The 12 September 1980 Turkish coup d'état, headed by Chief of the General Staff General Kenan Evren, was the third coup d'état in the history of the Republic after the 1960 coup and the 1971 "Coup by Memorandum".
The 1970s were marked by right-wing/left-wing armed conflicts, often proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union, respectively. To create a pretext for a decisive intervention, the Turkish military allowed the conflicts to escalate; some say they actively adopted a strategy of tension. The violence abruptly stopped afterwards, and the coup was welcomed by some for restoring order. In total, 50 people were executed, 500,000 were arrested and hundreds died in prison.
In 1975 Süleyman Demirel, president of the conservative Justice Party (Turkish language: Adalet Partisi, AP) succeeded Bülent Ecevit, president of the social-democratic Republican People's Party (Turkish language: Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP) as Prime Minister. He formed a coalition with the Nationalist Front (Turkish language: Milliyetçi Cephe), Necmettin Erbakan's fundamentalist National Salvation Party (Turkish language: Millî Selamet Partisi, MSP) and Alparslan Türkeş' far right Nationalist Movement Party (Turkish language: Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP). The MHP used the opportunity to infiltrate state security services, seriously aggravating the low-intensity war that was waging between rival factions.
The elections of 1977 had no winner. First, Demirel continued the coalition with the Nationalist Front. But in 1978 Ecevit was able to get to power again with the help of some deputies who had shifted from one party to another. In 1979, Demirel once again became Prime Minister. At the end of the 1970s Turkey was in an unstable situation with unsolved economic and social problems facing strike actions and partial paralysis of politics (the Grand National Assembly of Turkey was unable to elect a President during the six months preceding the coup). Since 1968–69, a proportional representation system made it difficult to find any parliamentary majority. The interests of the industrial bourgeoisie, which held the largest holdings of the country, were opposed by other social classes such as smaller industrialists, traders, rural notables, landlords, whose interests did not always coincide among themselves. Numerous agricultural and industrial reforms requested by parts of the middle upper classes were blocked by others. Henceforth, the politicians seemed unable to combat the growing violence in the country.
Unprecedented political violence had erupted in Turkey in the late 1970s. The overall death toll of the 1970s is estimated at 5,000, with nearly ten assassinations per day. Most were members of left-wing and right-wing political organizations, then engaged in bitter fighting. The ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves, youth organisation of the MHP, claimed they were supporting the security forces. According to the anti-fascist Searchlight magazine, in 1978 there were 3,319 fascist attacks, in which 831 were killed and 3,121 wounded. In the central trial against the left-wing organization Devrimci Yol (Revolutionary Path) at Ankara Military Court the defendants listed 5,388 political killings before the military coup. Among the victims were 1,296 right-wingers and 2,109 left-wingers. The others could not clearly be related. The 1978 Bahçelievler Massacre, the 1977 Taksim Square massacre with 35 victims and the 1978 Kahramanmaraş Massacre with over 100 victims are some notable incidents. Martial law was announced following the Kahramanmaraş Massacre in 14 of (then) 67 provinces in December 1978. At the time of the coup martial law had been extended to 20 provinces.
Ecevit was warned about the coming coup in June 1979 by Nuri Gündeş of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). Ecevit then told his interior minister, İrfan Özaydınlı, who then told Sedat Celasun—one of the five generals who would lead the coup. The deputy undersecretary of the MİT, Nihat Yıldız, was demoted to the London consulate and replaced by a lieutenant general as a result.
On 11 September 1979, General Kenan Evren ordered a hand-written report from full general Haydar Saltık on whether or not a coup was in order, or if the government merely needed a stern warning. The report, which recommended preparing for a coup, was delivered in six months. Evren kept the report in his office safe. Evren says the only other person beside Saltık who was aware of the details was Nurettin Ersin. It has been argued that this was a ploy on Evren's part to encompass the political spectrum as Saltık was close to the left, while Ersin took care of the right. Backlash from political organizations after the coup would therefore be prevented.
On 21 December, the War Academy generals convened to decide the course of action. The pretext for the coup was to put an end to the social conflicts of the 1970s, as well as the parliamentary instability. They resolved to issue the party leaders (Süleyman Demirel and Bülent Ecevit) a memorandum by way of the president, Fahri Korutürk, which was done on 27 December. The leaders received the letter a week later.
A second report, submitted in March 1980, recommended undertaking the coup without further delay, otherwise apprehensive lower-ranked officers might be tempted to "take the matter into their own hands". Evren made only minor amendments to Saltık's plan, titled "Operation Flag" (Turkish language: Bayrak Harekâtı).
