DATELINE: TURKEY

Order at the end of a gun

Sari Gilbert February 15 1982
DATELINE: TURKEY

Order at the end of a gun

Sari Gilbert February 15 1982

Order at the end of a gun

DATELINE: TURKEY

Sari Gilbert

Well-dressed youngsters parade up and down Ankara’s Ataturk Boulevard, pausing to gaze at window displays of fashionable Turkish-produced clothing and accessories, or stopping for a simit (seed) roll or a snack of kebab cut from meat roasting on a giant revolving vertical spit. Shiny Mercedes marred by dents crowd the noisy smog-enveloped streets, while smartly dressed shoeshine boys beckon to prospective clients from sidewalks dotted with doughnut vendors and peddlers. In the covered bazaar of Istanbul, neither the tradesmen nor the 50,000 visitors who pass through the thriving marketplace each day give a passing glance to the patrolling pairs of blue-bereted anti-terrorist police.

blue-bereted police.

Seventeen months after the military took over from the politicians, Turkey

has become a tranquil

place, so quiet that the chaos and tragedy that led to the coup seem little more than a bad dream. Despite the suspension of democracy, most Turks acknowledge that the takeover was necessary for a country on the verge of collapse. “We are so grateful to the generals for ending the anarchy and terror,” said wellknown law professor Nusin Ayiter. “Life in

Turkey had become unbearable.” Although terrorism and political violence have not been totally wiped out, the restoration of law and order has been one of the major accomplishments of the military regime. Prior to its seizure of the reins of power on Sept. 12, 1980, an average of 25 people a day were killed in ambushes and political clashes. Entire neighborhoods, and sometimes towns, had been “liberated” by extremists, and all segments of society were so polarized as to make normal existence nearly impossible—one’s political allegiance was often advertised by the shape of one’s moustache.

Today there is little doubt that the regime’s widespread popularity—and that of fatherly head of state Gen. Kenan Evren—is primarily a result of the largely successful, if brutal, antiterrorist * crackdown. “I am against their policies, but they saved my life,”

says a reporter from Cumhuriyet, the leftwing daily, who explained that before the coup most newsmen felt so threatened that they habitually carried guns. The country was paralysed with fear. Recalls hotel owner Hasan Gultan: “It was like being followed in a dark street by a murderer with a knife. We Turks are still adolescents when it comes to democracy. Either we

didn’t know how to use it, or perhaps we had too much.”

Restoring the authority of the state and putting a lid on political violence clearly has had a high political and social cost. Observers estimate that several thousands of the more than 43,000 arrested or detained since September, 1980, are leftand right-wing political militants who were not directly involved in terrorism. Military prosecutors have sought the death penalty in about 1,300 cases, and martial law courts have so far issued death penalties against 70 convicted terrorists. Ten have been carried out to date. Torture is reportedly widespread and systematic. Last November, one highranking official conceded that some Turkish interrogation methods “might be considered torture in other Western countries,” but said such methods were necessary to extirpate terrorism. Martial law regulations still give security forces the right to hold suspects for up to 45 days without charges; once charged they can be held indefinitely. Despite the profusion of soldiers patrolling the streets, martial law is lightly felt by the general public. While a curfew exists in all but 10 of the 67 provinces between 2 and 5 a.m., there is no arbitrary checking of credentials in the streets.

The military leaders have adopted a number of controversial measures that have proven difficult to justify in terms of security. Union activity has been sharply curtailed, and the once freewheeling Turkish press has been forced to tread a cautious path between compliance and guarded criticism. Recently, two conservative columnists were jailed for criticizing in print both Gen. Evren and the ruling five-man national security council. The country’s political parties have been banned and their leaders muzzled. In early December, former prime minister Bulent Ecevit was sentenced to three months in

jail for defying a ban on political pronouncements.

Turkey is still very fragile economically. Unemployment and inflation are both serious nagging problems that could eventually undermine the political stability the generals are seeking to impose. Unemployment is up to 20 per cent and inflation, although down from 100 per cent last year, remains at 33 per cent. But some visible improvements have eased the situation: exports are soaring and most pre-coup shortages of food and fuel have ended.

If the absence of a democratic system makes it easier for the generals to expedite reform, it could jeopardize the foreign aid the country desperately needs. The European Community has frozen its assistance program. But the United States, keenly aware of Turkey’s strategic position, is more sympathetic to the military takeover and has stepped up economic and military assistance.

Even though most Turks understand the reasons for the coup and are willing after nearly 18 months to give the generals the benefit of the doubt, there is increasing concern about the type of Turkey that will emerge from the years of military tutelage. Although there has been reluctance to fix a firm timetable for a return to democracy—as one highranking officer put it, “this is a war, not a basketball game with fixed times for each quarter”—Gen. Evren indicated in his New Year’s message that if a draft constitution were ready by the end of this summer, an election could be held by the spring of 1983.

Although many Turks are disappointed with Ecevit and his arch-rival, Justice Party leader Suleyman Demirel, the military’s decision to bar all precoup parliamentarians from the Consultative Assembly working on the new constitution, and probably from at least

the first term of a post-military parliament, has angered many. “I don’t think we are rich enough in politicians to discard the ones we have,” said Nazli Ilicak, chief columnist for the conservative daily Tercuman, who was recently sentenced to nine months in jail for openly criticizing the Administrative Tribunal. According to a government spokesman, the exclusion measure was necessary because “the politicians created so many problems for our body politic that keeping them around would be like feeding spicy Mexican enchiladas to a person with ulcers.”

New laws aimed at reorganizing the judicial system and the university network, which was seen as the seedbed of much of the militant ideology that polarized the country, suggest that the military is trying to make sure that the Turkey of tomorrow will be far more centralized and consequently less free. Although the Consultative Assembly just began work last fall, insiders believe the country’s future institutional framework will seek to avoid a repeat of the past and protect the country from subversive elements by coming up with a strong presidential system, ideological and organizational limits on party structures and an electoral system that will keep small extremist groups out of parliament.

For the time being, however, most Turks are content to wait and see. The question is, how long will the present period of tolerance last? “The longer they stay in power, the more difficult things will get,” says one critic of the regime, who believes recent economic, judicial and educational reforms are costing the generals the support of significant sectors of the population. “People have short memories,” says Mumtaz Soysal, a political scientist and newspaper commentator. “Sooner or later they will begin to forget the horrors of the past and start feeling the restrictions of the present.”

Istanbul (left); pre-coup demonstration of army force: brutal crackdown