What important events happened in 1973


Dr. Cengiz Gunay

is a political scientist at the University of Vienna and Deputy Scientific Director of the Austrian Institute for International Politics. His main research interests include: European Neighborhood Policy, the state and changes in statehood, the role of non-state actors and Islamism. His regional focus is on Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia.

Hard and "soft" military coups in the history of Turkey

Since the founding of the Republic of Turkey, the military has always had a political role. Not only the generals themselves, but also society saw their army as a guarantor of stability and the secular order of the country. State founder Ataturk himself had made her guardian of the constitution. If the military saw public order or even the constitution in jeopardy, it intervened.

The leaders of the 1980 coup: Admiral Nejat Tumer and the generals Nurettin Ersin, Kenan Evren, Tahsin Sahinkaya and Sedat Celasun on October 29, 1980 in Ankara in front of the mausoleum of the state's founder Ataturk (from left to right). The military repeatedly intervened in the politics of the Republic of Turkey; the government overturned it four times or arranged for it to resign. (& copy AP)

The Turkish army has long been seen as a guarantor of the sovereignty, stability and strength of the country as well as a pillar of the Kemalist modernization approach and the secular order of the Turkish state. Until recently it was also considered by many Turkish citizens to be the most trustworthy and efficient of the state institutions [1].

The official historical narrative glorifies military victories, heroic deeds and the founder of the state Ataturk, who himself emerged from the military. He made the army the guardian of the constitution and its legacy: the modernization of Turkey by moving closer to the west.

"The army is the leader in efforts to achieve our national ideals. The Turkish nation sees the army as the guardian of its ideals." [2]

1960 - The first intervention in the democratic system

After the transition to the multi-party system in 1946, the military should refer to this legacy several times. The self-image of the army representatives as true representatives of the interests of the state and as guardians of Kemalism was increasingly in conflict with the day-to-day politics and the political discourse of the elected representatives.

The Democratic Party (DP) emerged victorious from the first parliamentary election in 1950, after the transition to the multi-party system. Between 1950 and 1960 she was the uninterrupted government. The DP was able to successfully mobilize the previously neglected, mostly socially conservative and religious rural population. This was partly done through religious-conservative symbols and rhetoric, the abolition of some unpopular Kemalist reforms - such as the introduction of the call to prayer in Turkish instead of Arabic - and the proximity to Islamist circles.

In the course of the 1950s, however, Menderes' government lost popular support and became increasingly authoritarian. The press has been censored. As a result, there were violent clashes between the police and protesting students. In addition to the government's religious orientation, these developments are considered to be the trigger for the coup of May 27, 1960.
Adnan Menderes, here with Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in Bonn in 1958, was Turkey's first freely elected Prime Minister. After the 1960 coup, he was convicted and executed. Menderes was an opponent of secularism and called for a return to the Islamic state. Today his reputation has been restored. (& copy BPA)
Especially among the younger officers and in the military academies, forces had formed against the Menderes government in recent months. They discussed an intervention without the involvement of the generals, whom they saw as loyal to the government. In the early morning hours of May 27th the time had come. The coup started from the military academies, and other units soon joined the coup plotters. The general staff was taken by surprise by the events, as was the government. The chain of command, which was important for the army, was thus abolished from higher to lower rank. This experience was to shape the policy of the General Staff significantly in the years that followed.

In a statement read on the state radio, the "Committee of National Unity" founded by the putschists argued that democracy had slipped into a crisis under the government of the DP and that intervention had become necessary to prevent a civil war. Rallies in support of the intervention from the population also gave the actions of the putschists the appearance of legitimacy.

President Celâl Bayar, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, ministers and chief of staff Rüştü Erdelhun and other high-ranking military officials and officials were arrested, tried and sentenced to death. While some convicts were later pardoned, the military hanged Adnan Menderes, Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan on the island of Yassıada off Istanbul in September 1961.

Since Menderes was considered a figure of identification for many conservative and religious people, his execution and that of his companions left a deep trauma in recent Turkish history. In the 1980s, Menderes was also rehabilitated by the state. Today, the Izmir airport and numerous other squares across the country are named after him. Right-wing parties in particular rely on his legacy.

