ISTANBUL: Turkey’s 1980 coup more significant than reform poll

Hurriyet, Turkey
Sept 11 2010

Turkey’s 1980 coup more significant than reform poll, expert says

Saturday, September 11, 2010
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News

This file photo shows members of the military sitting in the Turkish
Parliament as Kenan Evren, the leader of the 1980 coup, speaks six
months later. AA photo

Compared to the changes in Turkish mentality and in the way politics
have been conducted since the Sept. 12, 1980 coup, a `yes’ or `no’ in
Sunday’s referendum will bear no great significance, according to a
political science expert.

`Turkey suffered heavy damage after the Sept. 12 coup,’ said Maya
Arakon, assistant professor from Yeditepe University. For her, the
post-1980 denialist mentality of the state was nothing less than
fascism. `The coup brought the standardization of minds, the
destruction of thought, the transforming of a thinking person into one
who obeys, the cancellation of philosophy classes at schools and the
establishment of mandatory religion classes instead.’

The referendum falling on the 30th anniversary of the 1980 coup was
not intentional, but the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP,
has used the coincidence to highlight the symbolism of the date,
saying this is a chance to empower the civilian elements of the state
by reforming the junta-made Constitution.

Arakon told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that she thought
it was ironic that contemporary secular circles believe the AKP will
transform Turkey into a theocratic state and are now looking to the
military as their champion. `It was the military itself that brought
the Turk-Islam Synthesis with Sept. 12,’ she said, referring to the
general mentality that the attributes of Turkish ethnicity and Sunni
Islam dovetailed with one another. She said the `synthesis’ was a
conservative ideological construct that sought to make people obey the
state and was considered as an antidote to leftist radicalism and
Islamic extremism.

Creating cookie-cutter Turks in the post-coup era

`Our social memory is weak; we should remember [coup leader Gen.
Kenan] Evren legitimized the coup by reading verses from the Quran,’
she said.

The militarist mentality that has been present since Turkey’s founding
went to extremes after the coup and granted `holiness’ to the state,
the military and its every institution, Arakon said. `In democracies,
the state serves the people. In Turkey, the people serve the state.’

Being a `standard Turk’ was the norm. `I have always tried to tell
people I am not a `gavur’ [non-Muslim or foreigner] because my name is
uncommon,’ she said.

`[Murdered Armenian-Turkish journalist] Hrant Dink was an important
person for me. He was the son of these lands but nobody perceived him
so, why? Because he was Armenian,’ she said.

The foundation of the Supreme Board of Education, or YÃ-K, was a great
blow to academia, she said, adding that dozens of professors and
hundreds of academic staff were forced to resign from posts for their
leftist beliefs.

In the 1980s, meanwhile, `children grew up learning just national
values, not universal ones. The apolitical generation of the 1980s is
now holding jobs.’

Moreover, a small-minded society that cannot feel empathy for anyone
was produced because they have been taught nothing but `the glorious
history of Turks,’ she said.

`Mountain Turks,’ assimilation and the PKK

`Sept. 12 completely finished off the left, but the gravest damage
done was to the legal awakening of Kurds.’

The official policy of the coup era was that there was no such people
as the Kurds ` those who defined themselves as such were merely
`mountain Turks’ according to the nationalist logic, which also
suspended reality in arguing that the word `Kurd’ was simply the
onomatopoeia of the crunching sound one makes when walking in the

This policy of total denial and assimilation laid the groundwork for
the lasting influence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or
PKK, Arakon said. `Even today, we have politicians and a large mass of
people who say there is no such thing as a Kurdish problem.’

Toward Islamism in the 1990s and 2000s

The 10-percent election barrier brought by the 1980 coup was `an
anti-democratic practice’ sought to ensure a one-party government in
power and prevent Kurdish political participation, Arakon said.

`You push a movement toward violence when you marginalize it ` this is
one of the first things you learn in political science,’ she said.

In the 1990s, right-wing parties like the Motherland Party, or ANAP,
and the True Path Party, or DYP, as well as the left-wing parties like
the Social Democratic People’s Party, or SHP, and the Democratic Left
Party, or DSP, were important players on the political stage, but the
largest political event during the decade was the rise of political

`The seed of the Turk-Islam Synthesis was planted in the 1980s and
over time it grew, especially with the rise of the Islamist Welfare
Party [RP].’

Later, in the 2002 elections, the AKP came to power and was only
joined in Parliament by the Republican People’s party, or CHP, which
had failed to clear the election hurdle during the previous election.

`A party that considered Islam as its identity came into power [on its
own] for the first time,’ she said, adding that the AKP’s success
could not have happened beforehand due to the secularist military, but
was made possible in 2002 thanks to the strength of the pious
Anatolian bourgeoisie.

`The metropolitan Kemalist bourgeoisie was removed from power’ when
this happened, she said.

`The Kurdish party [BDP] is a change from the past, [however],’ she
said, noting the lack of previous Kurdish political participation.

Ultimately, however, there is little prospect for a new or radical
movement emerging to change the general political atmosphere in the
short term, Arakon said.

`The referendum is not that important’

`Whoever wins, our daily lives will not be that different,’ said
Arakon, `If it is a `yes,’ Turkey will be a bit more democratic, which
is a good thing, but if it is a `no,’ well, this is the Constitution
we have been living with for all those years already.’

Ultimately, the present constitutional reform referendum is not as
important as it is being promoted, Arakon said, adding that it was
anti-democratic to include so many articles together in a single

`We will not be governed by Shariah if it is a `yes’ ` if it were so,
it would have happened in 2002,’ Arakon said in reference to a common
secularist fear that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP,
secretly harbors an Islamist agenda.

`The threat is authoritarianism and standardization. Turkey is
becoming more civilian because the military is being questioned now,
but it is not becoming more democratic,’ she said.

`Every democratization requires demilitarization, but not every
demilitarization means democratization,’ she said.

From: A. Papazian

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