Parliament has opened Pandora’s box by probing Turkey’s past coups, meaning that there can be no return to the past, a commission head says.
Turkey has lifted the lid of Pandora’s Box on past coups, the head of the Parliamentary Commission to Investigate Military Coups has said, while noting that the decision by all parties to probe past putsches represents a major watershed for the country.
“[The commission] has provided an important opportunity for … a genuine reckoning and self-criticism,” Nimet Baş recently told, adding that the body’s work was a “milestone.”
“It gave us an occasion to face up to our recent history, and there are still issues that need to be tackled deeper. We said we opened Pandora’s Box and that we are not talking about something that has been completely finished,” she said.
Do you see a link between the workings of the commission and the legal process that started last week about former chief of General Staff Gen. İsmail Hakkı Karadayı, who answered the commission’s questions and has now became a suspect for his alleged role in toppling Turkey’s Islamist government during the “post-modern coup” of 1997?
Actually I do not see a link. There was already a legal case into the Sept. 12, 1980, and Feb. 28, 1997 [coups]. We tried not to enter the jurisdiction of the judiciary.
Obviously, we did listen to the military authorities of the coup periods. We listened to Karadayı as well. I believe we have done important work to understand the coup process and what politicians should do or not do in the future. But the jurisdiction and the framework are not the same.
Was it normal for Karadayı to be taken into custody?
I was not surprised. I would rather find it weird to avoid listening to the then-chief of General Staff if there is an investigation about Feb. 28. As a lawyer, I would say that what was normal took place; but I would not go further and comment on a legal case.
Where do you place him as far as the Feb. 28 process is concerned?
At the end of the day, the most important [actor] in the coup is the military and the most important figure there is the chief of the General Staff.
What has been the contribution of the commission to Turkish democracy?
It has provided an important opportunity for the statement of what is already known, a genuine reckoning and self-criticism. I believe it was a milestone for Turkish democracy to set up a commission with the consent of all parties in Parliament and that the report’s conclusions were agreed to by all.
It gave us an occasion to face up to our recent history and there are still issues that need to be tackled deeper. We said we opened Pandora’s Box and that we are not talking about something that has been completely finished. That’s why we made a list of what needs to be done further.
But one criticism was that there has not been a genuine reckoning, since the culprits did not express regret or remorse.
I don’t mean statements of remorse in each case when I talk about a reckoning. It is very human to regret and to feel sorry about what you have done. But I don’t expect someone who tortured someone else to have humanitarian values anyway, so I don’t expect remorse. But I think it is important to present to society those who said on Sept. 12 that after the military intervention, the shedding of the blood stopped, [but who instead] inhumanely treated dozens of thousands of young people in prisons. Making a reckoning is not just the meeting of the victim with his aggressor so that the latter can express remorse. It is also explaining to the nation that what they knew as the truth was something else and that what they were told to believe was actually an illusion.
Experts say that had there been a promise of an amnesty, apologies and remorse from the aggressors would have been easier. In your commission, however, the victims talked about their grievances while their aggressors said they did the right thing.
When the commission was set up, there was one group with expectations that were too high while another group thought nothing would come out of it. Our commission was much different than the ones set up in say Latin America, Spain, Portugal or Germany. We were aware of that, even at the beginning, and that’s why we proposed at the end to set up a commission to search for the truth and one that would be equipped with different authorities, of the kind that can deliver what you have been talking about. But I think it is unfair to blame the commission for not doing what other similar commission have accomplished.
Do you think the military coups share a common point, or is each a separate case with its own peculiar circumstances?
Each gave birth to the other. They all rely on the same tutelage system, the same ideology that makes them see the citizen as a threat and themselves as those who can decide what is best for the nation. You see the same concept of national unity in all coup statements. In each case, a threat perception was created by targeting a specific group in the nation, in 1980 it was the communists; in Feb. 28 it was the radical fundamentalists.
The commission also focused on the civilian links to the coups; is that a first in Turkish history?
Obviously we need to say that the role of the military is very important. But sometimes we underestimate those who supported and encouraged them. When we look at the civilians, the media, the [industrialists and the business community] that have the economic power, the judiciary, the lawyers and the academics, we saw all of them bending over in front of the military – and not always out of fear. Sometimes, they had a supportive stance because they had the same mentality. I believe one of Turkey’s main problems is the absence of an independent capital structure. The business community’s interests overlaps with that of the state, and when they think it could hurt their economic interests, they fight for the continuation of the system. We saw that all those we thought to be democrats have been carrying wood for the fires of hell.
Does it mean we all are guilty? Don’t we have a society that is prone to support coups?
None of us are innocent. But that mentality in society is the result of propaganda to convince [people of] the necessity for coups. It is part of psychological warfare. Polarization in society was created and the conditions were created and allowed to mature to make people believe that a sacred force should come to redesign [society]. That’s why the Sept. 12 coup leader [Gen. Kenan] Evren was able to [later] say, “We waited for the conditions to mature.”
But society is not immune to that type of propaganda.
Nearly 70 percent of republican history has passed under coup conditions. We can’t expect society to be ultra-democratic and show resistance. Wherever they look, lawyers, religious men and academics say this is the right thing and the politicians say “yes.” This is the real problem of our country; if intellectuals could have shown resistance, if opinion-makers could have been more courageous, we would not have been talking about these issues.
Can you say it was the first time that civilian links were revealed with so many details during the commission’s deliberations?
We just put forward what was already known through documents. Otherwise, everybody knew everything. A negative development was only able to occur due to the silence of all segments in society. There is a saying I like: “A leaf cannot turn yellow without the knowledge of all the branches of the tree.”
What is your assessment of foreign links to the coups?
We need concrete evidence to accuse a country. All I can make is a political reading. Turkey is a country integrated into the international system. When you look at the aims and structure of NATO, you see that it has directly influenced the politics of countries and the action of politicians. So I can’t say [coups] have taken place totally independently. At least there has been indifference to the coups in Turkey. [Actors in the] international system quickly contacted coup generals and recognized them: This, in itself, is very meaningful.
Do you think there is a link between coups?
It is part of the internal threat perception [created by the military] and we know that internal threat perceptions have provided an alibi for coups. Politicians were not permitted to find a solution to the problem. This is also one of the most important problems in Turkey. Some of the problems were left to the monopoly of the army and the military did not even let the politicians solve them even when civilians were in power. Political solutions require democratic solutions and [due to the military’s stance], we got away from democratic solutions. The military thought that they were able to create efficient solutions to all issues from economics to arts. They played an important role in preventing democratic solutions to the problem.
In an earlier statement you said there is still a risk of a coup.
I did not say there is a possibility of a coup in the classical sense; just as we had the post-modern coup on Feb. 28, there could be atypical coups. That’s because we still have not purified ourselves from the coup mentality. There are still those who believe in the legitimacy of coups. There is a media, for instance, that is in traumatic sorrow about the trials of coup leaders. While this nation has loved its army and has shown total allegiance, we have seen numerous documents proving that the army grossly abused and exploited this love and loyalty.
WHO IS NİMET BAŞ ?
She became a founding member of Justice and Development Party (AKP) and was elected an Istanbul deputy in 2002, the year that the AKP came to government. After being elected, Baş took part in the Turkey–EU parliamentary commission.
In 2005, she became the minister responsible for women and the family. She was reelected in the 2007 elections and was appointed as state minister, becoming the only female Cabinet member of the government. In 2009 she became national education minister.
She was reelected Istanbul deputy in the 2011 elections.