After the 1960 coup, the committee commissioned the drafting of a new constitution, which was adopted in a referendum in 1961. This constitution pursued the goal of restricting the power of elected governments and strengthening the separation of powers. With the establishment of a constitutional court and the introduction of the Senate as the second chamber of parliament, supervisory bodies were to be established at the institutional level. In addition, more opportunities for interest groups such as trade unions and the guarantee of basic democratic rights through the constitution should guarantee power control at the social level. At the same time, the army secured itself with the introduction of the "National Security Council" (Milli Güvenlik Kurulu) long-term influence on the shaping of foreign and security policy. The National Security Council developed into a central political body, especially in times of weak governments, which was dominated by representatives of the military.
In the past, much more powerful than it is today: the National Security Council. For decades the body was the generals' foot in the doorway of civil politics. Reducing the influence of the military is one of the most important achievements of the AKP government. (& copy picture-alliance)

The putsch of 1960 showed the role in which the Turkish military viewed itself: as an authority overriding democratically legitimized institutions and the constitution, which - if it deems it necessary - intervenes to correct it. Nonetheless, the military is also of the opinion that the army itself should not take on political responsibility and that a rapid transition to the parliamentary system should therefore be guaranteed after an "intervention".

Mar. 12, 1971 - The Army issues an ultimatum

In spite of everything, the new constitution of 1961 did not lead to the desired political stability. Turkish politics in the 1960s was characterized by a growing political polarization between "left" and "right". In the rapidly growing cities in particular, there were repeated clashes and street fights between right-wing youth organizations such as the nationalist Gray Wolves (Bozkurtlar) or the Islamist Akincilar and left-wing groups. February 16, 1969 went down in Turkish history as "Bloody Sunday" because of particularly bloody clashes between left and right groups in Istanbul.

As a result, the military made political appearances for the second time in the history of Turkey. There were circles within the army who wanted to install a military regime through a coup and oppose political polarization. However, these plans came to light and the leading parties involved were dismissed or retired. In order to counteract the unrest within the officers' staff, the General Staff issued an ultimatum to the government of Suleyman Demirel (AP). This was read out on the state radio on March 12, 1971 at 1 p.m. In it the generals stated that the government and parliament would not oppose the growing anarchy in the country and that a new, non-partisan government should therefore be formed in parliament to implement the necessary reforms, otherwise the army itself would have to take power in the country again. Prime Minister Demirel resigned and the military instructed CHP MP Nihat Erim to form a non-partisan government that remained in power until the November 1973 elections.

Picture gallery: Prime Minister of Turkey

The "intervention" of 1971 was a consequence of the fact that the putsch of 1960 was not dealt with socially and those responsible were not brought to justice. The indirect intervention of the army subsequently favored political rights and the establishment of a police state: parts of the 1961 constitution that were classified as too liberal, such as the autonomy of the universities, were withdrawn, freedom of the press restricted and control over the radio increased. However, the social and political tensions could not be overcome in this way. On the contrary, intensified by the effects of the oil crisis in 1973, there were repeated strikes, political murders, bombings and riots. At the end of the 1970s, civil war-like conditions prevailed in parts of the country.

1980 - The army reorganizes

In the early morning hours of September 12, 1980, army units secured the external borders and took up positions at key posts across the country. They also brought the press under their control. The reigning Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel and leading politicians from government and opposition parties were arrested and interned, including Necmettin Erbakan from the "Welfare Party" (Turkish: Refah Partisi, in short: RP) and Alparslan Türkeş from the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP). A curfew was imposed and soldiers controlled the streets. That night the army took over state power was read out on the radio. Chief of Staff (Genelkurmay BaşkanıKenan Evren said in a televised address later that noon that the army had been forced to intervene due to the government's incapacity to act, the contradictions in the constitutional order and the irreconcilable attitude of the parties to one another.
A tank stands in the center of Kizilay, a district of the Turkish capital Ankara, a few hours after the start of the military coup on September 12, 1980. The military retained political power until 1983. (& copy picture-alliance)

In contrast to the two earlier interventions, the 1980 coup had been prepared for a long time under the leadership of the chief of staff. The primary goal was to counter the polarization of society, to restore security and order and to reform the economy.

The army leadership not only dissolved parliament, but also the political parties, trade unions and youth organizations. Numerous political activists from the right and left spectrum were arrested. Torture was systematically used against prisoners. Over 170 people died as a result of torture, 50 people were sentenced to death and executed as a result of the coup. Apparently, lists of the names of the people to be arrested had been drawn up prior to the coup. The leaders of the parliamentary parties were banned from active politics. Arrests
The Turkish General Kenan Evren at a press conference on September 16, 1980 in Ankara. Evren had recently led the military coup against the Turkish government. (& copy picture-alliance)
political activists, as well as professional bans and massive layoffs at schools and universities, were intended to politically and socially isolate people who were classified as ideologically questionable.

