12 September 1980 Military Coup to 12 September 2013

I was a child back then but old enough to remember the day. In fact, until a few years later when I realised what military coup meant, 12 September 1980 was the day I felt what freedom meant. The children of the apartment block we lived in were allowed to go out into the back garden straight after breakfast, with the usual warning of not to leave it. Every now and then our parents looked at us from the balconies, they brought us lunch but no one called us in, no one, not once until it started to get dark. This had never happened before.

I was told years later that, while they had no concerns for their own safety as they were not ‘political’, the adults in the block were glued to a few TVs and the radios they had between them, trying to understand the scale of what was happening…all the while listening to the folk songs of heroism broadcast as was the tradition on the first days of a military coup.

I can’t remember what games we played to pass the day but that was the first time I tasted freedom and peace and quiet (there being a curfew all day). One more irony in the land of ironies!

The only other thing I remember was climbing up to the garden wall and, trying not to be seen, watching a military truck arrive, call people out and distribute fresh bread. I thought they were being caring and helpful. Individuals soldiers probably thought the same, but not the generals – or maybe they really thought they were doing the right thing too.

In the months that followed, it remained peaceful for the child that I was. I got used to not waking up in the middle of the night to gun shots.

In the years that followed as I went through the education system, I was not involved in any political movement – very few students dared. We got used to the civilian police officers at the university campus, who pretended to sell simits (like pretzel) and be the campus photographers.

In the months and years that followed, the reality was that [1]:

  • More than 650,000 people were taken into custody.
  • Tens of thousands were subjected to torture and ill-treatment.
  • Information on 1,683,000 people were recorded.
  • 210,000 political cases were opened in military courts.
  • A total of 98,404 people were tried because of their “thoughts.”
  • 71,500 people stood trial under articles 141, 142 and 163 of former Penal Code.
  • 6,353 people were tried under the menace of capital punishment.
  • 517 people were condemned to capital punishment. 50 people (18 left-wing, 8 right-wing, 1 Asala militant and 23 common law) were hanged.
  • 21,764 people were sentenced to heavy prison terms.
  • 171 people were documented to have died under torture.
  • 299 people lost their lives in prison due to maltreatment and hunger strikes to protest this maltreatment.
  • 348,000 persons were forbidden to travel abroad.
  • 30,000 people went to exile as “asylum seekers”.
  • 14,000 persons’ Turkish citizenship was cancelled. 
  • Universities were placed under the discipline of the Higher Education Council (YOK), dependent on political power.
  • More than 4,000 teachers and university professors ousted from their posts under Law No. 1402.
  • All political parties were closed down.
  • The activities of 23,667 associations were halted.
  • The press was censored.
  • 4,509 people were sent into exile by the martial law.
  • 937 movies were banned.
  • 2,792 authors, translators and journalists were tried.
  • Journalists were condemned to a total of 3,315 years and 3 months prison sentence.
  • 31 journalists were imprisoned, hundreds of them were attacked and three were shot dead.
  • 113,607 books were burned.
  • 39 tons of books, magazines and newspapers were destroyed by the State’s paper mills

Then in 1983, elections were held. But the constitution the military government made is still in place today. The current government’s efforts to change the constitution is heavily criticised for making things even less democratic but the current government is not known for listening to criticism.

Yes, the economy got better over the last three decades – well on the whole…equitable distribution of income across classes and parts of the country is still a distant goal (if it is a goal at all).  And even this much improvement cannot be attributed to the current government alone.

We learnt not to say much, not to get into trouble. We learnt to leave. We learnt to get on with out lives. We learnt to forget there was a war going on in the South East.

We thought we were becoming more liberal, more understanding of each other what with 100s of TV channels, 1000s of radio channels and the internet. It was a popular joke for years that there could never be another military coup in Turkey as it would take days for the military to take over all TV and radio stations to announce that they were now in charge….not like 1980 where there was only the state-run TRT.

Since May this year, we learnt that military is not needed; liberalisation has not had the same effect on everyone, and that people don’t want to just get on with their lives any more, they want to have a say in it.  Since then not only the younger generations but the older ones have come out to the streets or banged their pots and pans from their windows and balconies or wore down their keyboards.

And we learnt that the State may have changed the means it uses but the ends are still the same. There may not be bullets and hangings but there still are plenty of examples of injustice. And things are much more complicated now than it was then – not left, right and the military divide, but many others.

Truth be told, this blogger is lost for words (yes, even after such a long post), doesn’t know how to interpret what has happened, is happening and what the future will bring. Please do comment, if you do.

[1] http://www.info-turk.be/421.htm#33rd

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