The coup was planned to take place on 11 July 1980, but was postponed after a motion to put Demirel's government to a vote of confidence was rejected on 2 July. At the Supreme Military Council meeting (Turkish language: Yüksek Askeri Şura) on 26 August, a second date was proposed: 12 September.
On 7 September 1980, Evren and the four service commanders decided that they would overthrow the civilian government. On 12 September, the National Security Council (Turkish language: Milli Güvenlik Kurulu, MGK), headed by Evren declared coup d'état on the national channel. The MGK then extended martial law throughout the country, abolished the Parliament and the government, suspended the Constitution and banned all political parties and trade unions. They invoked the Kemalist tradition of state secularism and in the unity of the nation, which had already justified the precedent coups, and presented themselves as opposed to communism, fascism, separatism and religious sectarianism.
One of the coup's most visible effects was on the economy. On the day of the coup, it was on the verge of collapse, with three digit inflation. There was large-scale unemployment, and a chronic foreign trade deficit. The economic changes between 1980 and 1983 were credited to Turgut Özal, who was the main person responsible for the economic policy by the Demirel administration since 24 January 1980. Özal supported the IMF, and to this end he forced the resignation of the director of the Central Bank, İsmail Aydınoğlu, who opposed it.
The strategic aim was to unite Turkey with the "global economy," which big business supported, and gave Turkish companies the ability to market products and services globally. One month after the coup, London's International Banking Review wrote "A feeling of hope is evident among international bankers that Turkey's military coup may have opened the way to greater political stability as an essential prerequisite for the revitalization of the Turkish economy". During 1980–1983, the foreign exchange rate was allowed to float freely. Foreign investment was encouraged. The national establishments, initiated by Ataturk reforms, were promoted to involve joint enterprises with foreign establishments. The 85% pre-coup level government involvement in the economy forced a reduction in the relative importance of the state sector. Just after the coup, Turkey revitalized the Atatürk Dam and the Southeastern Anatolia Project, which was a land reform project promoted as a solution to the underdeveloped Southeastern Anatolia. It was transformed into a multi-sector social and economic development program, a sustainable development program, for the 9 million people of the region. The closed economy, produced for only Turkey's need, was subsidized for a vigorous export drive.
The drastic expansion of the economy during this period was relative to the previous level. The GDP remained well below those of most Middle Eastern and European countries. The government froze wages while the economy experienced a significant decrease of the public sector, a deflationist policy, and several successive mini-devaluations.
The coup rounded up members of both the left and right for trial with military tribunals. Within a very short time, there were 250,000 to 650,000 people detained. Among the detainess, 230,000 were tried, 14,000 were stripped of citizenship, and 50 were executed. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people were tortured, and thousands are still missing. A total of 1,683,000 people were blacklisted. Apart from the militants killed during shootings, at least four prisoners were legally executed immediately after the coup; the first ones since 1972, while in February 1982 there were 108 prisoners condemned to capital punishment. Among the prosecuted were Ecevit, Demirel, Türkeş, and Erbakan, who were incarcerated and temporarily suspended from politics.
One notable victim of the hangings was a 17-year-old Erdal Eren, who said he looked forward to it in order to avoid thinking of the torture he had witnessed.
After having taken advantage of the Grey Wolves' activism, General Kenan Evren imprisoned hundreds of them. At the time they were some 1700 Grey Wolves organizations in Turkey, with about 200,000 registered members and a million sympathizers. In its indictment of the MHP in May 1981, the Turkish military government charged 220 members of the MHP and its affiliates for 694 murders. Evren and his cohorts realized that Türkeş was a charismatic leader who could challenge their authority using the paramilitary Grey Wolves. Following the coup in Colonel Türkeş's indictment, the Turkish press revealed the close links maintained by the MHP with security forces as well as organized crime involved in drug trade, which financed in return weapons and the activities of hired fascist commandos all over the country.
Within three years the generals passed some 800 laws in order to form a militarily disciplined society. The coup members were convinced of the unworkability of the existing constitution. They decided to adopt a new constitution that included mechanisms to prevent what they saw as impeding the functioning of democracy. On 29 June 1981 the military junta appointed 160 people as members of an advisory assembly to draft a new constitution. The new constitution brought clear limits and definitions, such as on the rules of election of the president, which was stated as a factor for the coup d'état.
On 7 November 1982 the new constitution was put to a referendum, which was accepted with 92% of the vote. On 9 November 1982 Kenan Evren was appointed President for the next seven years.
- 650,000 people were under arrest.
