I was in Turkey during Kenan Evren's violent and excessively repressive coup. I was very young and, coming from a neighbouring country that had experienced its own brutal dictatorship, I was shocked by the indiscriminate brutality of the takeover of power. The extreme violence of the coup cannot be justified by the argument, however true, that it gave an end to widespread social unrest and violent conflict.
Indeed, it should not be forgotten that Evren institutionalised state violence, treated human life as expendable, penalized not only actual engagement in the violence that had marked Turkey's urban landscapes, but also what he and his accomplices deemed to be 'subversive thinking'. Turkey's moderate left was decimated as the ire of the regime was directed more towards them than the Right. The military junta allowed and enhanced the use of demeaning practices such as vengeful systematic torture, 'virginity' tests against 'suspect' women devised to hurt, shame and humiliate, if they were lucky not to be counted among those who lost their lives during the coup and its long aftermath. Brutality and brutalization became normalized in the name of the regime's version of the national interest.A piece in the Guardian suggests that the majority of Turks welcomed the coup, relieved that it brought an end to the vicious circle of extremist violence that had rendered the streets of Turkey into no go areas. There is a grain of truth in that as armed extremist organizations had entered a vicious cycle of urban warfare. However, that is part of the story, a partial truth as Clifford and Marcus would have said. I, instead, saw a society plunged in utter fear, forced to kneel and defer to Evren's vicious, paternalistic impulses. Evren and his accomplices cultivated the myth of salvation they brought to a society that turned tolerance into fratricide. And they, of course expected, or rather demanded this recognition to be redeemed through deference and gratitude. But, normality is something very different from what he brought to Turkey, different from seeing the army in the streets for years, guarding squares, streets, police stations, from having every movement of yours scrutinized by frightened soldiers inculcated with mistrust of any assertion of difference in the public spaces of which they became confused custodians. For the regime, normality did definitely not include what the poor urban workers living in the gecekondular of the rapidly expanding cities of Turkey saw as the prospect of a decent life as the generals sought to silence with extreme prejudice any voice that demanded living wages and social justice. The blueprint of the generals did not stop at the quelling of violence, not even at a slightly longer stabilization period. It involved a massive 'rebooting' of Turkish society, a complex mixture of systematic and systemic violence with persistent social engineering that was intended to culminate in a conservative and apolitical society happy with a tutelary democracy policed by a vengeful and impatient military and its allies in the judiciary and the rest of the state mechanism.
The Constitution he and his accomplices penned and 'approved' by a modest 92% of the electorate, eliminated the few freedoms that had survived the previous coup in 1971. The president (Evren himself) gained the right to dissolve the Assembly and enact laws by decree. Article 14 limited the freedom of individuals and organizations, and prohibits the political struggle based on class, language, race.The somber toll of salvation? Within the first months of the coup, at least 650,000 arrests, 1.683 million people put under surveillance, 7,000 death penalty demands, 517 executions, 50 hangings, 98,400 people sentenced for membership of an illegal organization, 388,000 people had their travel documents cancelled, 30,000 people were forced to go into exile, 171 people died as a result of torture, 937 films were censored, 14,000 people were stripped off their citizenship, 299 people died in prison, 400 journalists were sentenced to a total of four thousand years in prison. 1,680,000 people blacklisted, 230,000 people tried at martial courts: 23,700 foundations closed down and 644 foundations were placed under investigation, 146 suspicious deaths, 16 shot to death while attempting to flee, 74 killed in street clashes, 73 regime opponents who allegedly died of natural causes, 43 alleged suicides, civil servants who faced legal action: 7,245, teachers who faced legal action: 3,854, security force members who faced legal action: 988, academics who faced legal action: 120, judges and prosecutors who faced legal action: 47, sacked public officials: 4,891
Kenan Evren will always be remembered by me as the incarnation of hubris, as a tiny insecure human being who believed that his military uniform made him stand taller than others, and think he could play God at the expense of the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of lives that he ruined (records indicate that in the immediate aftermath of the coup 700,000 found themselves in the regime's jails - we still do not know the exact death toll or the indirect victims of this monumental unleashing of state violence, the mothers, the fathers, the wives, the husbands, the children that were left without their loved ones.
Although I do not believe in heaven or hell (apart from the ones we build during our lives on earth) I am tempted to indulge into imagining how a vicious God (probably the one he thought he had become) would create a hell for him.
Kenan Evren you will not be missed; we do not need self appointed saviours, thank you very much.