Turkey puts former military ruler on trial
Former general and Turkish president Kenan Evren and another senior soldier accused over their roles in 1980 coup.
Last Modified: 04 Apr 2012 10:52

The trial of a former general who went on to become Turkey's president and another former senior soldier have gone on trial in Ankara over their alleged roles in the country's 1980 military coup.

An Ankara court on Wednesday began hearing the case against 94-year-old Kenan Evren and former air force commander Tahsin Sahinkaya, who is now 87.

Fifty people were executed, an estimated half a million arrested, hundreds died in jail, and many more disappeared during three years of military rule following the September 12, 1980 coup, Turkey's third in 20 years.

Evren's trial, unimaginable only a few years ago, is being watched closely by hundreds of military, including top serving and retired commanders, as well as by civilians being tried now as members of the alleged "Ergenekon" and "Sledgehammer" coup conspiracies against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister.

It was a recent constitutional amendment that ended Evren's immunity from prosecution over the coup.

Evren and Sahinkaya are not present in court due to their poor health. The prosecutor's office has said it could hear the testimonies of the two coup leaders via video link. Evren recently underwent intestinal surgery and Turkish media reported on Tuesday that he had also broken an arm.

'Coup house cleaning'

On Tuesday, Erdogan's government, the opposition and parliament joined at least 350 individuals and groups applying to be co-plaintiffs in the trial as aggrieved parties, meaning their grievances will be taken into account during the prosecution and possible sentencing phase.

Erdogan said the government had decided it should join the long list of those wronged.

"The first and most important injured party of the coups in Turkey have been the government legitimately representing the nation," Erdogan said in his weekly speech to his parliamentary Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Tuesday. "We will follow the case closely."

The 1980 coup leaders argue they were forced to intervene to restore order after years of chaos in which 5,000 people died in factional violence between leftist and rightist groups.

The generals, known widely by their Ottoman title of "Pasha", traditionally saw themselves as the guardians of a secular order set up by soldier-statesman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.

They mounted a coup in 1960, which saw the hanging of the prime minister and two other senior ministers, and then again in 1971 and 1980 to remove governments they saw as a threat to that order.

Each time the coups restored a revised form of democracy, and as recently as 1997 the army forced Turkey's first Islamist-led government to resign.

The role of the army, past and present, in Turkish life remains a politically controversial and divisive issue, with Erdogan's AKP taking steps in recent years to curb its institutional power and role in the state.

Citing AKP spokesman Huseyin Celik, Turkish newspaper Radikal said authorities were removing the names of key figures in the 1980 and previous military coups from schools, streets, stadiums and military barracks "in a coup house cleaning".

"We need to erase the names of coup plotters from public institutions and from the names of places," Celik said. "They've already been struck from people's hearts."

Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Israel's Operation Protective Edge is the third major offensive on the Gaza Strip in six years.
Muslims and Arabs in the US say they face discrimination in many areas of life, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks.
At one UN site alone, approximately four children below the age of five are dying each day.
'I'm dying anyway, one piece at a time' said Steve Fobister, who suffers from disabilities caused by mercury poisoning.
The world's newest professional sport comes from an unlikely source: video games.
The group's takeover of farms in Qaraqosh, 30km from Mosul, has caused fear among residents, and a jump in food prices.
Protests and online activism in recent months have brought a resurgence of ethnic Oromo nationalism in Ethiopia.
Chemotherapy is big business, but some US doctors say it could be overused and are pushing for cheaper and better care.
join our mailing list