The state of emergency and the dissolution of the trade unions made a smooth implementation of a neoliberal turnaround in economic policy possible. In addition, an attempt was made to establish a clearly conservative social order. The propagation of conservative values ​​by the state should protect against ideological (left) indoctrination and provide support for the youth.

This so-called "Turkish-Islamic synthesis" required a strengthening of the Islamic and conservative elements of Turkish identity. This social concept, which was adopted by the state, was reflected primarily in social, school and educational policy. Through militarism, strengthening of religious values ​​and nationalism, obedience, respect and solidarity should be propagated as central Turkish virtues.

The coup led to a shift to the right in politics. Left movements have barely recovered from the aftermath. From the late 1980s onwards, the Islamist "Welfare Party", among others, benefited from this. The Islamists developed into the most important advocates of social justice and were able to win votes above all in the poorer suburbs. Its triumphant advance began at the local level: The RP won the local elections in 1994 in the two largest cities in the country, in Ankara and Istanbul, among others. Mayor of the city on the Bosporus was Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Just a year later, the RP emerged as the strongest force in the general election. Their victory shook the old republican elites; the CHP alone lost half of its votes.

February 28, 1997 - The "postmodern coup" against the Islamists

Attempts by the Kemalist establishment to prevent the RP from participating in government failed, and its chairman, Necmettin Erbakan, became prime minister. The military, representatives of the Kemalist civil service, most of the entrepreneurship, the Istanbul press and secular civil society mobilized against the RP, which, although its policy was largely within the given framework, rhetorically challenged the principles of Kemalism and secularism.

The meeting of the National Security Council on February 28, 1997 lasted nine hours. In the declaration made at the end of the session, "Islamism" was declared the greatest threat to the state. In addition, the military submitted specific recommendations for action to the government. This was intended to reduce the influence of religious orders and groups from educational institutions, business and society. Prime Minister Erbakan refused to sign the declaration, which was mainly directed against his party and his constituencies. As a result, the Prosecutor General initiated proceedings to ban the country, alleging that Erbakan's party was leading the country into civil war Refah Partisi a. The pressure on Erbakan and the RP increased. Finally, he resigned in June. The new secular government that emerged under pressure from the military cast the demands of the military into laws. [3]

Numerous people were expelled from the army itself, often only because of a religious lifestyle. The Constitutional Court banned the RP and imposed an active political ban on leading personalities, including Erbakan and Erdoğan. Courts shut down associations and persecuted business people and the media who turned to the RP, while secular civil society mobilized against Islamist tendencies at the social level.

As a result of the "soft coup" of February 28, 1997, there was a split in the Islamist movement. The so-called reformers around Recep Tayyip Erdoğan advocated the thesis that long-term participation in power would mean turning away from Islamist ideological demands and largely adapting to the system. The later AKP emerged from their ranks.

2007 - The e-memorandum against the headscarf of Ms. Gül

The newly founded AKP under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan achieved a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections in 2002. [4] With the guarantee of the continuation of its pro-European course and inclusive rhetoric, the AKP was able to successfully absorb the broken political center. President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a proven Kemalist, was seen by many secular forces in the early years as an important compensation against the Islamic-conservative AKP government. The approaching end of his term of office in 2007 and the nomination of the then Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül (AKP) for the office of state president therefore unsettled many secular forces.In particular, the fact that Gül's wife wore a headscarf was seen as a sign of Islamist revisionism - up until then it had been unthinkable for the wife of a high-ranking politician or state official to wear a headscarf.

Screenshot of the "E-Memorandum" from April 27, 2007 from the homepage of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces.
On April 27, the army leadership declared in a memorandum on its website that future presidents must have internalized the basic principles of Kemalism, secularism and the republic. Similar to ten years earlier, the army also mobilized secular civil society. In the big cities in particular, secular forces organized protests against Gül's nomination. However, the government did not back down. The AKP MPs elected Gül as the new president in parliament. Since the necessary quorum was not achieved, the constitutional court declared the election invalid and constitutionally announced early elections for July. [5] The subsequent election campaign of the AKP was directed against any interference by the military and promised more democracy. The AKP was able to significantly expand its majority in parliament with 46.58 percent of the votes. The great support for the AKP was seen by many as a rejection of political intervention by the army. The result of the election meant that the AKP managed to achieve the required quorum on its own. Gül was elected President of the Republic by the new parliament; the army leadership suffered a severe defeat.

Picture gallery: Presidents of Turkey