Comments by politicians, intellectuals, journalists, writers and civil society representatives were made to the press on Thursday after news that a former general who played a major role in the 1997 intervention had been detained that morning.
The Ankara Specially Authorized Prosecutor’s Office also searched the homes of the other generals who had plotted the unarmed intervention that forced a democratically elected government to step down.
Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek praised the move, saying, “All of our citizens should be co-plaintiffs in trials against the perpetrators of past coups, such as the Sept. 12  and Feb. 28 investigations.” Currently, in a separate trial, a court is trying two octogenarian generals who led the bloody coup of 1980.
Şimşek also criticized opponents of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government for claiming that a constitutional change spearheaded by the government that now allows for the trial of the 1980 coup leaders -- previously impossible -- was only for show. “Those who criticized us, saying nothing will happen, are now becoming co-plaintiffs in the trial,” Şimşek said. He said only by confronting the past and calling to account those who are responsible for past atrocities can Turkey strengthen its democracy.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also welcomed Thursday’s operations to detain the Feb. 28 generals, saying, “Confronting our recent political history will increase Turkey’s reputation in the international arena.” He said he would not comment on the specific case as the trial is still under way, but he said the step is an important one in the way to further democratization.
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said Thursday’s efforts were a natural consequence of Turkey’s obligation to confront its past atrocities. “Turkey has to confront the events … in its recent past that interrupted its democracy for some time. This is what is going on. I hope that in the period ahead of us, our democracy will deepen, become stronger and reach an extent of stability that cannot be interrupted. This is what all this effort is for.”
More praise for the operation came from Sacit Kayasu, a former prosecutor who was fired for attempting to indict the Sept. 12 generals before the change that allowed for their trial was made to the Constitution. He was expelled from the legal profession by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) in 2003, shortly after he prepared an indictment against Kenan Evren, the general who led the 1980 coup.
He called the warrants for the detention of the Feb. 28 perpetrators “a very positive development.” He said: “After this point, not a single officer will even think of staging a coup. As you know, both the Feb. 28 and Sept. 12 coups were successful [as opposed to failed attempts]. This is very promising for the future because they will now have to answer to the law -- because we had failed to try these individuals before today.”
Kayasu noted that Greece was able to try and sentence the generals who staged its 1974 coup d’état. “Most of them [the Greek generals] are still in jail. Many of them died in prison. It’s been 30 years since the coup, and Turkey is only now holding them responsible. But even that is something.”
The dean of Trakya University’s department of fine arts, Ahmet Sınav, who was expelled from the military during the Feb. 28 process, said: “My career was simply stalled after I was expelled from the military. I couldn’t get tenure at state universities. Private universities were reluctant to hire me. I had to go abroad; I tried my chances in the US. It was difficult in the beginning as I spoke no English, but later I became a lecturer at Columbia University, one of the most important higher educational institutions in the world. I earned the title of professor at the Medical College of Georgia. I became one of the world’s top medical illustrators. Sometimes people tell me it was a good thing that I was expelled from the military, but really, it wasn’t that easy.”
Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, however, was critical. “You can’t search for justice with feelings of revenge. If you seek justice with vengeful feelings, that won’t be justice. There cannot be a judiciary that performs solidly where you don’t have justice. The martial law courts of the Sept. 12, 1980 [coup] were the judicial organs of the authoritarian power at the time. The specially authorized courts today are the judicial organs of the AK Party government,” he said, speaking at a party meeting on Thursday.
Voice of the People Party (HAS Party) Deputy Chairman Şeref Malkoç also commented on the recent developments, saying those who are responsible for Feb. 28 will not be able to get way with it. “The prosecution has decided what path to follow based on the evidence and documents it has. This is a very positive development for Turkey.”
Felicity Party (SP) leader Mustafa Kamalak released a statement saying that Feb. 28 was the “most callous” coup Turkey has seen. “Coups cannot be tolerated in a democracy. On Feb. 28, 1997, the most callous intervention in our history was staged. The government at the time had a balanced budget. It had increased the salaries of workers, public servants and the retired. It was in an effort to unify the Islamic world. Someone decided to stop that. It was the right decision to detain Çevik Bir, but Mesut Yılmaz [leader of the Motherland Party (ANAP) at the time] should also be investigated. Holding companies and bosses are the real actors of Feb. 28. We know that they stole deposits from 22 banks during the Feb. 28 period. They used the media as a weapon.”