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Kenan Evren (July 17, 1917 – May 9, 2015) 11 mai 2015

Posted by Acturca in History / Histoire, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Times (UK) 11 May 2015, p. 51

Obituaries

Turkish general who became president after leading a coup in 1980 but faced a humiliating end to his life.

It was a humiliating end to a formidable military and political career. Last year General Kenan Evren, former president of Turkey and head of its army, was convicted of crimes against the state and demoted to the rank of private. The charges centred on his leading role in the military coup of 1980, which led to widespread arrests, torture and deaths.

He was a symbol of the Turkish army’s belief in its privileged role in defending the country’s secular inheritance and constitution — and he had long assumed that laws passed when he was in power gave him immunity from prosecution. When a trial was mooted in 2009, he vowed: « I promise in front of my nation that I will not let this matter be dealt with in the courts. I will commit suicide. »

But his political opponents, who now held sway in Turkey, were determined to tame the army; and a change in the law enabling prosecution had been approved by referendum. Evren, who was in his late nineties, gave evidence at his trial via video link from his bed in a military hospital. When found guilty, the previously proud general was sentenced to life imprisonment, and demoted to the rank of private.

He remained defiant to the end, arguing that it was he and his fellow officers who had restored order in the 1980s, resisting a terrorist threat and putting his country back on a modernising, pro-Western course. « We did what was right at the time and if it happened today we would carry out a coup again, » he said.

In the years before the coup there had been many deaths due to intense fighting between militants. When the country’s politicians failed to elect a new president while Kurdish separatists and Islamic radicals grew more vocal, Evren warned that order had to be restored. He was also said to have been personally concerned for the safety of his three daughters, Senay, Gülay and Miray, who were then all studying at Ankara university.

In September 1980 he gave orders for the tanks to roll on to the streets of Turkish cities; checkpoints set up by militants were dismantled. In the short term order was restored and the violence more or less ceased. It was even known initially as the « Coup in Velvet Boots » as no-one was killed, and many in Turkey praised the military.

Evren’s regime went on, however, to arrest an estimated half a million people as it disbanded the existing political system. Many opponents of the regime disappeared and hundreds died in prison; torture was widespread and 50 people were executed. « Should we feed them in prison for years instead of hanging them? » responded Evren scornfully in 1984 when the executions were criticised. By then he had become president — a post he held until 1989 — overseeing, he claimed, an orderly return to democratic politics.

The army, he reaffirmed, had no intention of becoming a political player itself, remaining true to his interpreta-tion of the traditions of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. The military saw itself as guardian of a secular vision of constitutional, pro-Western order that had emerged in the 1920s from the ruins of the Ottoman empire.

It was a vision in which Evren had been steeped from an early age. He was born in 1917 in Alasehir in western Turkey; his parents had been immigrants from the Balkans. He attended military high schools, colleges and academies, graduating as an artillery and staff officer, before seeing service in the Korean war, as Turkey, a member of Nato from 1952, began to establish its Western, Cold-War credentials.

Promoted to general in the 1960s, Evren was a senior figure in the Turkish army’s involvement in the Cyprus conflict in the 1970s, but he and his senior colleagues generally kept a fairly low profile. He was talked of as a « cautious and steady » family man, though there were rumours of a liking for fast cars and a fanaticism for personal fitness.

His fondness for wearing hats — unusual in Turkey — was seen as devotion to the fashion established by Turkey’s founding father. The military’s idea of an industrialising, modernising country, resisting the pull of mystical nationalism or Islamic radicalism, was seen as being very much in the Ataturk tradition. In the turbulent early 1980s, Evren spelt out his allegiance with fierce resolve. Those who deviated from Ataturk’s path, he warned, would be punished as « traitors ».

Turkey’s social and economic development under Evren’s presidency did have its admirers. He campaigned for women’s rights in the face of Islamic conservatism, and abortion was legalised. Industrial development and job creation was rapid, and benefits such as telephones and electrification were brought to impoverished rural areas — though Evren’s defence of nuclear power generation was distinctly eccentric, claiming after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 that « radiation is good for the bones ».

His role as a Nato ally in a strategically crucial location earned him state visits in 1988 to London and to Washington; the reintroduction of parliamentary elections under his presidency allowed the country to proceed with an application for membership of the European Economic Community though there was still much scepticism as to how far Turkey would uphold human rights and full democracy.

When he retired Evren hoped he would be seen as the leader who put his country back on to a course of peaceful development. He went to live in a villa at Marmaris by the Aegean sea, a solitary figure in some ways — his wife Sekine, whom he married in 1944, had died in 1982 — but he still held soirées for intellectuals, military figures, journalists and businessmen, some of whom bought his paintings.

According to a much-repeated tale, Evren had been inspired to paint after seeing a picture by Picasso, and remarking, « I could do the same thing myself! » He specialised in horses and the female nude, often in the guise of Eve. His painting of nudes began when Müjde Ar, the star of a number of erotic Turkish films, offered to pose for him naked. One of his best known works, The Tourist at the Hammam, featured Hande Ataizi, a famous Turkish model. Later, Evren launched a competition for a painting to celebrate Ataturk and the 75th anniversary of the republic.

He is survived by his three daughters.

Senay is an officer in the country’s intelligence service, while Gülay is the general manager of a textile company. Miray has demanded a state funeral for her father. All three are believed to be relatively wealthy.

For Evren, the presence of security guards was a constant reminder that he had created many enemies in Turkey and beyond and, as the country’s politics moved in a more Islamist direction, he was left exposed. His trial last year left a very different impression from the image he had cultivated as general and president. He had seen himself as guiding change, holding the country to the vision of Ataturk. But Turkey’s future had proved far more complex and uncertain — and his own role far more controversial – than he had assumed.

Kenan Evren, Turkish soldier and politician, was born on July 17, 1917. He died on May 9, 2015, aged 97

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