Firat Cengiz: Turkey's 1980 Coup Lives on its Legal System





Firat Cengiz is assistant professor in international and european public law at Tilburg University, Netherlands. She holds a masters and a PhD degree in law from the University of East Anglia.

Last week in Ankara, the trial began of former generals Kenan Evren and Tahsin Şahinkaya for their involvement in the 1980 Turkish coup. The coup traumatised Turkish society. An estimated 650,000 people were arrested, the vast majority of whom were tortured and tried before military courts; about 300 died under arrest. The protection of fundamental rights was reduced to a minuscule level with the 1982 constitution that has stayed in force ever since. The underlying ideology of the coup crushed leftwing parties to the degree that Turkish politics still lacks a central party with a genuine leftwing agenda.
 
Victims of the coup, their relatives, politicians and politically conscious citizens flooded the courtroom for the trial. Leyla Zana, the Sakharov-prize-winning Kurdish politician, told the press that the coup "stole the smile of children of the day". There were those children, such as 17-year-old Erdal Eren, who paid for their political beliefs with their lives. And there were those who lost their parents or spent their childhood away from them. I belong to the last category.
 
My parents were active members of the Turkish Revolutionary Socialist Workers' party that was banned after the coup. I was five years old when my parents and I came back from a weekend trip to find our door forced open. Inside, everything was turned into a mess by a group of policemen who had been waiting for us and searching our flat. We were taken to the infamous counterterrorism unit in Gayrettepe as a part of a major police operation against the underground left movement. The building was full with blindfolded people who were taken from one room to the next by the police...


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