- 1,683,000 people were blacklisted.
- 230,000 people were judged in 210.000 lawsuits.
- 7,000 people were asked for the death penalty.
- 517 persons were sentenced to death.
- 50 of those given the death penalty were executed (26 political prisoners, 23 criminal offenders and 1 ASALA militant).
- The files of 259 people, which had been asked for the death penalty, were sent to the National Assembly.
- 71,000 people were judged on account of the articles 141, 142 and 163 in Turkish Penal Code.
- 98,404 people were judged on charges of being members of a leftist, a rightist, a nationalist, a conservative, etc. organization.
- 388,000 people were not given a passport.
- 30,000 people were dismissed from their firms because they were suspects and therefore inconvenient.
- 14,000 people were removed from citizenship.
- 30,000 people went abroad as a political refugee.
- 300 people died in a suspicious manner.
- Documented that 171 people died by reason of torture.
- 937 films were banned because these were found objectionable.
- 23,677 associations had their activities stopped.
- 3,854 teachers, 120 lecturers and 47 judges were dismissed.
- 400 journalists were asked a total of 4000 years’ imprisonment.
- Journalists were sentenced 3315 years and 6 months’ imprisonment.
- 31 journalists went to jail.
- 300 journalists were attacked.
- 3 journalists were shot dead.
- 300 days in which newspapers were not published.
- 303 cases were opened for 13 major newspapers.
- 39 tonnes of newspapers and magazines were destroyed.
- 299 people lost their lives in prison.
- 144 people died in a suspicious manner.
- 14 people died in a hunger strike.
- While fleeing, 16 people were shot.
- 95 people were killed in combat.
- “Natural death report” for 73 persons was given.
- The cause of death of 43 people was announced as “suicide”.
Source: The Grand National Assembly of Turkey (Turkish: Turkiye Buyuk Millet Meclisi -TBMM-) official web: The report was prepared between May 2, 2012 and November 28, 2012 by the Parliamentary Investigation Commission for the Coups and the Memorandums: “(Ordinal) 376, Volume 1, Page 15, Paragraph 4 (continues on page 16, the first 5 lines)” [The report was released in Turkish. And ‘The Results’ section was translated to English by a Wikipedia user.]
After the approval by referendum of the new Constitution in June 1982, Kenan Evren organized general elections, held on 6 November 1983. This transition to democracy has been criticized by the Turkish scholar Ergun Özbudun as a "textbook case" of a junta's dictating the terms of its departure.
The referendum and the elections did not take place in a free and competitive setting. Many political leaders of pre-coup era (including Süleyman Demirel, Bülent Ecevit, Alparslan Türkeş and Necmettin Erbakan) had been banned from politics, and all new parties needed to get the approval of the National Security Council in order to participate in the elections. Only three parties, two of which were actually created by the junta, were permitted to contest.
The secretary general of the National Security Council was general Haydar Saltık. Both he and Evren were the strong men of the regime, while the government was headed by a retired admiral, Bülent Ulusu, and included several retired military officers and a few civil servants. Some alleged in Turkey, after the coup, that General Saltuk had been preparing a more radical, rightist coup, which had been one of the reasons prompting the other generals to act, respecting the hierarchy, and then to include him in the MGK in order to neutralize him.
Out of the 1983 elections came one-party governance under Turgut Özal's Motherland Party, which combined a neoliberal economic program with conservative social values.
Yildirim Akbulut became the head of the Parliament. He was succeeded in 1991 by Mesut Yılmaz. Meanwhile, Süleyman Demirel founded the center-right True Path Party in 1983, and returned to active politics after the 1987 Turkish referendum.
Yılmaz redoubled Turkey's economic profile, converting towns like Gaziantep from small provincial capitals into mid-sized economic boomtowns, and renewed its orientation toward Europe. But political instability followed as the host of banned politicians reentered politics, fracturing the vote, and the Motherland Party became increasingly corrupt. Ozal, who succeeded Evren as President of Turkey, died of a heart attack in 1993, and Süleyman Demirel was elected president.
The Özal government empowered the police force with intelligence capabilities to counter the National Intelligence Organization, which at the time was run by the military. The police force even engaged in external intelligence collection.
Trial of coup leaders
After the 2010 referendum, an investigation was started regarding the coup, and in June 2011, the Specially Authorized Ankara Deputy Prosecutor's Office asked ex-prosecutor Sacit Kayasu to forward a copy of an indictment he had prepared for Kenan Evren to court. Kayasu had previously been fired for trying to indict Evren in 2003.
