details of meetings of the National Security Council (MGK) cannot be disclosed. A decision must be made in the MGK for it to be announced. Could the minutes of the MGK meeting on Feb. 28, 1997 ever be released?
IK: This was discussed and evaluated in a parliamentary commission established on this issue. When you look at the results of the decisions taken at that MGK meeting, the practices and the declaration made on that day, they, more or less, show the picture quite clearly.
In other words, the fact that they used the values of the Republic for their own interests and to legitimize their tutelage mentality is already a damning indictment that reveals everything. We have seen this narrative being used many times by certain circles that wanted to thrust their own agendas on our society.
AA: Do you think the legal processes initiated after the Feb. 28 coup have provided justice to all the victims?
IK: No, there are still victims in the pursuit of justice. In fact, a legal case has been concluded recently; a lawsuit that concluded after a process that lasted about 14 years.
At the time, hundreds, or even thousands, of people, especially women students who wore headscarves, were victimized. For them and their families, the trauma has a psychological, sociological, and economic dimension.
These people lost their jobs, they were expelled from schools, some of them had to quit their education. Some of them have had to move abroad; all of this generated great trauma.
Many lawsuits were filed by people fighting for their legal rights, but some of them took many years. I hope that these grievances will be addressed much faster now.
I know there are still people awaiting justice; I hope their cases are concluded in the shortest possible time and they get the opportunity they deserve to make amends.
AA: You said earlier that the mindset behind the Feb. 28 coup was defeated by the Turkish people, who showed their power and wisdom through free elections. With this in mind, how would you assess the recent developments and discussions regarding a new constitution for Turkey?
IK: The purpose of a new constitution is to give our citizens a constitution that the Republic of Turkey deserves in the 21st Century. We are actually taking this step a bit too late.
Our current constitution was drafted in 1982. It has been amended many times, and many changes and regulations have been made; it has lost its coherence and integrity.
The Turkish nation deserves a better constitution. The parliament is the right place for this endeavor; it has our political parties and the representatives of the nation.
Our president has stressed that the process of drafting a new constitution must have the participation of all parties. This is actually a very important and historic opportunity.
I hope the political parties and all other stakeholders respond positively to this call, because if we do this together, we have the chance to come up with a constitution worthy of Turkey in the 21st Century.
Especially after the defeated July 15 coup attempt, we should do this as a gesture of respect for the fight that our nation put up in every street, district, and city, and to honor the memory of our 251 martyrs.
* Writing by Ahmet Gencturk and Burak Bir
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