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1980 - Evren Coup

The institution of the 1982 constitution came after the third military coup that occured in Turkey. The third coup came in September of 1980 when General Kenan Evren, the Chief of the Turkish General Staff, led the military against the government of Suleyman Demirel. Following the military coup of September 1980, Turkey was ruled by the NSC, a five-member collective body representing all branches of the armed forces. The NSC scheduled the first elections under the 1982 constitution for November 1983. The new National Assembly convened soon after the elections, and subsequently a civilian government consisting of a prime minister and a Council of Ministers was formed. In late 1983 and early 1984, the NSC turned over its executive and legislative functions to these new institutions.

The summer of 1980 was a chaotic time in Turkey. Political violence and sectarian unrest mounted in the cities and spread through the countryside. The work of parliament had come almost to a standstill, and the country was left without an elected president. On September 5, Ecevit aligned the CHP with Erbakan and his NSP to force the resignation of Demirel's foreign minister, Hayrettin Erkman, whose strongly pro-Western views had won him the approval of General Staff officers. The next day, the NSP sponsored a massive rally at Konya, where Islamists (also seen as fundamentalists) demonstrated to demand the reinstatement of Islamic law in Turkey, reportedly showing disrespect for the flag and the national anthem. These acts were regarded as an open renunciation of Kemalism and a direct challenge to the military. On September 7, General Evren met secretly with armed forces and police commanders to set in motion plans for another coup.

In the early morning hours of September 12, 1980, the armed forces seized control of the country. On 20 September 1980, General Evren announced that retired Admiral Bülent Ulusu, Turkish Ambassador to Italy, would serve as interim Prime Minister. It appeared from media accounts of these events that the military was attempting to bring about a stronger civilian government capable of ending extremist violence in Turkey. To achieve this goal, in the first four months since the coup, tens of thousands of terrorists were detained, and authorities confiscated more than one hundred thousand firearms, including several hundred automatic weapons, nearly one millions rounds of ammunition, close to a thousdand sticks of dynamite, over two thousdand kilos of gunpowder, and several hundred explosive devices.

There was no organized resistance to the coup; indeed, many Turks welcomed it as the only alternative to anarchy. Whereas the 1960 and 1971 military coups had institutional reform as their objective, the 1980 action was undertaken to shore up the order created by the earlier interventions. A five-member executive body, the National Security Council (NSC--see Glossary), was appointed. Composed of the service chiefs and the gendarmerie commander, it was headed by General Evren, who was recognized as head of state. On September 21, the NSC installed a predominantly civilian cabinet and named Bülent Ulusu, a recently retired admiral, prime minister. A 160-member Consultative Assembly subsequently was appointed to draft a constitution for what would become Turkey's Third Republic.

The first order of business for the military regime was to reestablish law and order in the strife-torn country. Martial law was extended to all the provinces. Suspected militants of all political persuasions as well as trade union and student activists were arrested, and party leaders were taken into custody along with a large number of deputies. Demirel and Ecevit were soon released but told to keep a low profile. When Ecevit began to publish political articles, he was rearrested and jailed for several months. The Grand National Assembly was dissolved and its members barred from politics for periods of up to ten years. Political parties were abolished and their assets liquidated by the state. The trade unions were purged and strikes banned. Workers who were striking at the time of the coup were given substantial pay raises and ordered back to their jobs.

Altogether, some 30,000 people were reported arrested in the first few weeks after the coup. Figures are uncertain, but a year later about 25,000 were still being held, and, after two years, an estimated 10,000 remained in custody, some without having been formally charged. Türkes and nearly 600 of his followers from the MHP were tried on charges of committing or abetting terrorist acts. A number of those found guilty of terrorism were hanged. Erbakan and Türkes were subsequently convicted of election tampering and given two-year prison terms. Turkey's international reputation suffered as a result of charges of political repression, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment without trial, torture, and other human rights violations. West European governments appealed to the military regime to restore parliamentary rule, and a portion of the OECD's relief package for Turkey was withheld. The European Community also suspended financial assistance, and Turkish delegates were denied their seats in the assembly of the Council of Europe.

The performance of the Turkish economy improved significantly in the first two years after the military intervention. The new regime saw to it that the economic stabilization program introduced by Demirel was implemented under the direction of Özal, one of the few members of the former government retained after the coup. Austerity measures were strictly enforced, bringing the inflation rate down to 30 percent in 1982. Disagreement developed within the government, however, over the strict monetarist policies promoted by Özal, which were seen in some quarters as running counter to Kemalist principles. Özal was forced to resign as minister of state in July 1982, when the country's largest money broker, the Kastelli Bank, collapsed.

The 1980 military coup symbolized the deep divisions that had emerged within the ruling elite over strategies for dealing with the political demands of diverse and competitive interest groups. The officers and their civilian supporters, who included some factions of the business elite, wanted the state to impose social order through the type of authoritarian methods they believed had worked successfully under Atatürk. They were sufficiently angry with dissenting members of the ruling elite to arrest the most prominent politicians, including two former prime ministers. The coup in effect split the ruling elite into two ideological factions that continue to coexist uneasily in the mid-1990s. One elite group believes in the efficacy of a strong government to maintain social and political stability; the other elite faction believes in accommodating interest group demands that do not threaten the national cohesion of the country and generally supports broadening political pluralism.

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Page last modified: 30-07-2013 13:27:20 ZULU