In January 2012, a Turkish court accepted the indictments against General Kenan Evren and General Tahsin Şahinkaya, the only coup leaders still alive at the time, for their role in the coup. Prosecutors are seeking life sentences against the two retired generals. According to the indictment, a total of 191 people died in custody during the aftermath of the coup, due to “inhumane” acts. The trial was set to begin on 4 April 2012.
Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Washington had lost its main ally in the region, while the Carter doctrine, formulated on 23 January 1980, stated that the United States would use military force if necessary to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf region. Turkey received large sums of economic aid, mainly organized by the OECD, and military aid from NATO, but the USA in particular. Between 1979 and 1982 the OECD countries raised $4 billion in economic aid to Turkey.
Washington started developing the Rapid Deployment Forces (RDF) in implementation of the Carter doctrine, for a quick intervention in areas outside NATO, particularly in the Persian Gulf, and without having to rely on NATO troops. On 1 October 1979 President Jimmy Carter announced the foundation of the RDF. One day before the military coup of 12 September 1980 some 3,000 American troops of the RDF started a maneuver Anvil Express on Turkish soil. Just before the coup, the general in charge of the Turkish Air Forces had travelled to the United States. At the end of 1981 a Turkish-American Defense Council (Turkish language: Türk-Amerikan Savunma Konseyi) was founded. Defense Minister Ümit Haluk and Richard Perle, then US Assistant Secretary of Defense international security policy of the new Reagan administration, and the deputy Chief of Staff Necdet Öztorun participated in its first meeting on 27 April 1982. On 9 October 1982 a "Memorandum of Understanding" (Turkish language: Mutabakat Belgesi) was signed with a focus of extending airports mainly in the Southeast for military purposes. Such airports were built in the provinces of Batman, Muş, Bitlis, Van and Kars in the south-east.
The U.S. support of this coup was acknowledged by the CIA Ankara station chief Paul Henze. After the government was overthrown, Henze cabled Washington, saying, "our boys [in Ankara] did it." This has created the impression that the USA stood behind the coup. Henze denied this during a June 2003 interview on CNN Türk's Manşet, but two days later Birand presented an interview with Henze recorded in 1997 in which he basically confirmed Mehmet Ali Birand's story. The US State Department itself announced the coup during the night between 11 and 12 September: the military had phoned the US embassy in Ankara to alert them of the coup an hour in advance.
- 1960 Turkish coup d'état
- 1971 Turkish coup d'état
- 1997 military memorandum (Turkey)
- List of modern conflicts in the Middle East
- History of Turkey
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- http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21571147-once-all-powerful-turkish-armed-forces-are-cowed-if-not-quite-impotent-erdogan-and-his Turkey and its army: Erdogan and his generals
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- Türker, Yıldırım (2005-09-12). "Çocuğu astılar" (in Turkish). Radikal. sec. Yaşam. http://www.radikal.com.tr/haber.php?haberno=163885. Retrieved 2008-12-23. "Cezaevinde yapılan (neler olduğunu ayrıntılı bir biçimde öğrenirsiniz sanırım) insanlık dışı zulüm altında inletildik. O kadar aşağılık, o kadar canice şeyler gördüm ki, bugünlerde yaşamak bir işkence haline geldi. İşte bu durumda ölüm korkulacak bir şey değil, şiddetle arzulanan bir olay, bir kurtuluş haline geldi. Böyle bir durumda insanın intihar ederek yaşamına son vermesi işten bile değildir. Ancak ben bu durumda irademi kullanarak ne pahasına olursa olsun yaşamımı sürdürdüm. Hem de ileride bir gün öldürüleceğimi bile bile."
- (Herman & Brodhead 1986, p. 50)
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- BBC News Turkish ex-president Kenan Evren faces coup charge, 10 January 2012
- Today's Zaman Fears of suicide prompt Evren family to remove coup leader’s firearms, 19 January 2012
- Why does Evren still think so?, 22 March 2012
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- Alternative Türkeihilfe, Militärs an der Macht (An alternative aid for Turkey, Military in Power) Herford (Germany), August 1983, pg.6.
- Birand, Mehmet Ali. 12 Eylül, Saat: 04.00, 1984, pg. 1
- Hear Paul Henze say it: Fethullahçı Gladyo on YouTube 8m20s in.
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Works related to Kenan Evren'in radyo ve televizyon konuşması at Wikisource
- Ganser, Daniele (2005). NATO's Secret Armies. Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe. London: Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-5607-0.
- Herman, Edward S; Brodhead, Frank (1986). The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection. New York: Sheridan Square Publications. ISBN 978-0-940380-06-6.
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