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Kenan Evren, 97, Dies; Led Turkey’s 1980 Coup 11 mai 2015

Posted by Acturca in History / Histoire, Turkey / Turquie.
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The New York Times (USA) Monday, May 11, 2015, p. D 7

By Stephen Kinzer

Gen. Kenan Evren, who led a military coup in Turkey and then imposed the harshest repression in his country’s history, leading to his trial and conviction more than 30 years later, died on Saturday in a military hospital in Ankara. He was 97.

His death was reported by the state-run Anadolu Agency.

By the time of the coup, on Sept. 12, 1980, Turkey had fallen into near anarchy. Political gangs fought one another, and the sound of gunfire and bombings became almost routine. Military commanders feared that something akin to the 1979 Iranian revolution could explode in Turkey and destroy the existing order. Violence had reached such a peak that many Turks welcomed military intervention.

Few, however, were prepared for what followed.

Presiding over a five-man junta, General Evren declared himself head of state and imposed martial law. More than 500,000 Turks were jailed on political charges, including many of the country’s intellectuals and artists. Torture was common.

« The policy was not necessarily to kill you in jail, » said one former prisoner, the painter Orhan Taylan. « They would abuse you to the point of death, then release you so you would die soon on the outside. »

About 300 prisoners died in custody, some as a result of torture. Others were reported to have committed suicide, been killed in « clashes » or died while trying to escape. Fifty were hanged.

« Should we not hang them? » General Evren asked crowds at public rallies. « Should we go on feeding them? »

Tens of thousands of people were removed from their jobs. A roughly equal number fled the country. Newspapers were shut, and dozens of journalists were imprisoned. Prominent politicians were arrested. Parliament was dissolved. Political parties and labor unions were banned. University professors suspected of harboring liberal or leftist views were dismissed.

General Evren also declared the Turkish-occupied zone in Cyprus an independent state, helping to transform a difficult geopolitical problem into one that has proved intractable.

Although he claimed to embrace the secular principles of Turkey’s revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, General Evren is now seen as partly responsible for legitimizing Islamic thought in his country. Fearing the appeal of communism, he posited Islam as an alternative. During his rule, courses in religion were made compulsory in Turkish schools. Rather than pursue the strictly Western-oriented policies that Ataturk had laid down, he promoted what came to be known as the « Turco-Islamic synthesis. »

« The process Evren directed had a huge impact on Turkey, all negative, » said Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. « He was quite unsophisticated — the opposite of a thinker or an intellectual. If he had any virtue, it was that he embodied the mind-set of most Turks of his era, which was narrow, chauvinistic and ignorant. »

In 1982, the junta secured voters’ approval of a Constitution, giving legal sanction to the restrictions that it had imposed on civic life, making many of them permanent. General Evren held the presidency after Turkey returned to ostensible civilian rule in 1983. He remained in office until 1989, but played a diminishing public role and cultivated a fatherly image.

For decades after he retired from the army — a period when generals maintained decisive power in Turkey — General Evren lived a quiet, well-protected life in a seaside mansion, devoting himself to painting landscapes and nudes.

He came under increasing public criticism as military power waned. In 2012, Turkish prosecutors indicted him and the other surviving member of his junta, Gen. Tahsin Sahinkaya. Hundreds of victims of state-sponsored violence in the early 1980s applied to join the case as co-plaintiffs. Avenues named after General Evren in several cities were renamed.

In 2014, the court found General Evren and his co-defendant guilty of crimes against the state. Both were sentenced to life in prison, and, by military custom, reduced to the rank of private. They served their sentences at home and in hospitals.

At a court session in 2012, General Evren testified by video from a hospital where he was being treated for gastrointestinal bleeding and other ailments.

« Historic events cannot be judged, » he said. When asked about the death warrants he signed, he replied, « We hanged one from the right, one from the left. In this way, we wanted to prove we were not taking sides. »

Mr. Evren was born on July 17, 1917, in what was then the Ottoman Empire. He left his hometown, Alasehir, to attend a military high school. After rising through the officer corps, he became chief of the general staff in 1978.

Although General Evren was reviled by many Turkish liberals, others in the country continued to admire him after his fall from grace.

« Whether you like it or not, the cold hard truth of the matter is that Evren and Sahinkaya saved the nation from civil war and untold bloodshed, » one newspaper reader wrote in a comment after the officers were indicted. « Drastic times call for drastic measures. »

General Evren is survived by three daughters. One was an officer in the Turkish intelligence service.

« As the chief orchestrator of the 1980 military coup, the choreographer of ruthless oppression and the architect of the restrictive order which still, after three decades, holds Turkey in a straitjacket, Evren will go down in history as the dictator who could get away with a big crime, » Yavuz Baydar, a prominent Turkish columnist, said in a 2013 interview. « For hundreds of thousands of families, he is seen as the villain who destroyed their lives, and it is certain that he will be remembered as the dictator who destroyed Turkey’s prospects for a long time. »

General Evren never wavered from his insistence that the measures he took had been necessary to rescue Turkey from mortal danger.

« All freedoms provided by democracy are for those who believe in it, » he said in an interview after seizing power. « Can the rights and freedoms of millions of virtuous people who believe in democracy be safeguarded if those who seek to destroy it abuse rights and freedoms to achieve their goals? »

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