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Write the Future. But About the Past

September 13, 2010

I like to imagine that, like the Nike Football commercial, Al Gore, and Bill Richardson before him, Kemal Kilicdaroglu will fall off the face of the Earth for a month or two and return to the stage with a beard. Not voting was a bit embarrassing, not having a good speech was a bit worse, and now there’ll just be lots of projecting and soundbiting about where CHP is headed. But for now, the results are in, and the only thing left to do is look towards the future.

We’ve written plenty about the referendum here, and there will be more coming in the near future, of course. And there are lots of angles to this, of course, and way too many to cover responsibly in one blog post. I’ve already seen one decent recap of “What does this all mean” type, and Ms. Bayrasli has an interesting piece on Erdogan reaching out to the Turks he’s alienated to which I can only respond, “Why?” But as I said, there is lots to write about, but I am going to focus this particular piece on a particular article that particularly interests me; the opening of a trial on Kenan Evren.

Talking about modern Turkey without talking about the Coup is like talking about Poland and not mentioning Solidarnosc. The current rulers – or really anyone around the age of 50, came of age in 1980. The individuals are who they are today largely because of how they saw themselves in the Coup years and how that reflected their personality. If you bear with my psychology-writ-large, it is really something. There is no way a smart kid in his 20’s didn’t let it affect him.

That said, the 1982 Constitution that came out of the coup nicely enough gives full immunity to the leaders of the coup. And this immunity is what’s being removed. It has been argued that the revocation may be a bit late, what with a 30-year statute of limitations coming up and all, but this isn’t true: the actions taken AFTER September 12 are the ones being opened. The tortures, disappearances, and all. That’s the sketchy stuff, not the planning itself. And its worth mentioning that just two years ago, no less an expert than Halil Karaveli said that Evren, “…is a former dictator who does not have to worry about being tried for having overthrown a democratically elected government.” So if this case gets opened, if it gets heard in civilian court (and from hereon out, all military cases of the ilk will be in civilian court) then we have a Big Deal on our hands. If the 93-year-old Evren doesn’t kill himself first.

I’m curious what the trial is going to look like. Nuremburg it ain’t, that’s to be sure. And I’m sure there will be those calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Committee or something headed by The Hague. These will simply not happen. Turkey wants this to be about Turkey and about Turks. There’s too much honor at stake to do things in front of a foreign court and/or have foreign law students sitting around and taking notes. So let’s just scratch that op-ed out before it starts.

What is a bit more likely to happen is a bit of a witch hunt. You may have heard of a little thing called Ergenekon, and I would be very, very, unsurprised to see some half-hearted attempts to link 1980 to today through the military. What I would be surprised to see is the court actually taking this seriously. More conspiratorial finger-pointing isn’t going to help anybody, and neither will turning the trial into a farce. This is what I’m most scared of. More yelling, more fear, and more nothingness isn’t going to move the country forward in any which way, and will just set the tone for a lot of disgust in the 2011 elections.

The opposite angle is that there will be a true reckoning and honesty. Openness will rule, the coup leaders will discuss what they did and why they did it, and fraternity will rule the day. The late 70’s were a crazy, crazy, time in Turkey as Kara Kitap most famously shows. Something needed to happen and there wasn’t really any opportunity for true peaceful heroes to emerge. The military is and was a product of their time and education system, and they did what they thought was best. Lives were lost, individuals were destroyed, and these things were happening anyway before the coup. And all of this will be aired in public (and in Turkish). The more I think about this, the more I think it won’t happen. But I’m hardly in a position of power, word magic is all I can muster. So I really hope this is what happens.

And in our world of no dichotomies, the most likely result is something in the middle. People will be brought to trial. Some will be contrite, most will be indignant. Questions will be asked, some will be open-faced, most will be looking to score political points. Thanks to the good gentleman at the US Embassy who felt the need to say “our boys have done it,” a whole new wrath may be directed towards the old-guard of “Turkish Hands” at American behest.

The best that I can reasonably hope for, I suppose, is for a few choice quotes to be dropped, and for an archive or two to be unlocked. The fact that the entire trial is just a way to get votes for the 2011 elections probably won’t help matters. There’s a chance this will be a bigger circus than the Clinton Impeachment. But maybe, just possibly, something interesting could come out of this. Maybe there’ll be a few brave or at least old dudes who want to put away the accusations and find something truthful. Maybe something substantive will be able to be written about those dark years, something beyond hysterical accusations.

Or maybe I’m just an idealistic law student. But it’d be nice to see a trial be done for the truth’s sake rather than for some abstract conclusions on justice. Or as Josh Ritter’d say, let’s not “bring justice to enemies not the other way around.


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