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The Greatest Crime of The Turkish Military

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News] I was on Istanbul's busiest street, İstiklal, two days ago, in the middle of a rally attended by thousands of people. They were from all different walks of life, and even ideologies, but they were all chanting the same slogan: "May 27! Never again!" That day, May 27, 1960, was one of the darkest in the history of this country. The Turkish military has committed lots of crimes against the Turkish people - coups, tortures, extra-judicial killings and more - but what it initiated on that day was the worst: The officers not only overthrew the most popular Turkish Prime Minister ever, Adnan Menderes, they also initiated a show trial to murder him and two of his ministers. A history of tyranny The story goes back to the founding of the Turkish Republic, which emerged in the aftermath of a popular war of liberation led by a democratic Parliament. But in just two years, one camp within this Parliament, those who later would be called "the Kemalists," banned all opposition and established a dictatorship of their party, the Republican People's Party, or CHP. This "single-party regime" unwillingly accepted some democracy in the late 1940s. Hence came the first opposition party in decades, the Democratic Party, or DP, led by Menderes. The DP simply promised more freedom to all the suppressed groups, and used the famous slogan, "Enough! The nation has the word!" This brought them an election victory in 1950, with 52 percent of the votes. Four years later, they did even better with 57 percent, which is an unbroken record. Menderes turned victorious in 1957, as well, becoming the only Turkish politician to have won three elections in a row. The DP did so well in the ballots, for their decade-old incumbency was that of a great success. The economy boomed, especially in the first five years. New roads, electric lines, and dams were built throughout the country. Menderes, who promised to make the country a "little America," sent troops to Korea to fight the communists and joined NATO. But the CHP and its allies were not happy with any of this. Beyond normal political rivalry, one major reason for their hatred to the Democrats, and especially Menderes, was the latter's "concessions from secularism." This simply meant that Menderes lifted the tyrannical Kemalist bans on religion, such as the one on the call to prayer in Arabic, and reopened thousands of closed mosques across the country. He also eased the pressure on Sufi orders, Quranic courses and religious leaders such as Said Nursi, who used to be imprisoned simply for writing books that promote the faith and morals of Islam. Menderes eased the pressure on the Kurds as well, bringing some prominent Kurdish figures to Parliament as members. His party also put the notorious general Mustafa Muğlalı, who had massacred 33 Kurdish villagers in 1943, on trial. All this "counter-revolution" forced the Kemalists to think of plans to get rid of the DP. We now know that several officers started coup schemes as early as 1954. We also know that in the later stages they established contacts and cooperation with the CHP, along with the Kemalists in the judiciary, universities, and the media. Of course, neither the DP nor Menderes were saints. In the face of harsh opposition from the CHP and its allies, they grew harsh and intolerant as well in their final years. But none of this could justify a coup. After all, they would go for elections in its normal time, in 1961, and that is what the anti-DP camp should have worked for. But the military instead launched a coup, imprisoning all DP members, while showing the outmost respect to the CHP. A show trial was set up on Yassıada, a military island on the outskirts of Istanbul. In one the hearings, the chief judge, Salim Başol, gave his infamous answer to one of the accused who asked why they were not getting a fair trial: "Because that is the wish of the power that put you here." This Stalinish court sent Menderes, Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Hasan Polatkan, the foreign and finance ministers, to the gallows on Sept. 17, 1961. Menderes was also beaten up by some officers, who extinguished cigarettes on his body and tortured him psychologically. Never again All this evil happened half a century ago. But we well know that there are still people in this country who have the exact same ideology, and the ruthlessness, of the murderers of Menderes. Luckily the world has a changed a lot, so they are not able to do what they would normally do. Moreover, as I clearly sensed the other day among thousands of determined anti-coup activists, the Turkish people have changed as well. Our grandfathers could only weep and pray for Menderes, but we are also ready to fight. So, let the coup-cravers be warned: If they roll up their tanks again, against the nation that pays for them, we the people will not sit down and watch. We will fight them on those very tanks, and in the fields and in the streets, and on the beaches and on the landing grounds. We shall defend our democracy, whatever the cost may be. We shall never surrender.
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