Ankara: The two surviving leaders of Turkey`s
1980 military coup went on trial Wednesday for their heavy
crackdown on political freedom and a spate of executions,
torture and disappearances committed under their command.
The trial of retired Gen Kenan Evren, who as military
chief of staff led the coup and then the country from 1982 to
1989, and retired Gen Tahsin Sahinkaya, chief of the air force
at the time, comes as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan`s
Islamic-rooted government is curtailing the military`s clout.
"This case is a milestone for Turkish democracy," Selcuk
Ozdag, a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development
Party told state television. "It is the result of the
government`s political will."
Evren was initially regarded as a hero by many Turks
because the military takeover stopped fighting between leftist
and right-wing groups that led to fears that Turkey was
heading toward a civil war.
But he is blamed for the torture of suspected militants
and their supporters and for introducing a constitution that
restricted freedoms and formalised the military`s role in
The government and Parliament, as well as several
political parties, have said they would seek the court`s
permission to join the trial as plaintiffs along with hundreds
of non-governmental organisations and citizens.
Hundreds of demonstrators, including many leftists and
some right-wing activists, gathered outside the courthouse in
Ankara today as the trial began in a packed court room.
Evren is well remembered for his public explanation for
sending dozens of militants to the gallows: "Should we feed
those terrorists instead of hanging them?".
He shut down Parliament, suspended the constitution,
imprisoned civilian leaders and disbanded political parties
before returning power to civilians three years later. Some
650,000 people were detained in the days that followed the
coup and 230,000 people were prosecuted in military courts,
according to official figures.
Some 300 people died in prison, including 171 people who
died as a result of torture. There were 49 executions,
including that of 17-year-old Erdal Eren, whose hanging for
allegedly killing a soldier horrified Turks.
"We did not forget, we did not forgive," read one banner,
carried by the protesters.
The coup leaders, both in poor health, have been
hospitalised and did not attend. Evren, 94, and Sahinkaya, 86,
have been charged with crimes against the state and face
possible life imprisonment for leading the coup.