Settling accounts with February 28th

The legacy of the February 28th coup reinforces calls for a new civilian constitution.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 28/02/12

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As controversial coup plot trials like Ergenekon and Sledgehammer continue, Turkey marks the 15th anniversary of the February 28th process. Known as a "post-modern coup" that ultimately brought down the Islamist Welfare Party and True Path Party (Refah-Yol) coalition in 1997, the memorandum handed to the late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan outlining the army's concerns over the threat to secularism has had a lasting impact on the civil-military relations in the country.

  • An Islamist protester shouts slogans in front of the Beyazit Mosque in Istanbul on February 28th 2010 marking the 13th anniversary of

    An Islamist protester shouts slogans in front of the Beyazit Mosque in Istanbul on February 28th 2010 marking the 13th anniversary of "post-modern" coup. [Reuters]

Ekrem Eddy Guzeldere, a political analyst from the European Stability Initiative, said February 28th was more than an intervention against a government -- it was also against journalists, NGOs, students and academics.

"It has become acknowledged that this was an unjustified, undemocratic intervention against a non-existent, fabricated threat," he told SES Türkiye.

"The increasingly coercive practices of this era prevented headscarved students from entering the university campuses. The public institutions were purged of personnel with suspected ties to religious groups or just because they were performing prayer five times day. Some public officials were blacklisted," he added.

Adding to the debate, Istanbul Bilgi University political science Professor Ayhan Aktar said the progression, which started with the Ergenekon trials, has put the psychological warfare of the army under renewed focus. "In a general sense, people cannot hide anymore their surprise about what happened in those times," Aktar told SES Türkiye.

Experts also argue that the actions since the 1997 coup have further consolidated the public's reaction against the military's intervention in politics.

"If the armed forces had been content with the outcome of February 28th and if there were no other follow-up movements, such as the intervention into the presidential elections or the e-coup, February 28th would only be an individual issue discussed by a circle of political scientists and would be mostly forgotten by the grassroots," Mensur Akgun, director of the Istanbul-based Global Political Trends Centre, explained to SES Türkiye.

With the army gradually losing its guardianship role over the political system, it is a natural outcome that these activities are now critically investigated, Guzeldere noted.

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Adiyaman deputy Mehmet Metiner, who is also a Kurdish intellectual, agreed with him. The AKP government has thrown the February 28th decisions into the garbage bin of the past, he said.

"Nobody can use an authority contrary to the law and nobody can take an initiative in contrast to the national will."

Metiner emphasised that all victims of this period who lost their rights to education and jobs should be relieved of their suffering.

The way to prevent similar actions in the future is to create a new civil constitution with the support of opposition parties. "In this way, we can definitely stop further attempts by state institutions to use an authority which does not derive from the laws," he added.


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