In a recent interview (click here), journalist and author Taha Akyol made the important point that the trial of the 1980 coup generals now occurring obscures the overall “authoritarian and conflict-based nature” of Turkey’s political system, both in the time before the coup and now and in so doing absolves those whose violence created the conditions for a coup. Akyol said that on September 11, 1980 (the coup occurred on September 12), ”The youth and politicians had gone mad. The two mainstream political parties could not unite to elect a president.” Turkey’s political culture is not based on consensus, he explained, but on conflict, and in the pre-1980 period Cold War left/right and Sunni-Alevi divisions added to the divisions. There was an enormous amount of violence as armed youths fought in the streets and on campuses to kill each other. Many people breathed a sigh of relief when the army intervened. Akyol:
Those fighting before Sept. 12 should realize how much hatred they garnered that people embraced the army. I have been listening to people from Dev Yol [The Revolutionary Left] before the court room. They talk as if they were all angels, as if they had not killed or made people kill and as if the military intervened out of the blue and came to sweep away the revolutionaries. How about those killed by you? I say that for both sides.
Akyol doesn’t thereby whitewash the “solution” of a coup and the state terror that followed, but points out that by focusing on the trial of two generals, the continuing problems of authoritarianism and conflict-based nature of politics in Turkey remain unacknowledged. Akyol:
As I see authoritarianism in our political culture as the main problem, questioning the authoritarianism of the pre-Sept. 12 actors is very important to me. Yet this is not being done. The fact that Sept. 12 was vicious and illegitimate does not vindicate everything on Sept. 11…
The age of coups in Turkey is over, Akyol believes, due to the development of the market economy and democratization. “No coup plotter thought about what would become of the stock exchange before launching a coup. There was no stock exchange on Sept. 12.” Why then is it so important for Turkey to face up to its endemic authoritarianism and conflict-ridden political culture? Akyol:
This polarization prevents us from thinking analytically. We are a society that can’t think analytically in the age of information. Everything is white and black in Turkey.
I would add that almost half of Turkey’s population is under thirty and has no memory of the 1970s. The actors in that national drama, which had been repressed in public memory for most of the intervening years, are vying now to write a history that explains the violence as the result of one side or the other, rather than the social and political self-immolation that it appeared at the time (with even the left split into Maoists, Che-Gueveraists, socialists, all killing each other as well). As Akyol implies, there is a darker, more intimate side to political violence in Turkey that is not just the result of misguided leadership by institutions like the army.