Without aiming to establish a hierarchy of coups, it is quite clear that the Sept. 12, 1980 coup was in fact a turning point in the history of military interventions in this country, a sort of apex within the interventionist mentality. Thus, the related trial opens an exceptional door to the lasting removal of the military mentality.
Turkey is still fairly inexperienced when it comes to putting its coup leaders on trial. In the 1950s and 1960s, the leaders of several failed coups were punished by military courts. But the trials never challenged the military’s legitimacy in intervening in the political arena. So, the legal prosecution of coup leaders, short of targeting that legitimacy, never stopped the coup tradition of the Turkish military. Today, similar risks exist.
We face at present a breaking down of the military mentality at three levels, each connected to the others. First, the judicial prosecution process comes in response to the need for justice for the victims of coups and to reckon with the interventionist tradition. At the second level is the abolition of the military’s sovereign rights that are the foundation for its interventionism. It is unfortunately too early to speak of a legal framework regarding this topic. The third level concerns the military mentality having been deep-rooted in society, politics and the justice system for probably over a century. This breaking down of the mentality will be a long-term sociological and political process.
As the process goes on, if all levels are not adequately addressed, the goal of completely breaking down the military mentality will fall to the wayside. To put it another way, the trial of the coup instigators and their supporters is by no means sufficient for the destruction of this mentality across-the-board. To correct this historical oversight, we need not only societal concern but political resolution.
Currently, reforms aimed at eliminating the financial and judicial autonomy of the military, which is the basis for military intervention in politics, wait in the wings. As for financial autonomy, the Court of Auditors system now includes controls over and supervision of military tenders, facilities, goods and spending. But because of national security, these audit reports remain secret. There are similar principles of secrecy in place in other countries, indeed, but generally in connection with weaponry projects, not with respect to ordinary military spending. And no other developed country has a model wherein the General Staff is actually part of the financial supervision of the military, as it is in the Turkish auditing system!
As for judicial autonomy, the Turkish military has a judicial system that has become ossified over the years. The most recent constitutional amendment opened the way to try coup instigators in civilian courts, but it did not open the way forward to try those who verbally interfere in politics. With the revisions to Article 145 of the Constitution, coup-related crimes that target the constitutional order, Parliament or the elected government will be tried by civilian courts, as it is the case now. However, statements made by members of the military do not fall under this definition. The most recent example was a declaration by the chief of General Staff, who made public his thoughts on the question of education in one’s mother tongue.
There are also islands of almost complete military autonomy, those “reserved areas” left to the military for the purpose of national security and thanks to the Internal Service Law and international issues such as the Aegean feud with Greece and the Cyprus issue.
This is why it is paramount the ongoing judicial process against coup leaders is completed through long-term legal, political and administrative reforms.
Here is the to-do list.
Regarding military tutelage, in addition to a new liberal constitution, a thorough cleansing of the entire legal system is required in order to root out the foundations of military engineering that have controlled the entire nation for the past 32 years. All unusual military privileges should be abolished. A truth-justice-reparations mechanism for victims of coups should be put in place.
Regarding military policy, all war-like military policies should be repealed. A mechanism for conscientious objection should be put in place. The arms manufacturing frenzy needs to be revised. Widespread civilian expertise on military matters should be developed.
The removal of the military mentality and the achievement of a post-military society are no easy tasks.