32 years on, former generals go on trial for bloody 1980 coup in Turkey

32 years on, former generals go on trial for bloody 1980 coup in Turkey

More than 30 years after the Sept. 12 military takeover, the Ankara 12th High Criminal Court began hearing the case against 94-year-old Evren, who went on to serve for seven years as president, as well as the other surviving coup architect, Sahinkaya, 86, Today's Zaman reported.

Fifty people were executed and half a million arrested, hundreds died in jail, and many more disappeared in three years of military rule after the coup, Turkey's third in 20 years. There are some 500 co-plaintiffs in the case, which include representatives of eight political parties and Parliament. Sixty of the co-plaintiff lawyers and three defense lawyers attended the first hearing.

Defense lawyers asked the court to drop the case, saying Sept. 12 was a coup d'état, but the civilian court is not authorized to try it. The court, however, rejected the request. Another request by defense lawyers that asked the court to label the indictment of the case as "null and void" on the grounds that prosecutors do not have the authority to investigate coup leaders according to the current Constitution was also rejected by the court.

The trial of the coup leaders was made possible by a government-sponsored reform package that was approved in a referendum in 2010. Among other things, the reform package annulled a constitutional article that served as a legal shield for the coup leaders. During the campaign for the referendum, both the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) called on the public to say "no" to the reforms, claiming that it was a lie that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government would bring the perpetrators of the Sept. 12 coup to justice.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan commented on the start of the coup trial on Wednesday at an AK Party meeting, criticizing the opposition for seeking co-plaintiff status in the case despite the fact that they had called for a "no" vote ahead of the referendum.

"Those who unanimously opposed us ahead of the Sept. 12 [2010] public vote, who insulted us and who accused us of lying all swallowed what they had said. They are now lined up in court. The courtroom is now full. They are now ashamed, not only before us but before their [parties'] grassroots," Erdogan said.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıcdaroglu said he didn't understand why the prime minister targeted his party for seeking co-plaintiff status in the historic trial. He said it is his party's right to be co-plaintiff because they were victims during the 1980 coup.

According to Kılıcdaroglu, leader of the CHP then jailed, their properties confiscated and the party was shut down when the government was toppled by the military junta 32 years ago.

Commenting on the landmark trial on Wednesday, President Abdullah Gul said, "The trial will lead to a significant change in mentality that will prevent any similar attempts in the future." He also called on the nation to show the same solidarity it showed on Wednesday when making a new constitution to replace the current one, which was prepared by the 1980 coup leaders.

There were exchanges of words between the defense lawyers and the lawyers of the coup victims during Wednesday's hearing. Lawyer Fikret Babaoglu, who represents the coup victims, told the court that Evren should have been brought to the court in a cage like Egypt's overthrown leader Hosni Mubarak.

"Kenan Evren was no less a dictator than Hosni Mubarak. He should be brought to the court in a cage," said Babaoglu.

Thousands of leftist and rightist protesters gathered outside the court, waving flags and shouting slogans demanding justice and the prosecution of more than just the coup's ring-leaders. It was ironic that leftist groups that opposed the 2010 referendum were also in Ankara for the trial.

The names of hundreds of those killed during military rule were read out through loudspeakers on a nearby bus. "They are among us!" the crowd shouted after each name, before taking a minute's silence with their left fists clenched in the air, a reminder of their political allegiance. "The day will come, the tide will turn, the junta-ists will be called to account," the crowd then shouted.

There was also a small group of elderly former officers, thrown out of the army for refusing to take part in the coup.

Ayhan Sefer Ustun, head of the Human Rights Investigation Committee in Parliament, who was among the followers of the trial on Wednesday, said although his committee cannot become a co-plaintiff in the case legally because it was established in 1990, it is a co-plaintiff intellectually so that human rights violations like those in the coup era do not take place in Turkey again.

Independent deputy Ahmet Turk, who was subjected to torture in the aftermath of the coup while in Diyarbakır Prison, voiced his wish that the Sept. 12 trial gives Turkey the opportunity to confront its past.

Murvet Esendag, mother of Halil Esendag, who was executed after a trial in Manisa during the coup period, was also among the followers of the trial. "My son did not throw stones at police or soldiers. He was sentenced to death. We were not allowed to see him. He was executed without any evidence or witnesses [to legitimate the court ruling]. I refer those who did this to my son to God," she said.

A statement released by the Freedom Association (Ozgur-Der) on Wednesday said that, among other things, the Sept. 12 trial has shown the contradictions and insincerity of some circles about their willingness for confrontation with coup perpetrators, considering their lack of support for 2010's referendum.

"May this trial be a tool of cleansing for everyone," read Ozgur-Der's statement.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arınc, who spoke to reporters following an international symposium on women in Antalya on Wednesday, also said he finds it bizarre that while opposition parties are rushing to become co-plaintiffs in the Sept. 12 trial, they still continue to say that nothing will come of this trial. On Tuesday, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli said that although his party does not believe the trial will yield any results, his party has applied for co-plaintiff status.

Arınc also offered his thanks to the nation for approving the reform package in 2010 with 58 percent support, making the trial of coup perpetrators possible today. He said thanks to Turkey's advanced democracy, it is impossible for anyone to dare to make coup plans in the country.

Yılma Durak, a well-known right-wing nationalist who was tortured in jail during the coup era, said it is impossible to imprison Evren and Sahinkaya at the end of this trial due to their age; however, their ranks can be annulled, and Evren can be deprived of his rights as a former president.

The silver-haired Evren is now frail, and neither he nor Sahinkaya appeared in court on Wednesday due to ill health. Prosecutors did not begin reading the indictment in the case because the suspects were not in attendance. The Ankara court will work overtime, until 7 p.m., during the trial.

The prosecutor's office has said it could hear the testimony of Evren and Sahinkaya via video link. Evren recently underwent intestinal surgery, and the media reported on Tuesday that he had also broken an arm.

At the first hearing of the case on Wednesday, the presiding judge of the Ankara court announced that the Ankara Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK), which had been asked by the court to determine if Evren and Sahinkaya could appear in court, told the court that the İstanbul branch of the ATK should make the decision about Evren and Sahinkaya as it is impossible for the Ankara branch of the ATK to do so.

Evren says he does not regret the coup, arguing it restored order after years of chaos in which 5,000 people were killed in street violence between left- and right-wing groups.

"Should we feed them [those executed after the coup] in prison for years instead of hanging them?" he asked in a speech in 1984, a year after the army restored civilian rule.

In the meantime, the AK Party prepared a motion calling for the establishment of a commission in Parliament to investigate all coups and coup attempts in the country. Speaking to NTV on Wednesday, AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairwoman Aysenur Bahcekapılı said the AK Party would present the motion to Parliament on Wednesday.

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