2 Eylül 2010 Perşembe

12 September at 04.00 a.m.

There is no doubt that 12 September 1980 military coup was a very important turning point in Turkish political history. The leaders of the coup not only wanted politicized people to be imprisoned, tortured and killed, but they also transformed Turkish society into a conservative mass who would easily accept neo-liberal market reforms. In a sense, liberalism and so-called democracy was settled in Turkey through a military coup. Mehmet Ali Birand, a very famous Turkish journalist who is known with his excellent political documentary films and as the anchorman of tv channel Kanal D, analyzes the coming and the consequences of 12 September coup in his book “12 Eylül Saat:04.00”. The book was published first in 1984 from Karacan publishing company. This assignment aims to make a summary and a critical analysis of Birand’s book.
Birand begins his book by explaining the two previous military interventions; 27 May and 12 March. In his view, although 27 May, which is known as a coup by colonels, was made against Democrat Party’s dictatorship and brought the liberal 1961 constitution, it was a terrible event for Turkish democracy since it started the tradition of Turkish Armed Forces’ intervention to civil political life. 12 March memorandum was issued against rising socialist student movements and terrorist activities but its unjust attitude towards young people strengthened socialist movements in the country and decreased people’s belief in Western type democracy. Moreover, 12 March limited the freedoms and rights that were guaranteed by the 1961 constitution by establishing a technocratic government with the leadership of Nihat Erim and making constitutional changes. Birand later turns onto explain the political developments after 12 March.
1973 elections saw the rapid rise of RPP with its new leader Bülent Ecevit. However, Ecevit was not able to establish a single party government that is why he made a coalition with Necmettin Erbakan’s Islamist National Salvation Party. The chief of the general staff of this period was Semih Sancar, a democrat-Kemalist soldier who made big effort not to interfere into civil political life (Birand, pg 43). Ecevit’s government was bold enough to make Cyprus Peace Operation in 1974 but this led to the isolation of Turkey from the Western world by heavy embargos (Birand, pg 44). Ecevit also declared a general amnesty which led to the release of many leftist political activists. Due to economic crises, Ecevit later had to resign and called for early elections but Demirel by convincing Türkeş and Erbakan established the first Nationalist Front government in 1975. Nationalist Front government did not try to prevent Nationalist Action Party’s youth branch’s bloody activities and political murders started first in 1975. After Ecevit’s amnesty and National Front government’s lack of control, the political polarization and armed clash in the country increased enormously (Birand, pg 45). At 1977 elections Ecevit and RPP showed again enormous rise but could not establish the government by themselves. At those years, with the retirement of three generals prior to himself, Kenan Evren was made the deputy chief of the Turkish General Staff (Birand, pg 53). Ecevit by taking help from independent deputies and transferring some of Justice Party members established his government finally in 1977 but the government did not have a long life because of shortages and economic problems (Birand, pg 55). On 6 March 1978 Ecevit government allowed Kenan Evren to become the Chief of the General Staff (Birand, pg 60). Now, the all important names of the military (Kenan Evren, Nurettin Ersin, Haydar Saltık, Necdet Üruğ) became people who are skeptic about democracy (Birand, pg 61). Moreover, bloody events were increasing day by day. In addition to many murders, on 19 December 1978 ultra-nationalist and Islamist groups attacked on leftist Alevi citizens and killed 120 of them. The event known as “Maraş Massacre” was showing that the period of democracy was about to be expired (Birand, pg 68). After Maraş Massacre, the government declared Martial Law and people began to wait for a military intervention in order to stop the flowing blood.
According to Birand, the coup could have prevented if Demirel and Ecevit were able to establish a government together and solve their problems through dialogue. However, instead of this Demirel was referring to the murder of Chilean president Salvador Allende by a pro-American coup by General Augusto Pinochet and in a sense inviting soldiers to the scene[1]. The murder of journalist Abdi İpekçi as well as many other murders in a sense prepared a comfortable condition for the military coup. In addition, Ecevit’s anti-American policies directed USA to support a pro-American military coup in the country (Birand, pg 104). The first sign of the coup came on 3 March 1979 when Chief of the General Staff Kenan Evren gave a letter criticizing the politicians to president of the Republic Fahri Korutürk (Birand, pg 60). Turkish Grand National Assembly was not even able to choose a President of the Republic by arriving at a consensus (Birand, pg 183). In an article in US Armed Forces magazine, American political scientists were claiming that the only solution way for Turkey was a military coup (Birand, pg 197).
The operation started on 12 September at 4 a.m. At 4 a.m. Turkish people woke up for the third time with “Alay Marşı” in the last 20 years (Birand, pg 287). TRT announcer Mesut Mertcan was reading the announcement of the military about the military coup. USA immediately supported the coup in Turkey. On 29 September 1980 Time magazine made its cover by using a photo of General Evren with the title “holding Turkey together” (Birand, pg 290). After the coup, National Security Council abolished the parliament, all political parties, syndicated and civil society organizations and elected Evren as the President of the Republic. All legislative and execution powers were concentrated on National Security Council. According to the statistics of Justice Ministry, 650.000 people were imprisoned, 50 people were executed, 30.000 people were thrown out of Turkish citizenship and 2 million people were indexed (Birand, pg 294). National Security Council issued 268 decrees within a year and reestablished the country’s political scene. In a sense a new Turkey was created by 12 September coup.
Birand’s book is very detailed and covers all important issues in 1970-1980 period. Although the writer tries to stay as neutral, his anti-militarist worldview forces him to criticize the military. Birand’s book also lacks emotions since it tells the tortures and sad stories just as ordinary historical events. In my opinion, the book could have been much better if this sentimental side was not neglected. However, Birand seems to be right in his criticism towards military especially after we see that the new Turkey created after 12 September is a pro-American, moderate Islamic country that is away from its founding modern principles. However, Birand does not search for the external and maybe the deep secret causes of escalating violence in the country. Terms like counter-guerilla, deep state, Gladio etc. were often used by many writers when they analyze the pre-12 September period. Moreover, Ecevit’s rapprochement with USSR and his anti-American stance may have caused American and Israeli secret services to provocate a military coup in the country by increasing the dose of polarization. In addition, what and who Birand defends today in his comments in tv and his articles in the journal (free-market economy, TÜSİAD, USA, liberalism etc.) were supporters of this military coup three decades ago and this shows how people could change in years. But still Birand’s book is a must-read book that summarizes very well the close political history of Turkey which is not taught in school.

- Birand, Mehmet Ali, “12 Eylül Saat:04:00”, 1984, İstanbul: Karacan Yayınları

[1] “Bunların sonu da Allende gibi olacak” (Birand, pg 72).

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