On Feb. 28, 1997, the powerful military ousted a coalition government, led by a now-defunct conservative party, from power on the grounds that there was increasing religious fundamentalism in the country. Birdal said he would become a plaintiff and co-plaintiff in the Feb. 28 coup case once prosecutors are done with the indictment.
By becoming a plaintiff, Birdal will seek a legal remedy for what happened to him in the run-up to Feb. 28. He hopes the plaintiff status will help the court make the appropriate ruling. And the co-plaintiff status will grant Birdal the right to take part in the Feb. 28 trial along with the prosecution.
Two armed men attacked Birdal in his office in Ankara on May 12, 1998. He was seriously injured, receiving six bullet wounds, including two to his chest. He was kept in intensive care in a hospital for a while. Birdal was the head of Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD) at the time. He has long claimed that the order for the attack came from retired Gen. Çevik Bir, who is currently under arrest as part of the ongoing Feb. 28 investigation.
According to Birdal, Turkey is not successful enough yet in settling accounts with its coup-filled past. “All [retired] generals [who had a role in the staging of the Feb. 28 coup] say they received orders from the chief of General Staff of the time. The chief of General Staff should be investigated, too,” he said. The General Staff was headed by Gen. İsmail Hakkı Karadayı then. Birdal, in addition, said prosecutors should expand the scope of the investigation and investigate the “unarmed powers” of the time -- media outlets, civil society groups and businessmen -- for their contributions in enabling the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to stage the coup. “There were civilian powers that supported the coup. Leading figures of those powers applauded the coup on the grounds that the military saved the secular order by overthrowing the government of the time. Will the prosecutors not investigate those powers?” he asked.
The Feb. 28, 1997 coup was the fourth military intervention in politics in Turkey, preceded by the coups of 1960, 1971 and 1980. Not only were fatal blows dealt to many fundamental rights and freedoms after Feb. 28, but also democracy and the rule of law were suspended. The coup introduced a series of harsh restrictions on religious freedoms, with an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the wearing of the Islamic headscarf. The military was purged of personnel with suspected ties to religious groups. In addition, a number of newspapers were closed.
Birdal also underscored Turkey’s urgent need for a new and civilian constitution to replace the current one, which was drafted under martial law after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup. “Our wounds have not been healed yet. Perpetrators [of coups] should be tried in independent courts and sentenced to dissuasive punishments so that no one will dare stage a new coup in Turkey. Also, coup victims’ losses should be recovered. Turkey will only settle accounts with its coup-filled past in this way,” he said.