What happened on 'February 28 process' in Turkey?

"You cannot make sense of Ergenekon, unless you fully understand February 28 period" says Hasan Celal Guzel, a former minister.

What happened on 'February 28 process' in Turkey?

By İsmail Duman, World Bulletin

Nowadays, we are, unfortunately, discussing Feb. 28 period again. Fourteen years ago, Turkey has witnessed very dramatic/problematic "post-modern coup" and it was claimed by former Chief of General Staff Gen. Huseyin Kıvrıkoğlu that "Feb. 28 will last 1,000 years!"

But, today this picture is some different. After Sledgehammer(Balyoz) case and especially after September 12 Turkish Constitutional Referendum, the effect of the military in Turkey has decreased very dramatically. We can see this hopeful changing in the comments of some writers when we compare their evaluations about this period.

Although Betul Akkaya Demirbas, from Today's Zaman, has said in 2009 so: "Though 12 years have passed since the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997, in which the military overthrew a coalition government led by a now-defunct conservative party, the coup era seems to have maintained its grip on Turkey as almost all decisions made then by the National Security Council (MGK) are still in effect in the country.", she emphasizes his hopeful viewpoint in 2010 as so: "Turkey's has painful recollections of the Feb. 28 period because of the blow the military dealt to fundamental rights and freedoms. However, the country is seemingly more hopeful about its future, particularly in terms of a strong democracy and the supremacy of the rule of law. What has led to such optimism is an attempt by judicial bodies to settle accounts with the coup instigators of the recent past. Turkey woke up to a pretty lively week on Feb. 22. A total of 49 retired and active duty members of the military were taken into custody as part of a civilian investigation into alleged coup plots, titled Balyoz (Sledgehammer) and Kafes (Cage). This was the highest-profile crackdown ever carried out on the military."

Before looking at what this shift means, we want to focus, firstly, on Feb. 28 period. Firstly, we will look at general picture of February 28 and what people have witnessed to. After this part, we will deepen invisible parts of process before and after February 28. What are the functions of state apparatus, media, and other factors in this violence process? And, in addition to this, I want to focus on its effects on this time. People who were/are expected to this process, in which ways do they shaped their lives today? What is the effect of this state terror on them? And lastly; what does, today, change in this picture?

February 28 Process

As Sinan Ikinci says, fourteen years ago, the Turkish military presented an ultimatum to the Islamist-dominated coalition government following a meeting of the National Security Council (MGK) on February 28, 1997. This was the fourth military intervention in Turkey since the end of the Second World War. The Turkish military had previously carried out coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980.

Betul Akkaya Demirbas, from Today's Zaman, summarizes February 28 period for us very well:

"The process that started the downfall of the RP-True Path Party (DYP) coalition government began with the 1995 parliamentary elections. Because no political party garnered enough votes to establish a government on its own, a coalition government was formed by Erbakan's RP and Tansu Çiller's DYP. The two parties founded their government on June 8, 1996.

The Turkish military, uneasy with the existence of a religious party in government, began preparing to topple the government. Certain mistakes committed by the coalition government facilitated the military's work to overthrow it. Among these were official visits by then-Prime Minister Erbakan to Libya and Nigeria, which caused tension between the government and the General Staff. Allegations were also made indicating that officers discharged from the military were being employed in municipalities run by RP mayors. A fast-breaking dinner held with the participation of religious leaders at the official residence of the prime minister and plans to build a mosque in İstanbul's Taksim Square and reconvert Ayasofya into a mosque heralded a new era of fear.

A polemic between the mayor of İstanbul's Sultanbeyli district, Nabi Koçak, and Gen. Doğu Silahçıoğlu, who demanded the erection of a statue of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the town, increased the tension. High-ranking military officers convened in Gölcük on Jan. 22, 1997, to discuss whether religious fundamentalism had become a force in the country. Labour and business unions, professional organizations and trade associations began speaking out against the government. Women's organizations held rallies to protest what they saw as the return of Shariah (Islamic law) and promoted secularism. Then came the General Staff's briefings on religious fundamentalism and the MGK's Feb. 28 meeting, where it made decisions Prime Minister Erbakan was forced to approve.

Erbakan subsequently resigned, handing over the Prime Ministry to Çiller."

"On foreign policy, the RP—like its Islamist forerunners—was explicitly anti-Western and opposed the European Union, claiming that Western nations represented colonialism, oppression, immorality and ultimately Christianity. The RP criticized Kemalism as the embodiment of these "foreign" interests corrupting Muslims inside the country itself. This "national view" openly preached the superiority of Islam and the inferiority of the West." says Sinan Ikinci. "On the other hand, RP advocated a very different international strategy on economic, foreign and military policy. It defended an orientation towards Islamic countries and was opposed to any institutional integration with the Western world, including NATO, the US or becoming a member of the EU. In addition to this, there are some critical events such as official visits by Erbakan to Libya and Nigeria, a fast-breaking dinner held with the participation of religious leaders at the official residence of Erbakan as prime minister, plans to build a mosque in Istanbul's Taksim Square. This explains why the major Western powers supported the February 28 military intervention. And, on the other hand, therefore the February 28 'post modern coup' was in effect an intervention by the so-called 'secular' wing."

Up to this point, we mentioned about known processes. But, after this process, we want to focus on different stages of this period. Political events are not so simple because they are very complex puzzles and there are many inter-dependent processes that trigger final stage. So, we want to look at a background of February 28 more deeply. In this way, I think we can understand the effects of state violence and its elements on breaking points of history.

The Rise of Fundamentalism?

Actually, I think, if we evaluate this process, firstly, we should focus on main factors for this process. Although RP was seen as a threat, there were more threatening elements in backstage. If we say that RP and its policies were only problems, we cannot understand main arguments for violence. On the other hand, many people who were seen as a threat did not vote for RP or any other party because they were always declaring that they do not want to live in this system and they preferred alternative systems. According to them, they should avoid this 'unjust order' as soon as possible. Although these people have always existed and been seen as a problem for the state, they were seen as a minority until RP's victory in the elections.

In "Critique of Violence", Walter Benjamin argues that it is not possible to separate violence from law. All violence is either law-making or law-preserving; that all law is latent violence because it refers to all other approaches which are against to these laws as a problem. Therefore it is violence itself which decides what violence is justifiable for what ends. This circle defines violence self-evidently as a natural means of achieving natural or legal ends. "So, the power established by law-making violence threatens the law-breaker with law-preserving violence".

When we look at the February 28 process from perspective of Benjamin, we can say that law-breaker fundamentalist Muslim people have been exposed to law-preserving violence of law-makers. Here, we should emphasize that boundaries of the state and boundaries of these people were/are very different. So, RP's rising vote rate was just only trigger factor for 'post-modern coup'...

Moreover, although RP had some 'problematic' practices according to the system, they have preferred to struggle within 'legitimate' borders. Their electorate was conservative Muslim people rather than 'radical' Muslim people. This is also very ironic because although RP has accepted to struggle within drawn limits and they did not have potential for establishing new system, their a few different-unadmitted practices have become a cause for this process. With this process, law-makers and law-preserves have preferred to focus on 'fundamentalist' Muslims violently because although their numbers were not so big, they were very potential threat for the state. So, they were exposed to state violence more than from other type of Muslims. By all means, there was general violence to Muslim people, but some people had their share more and more...

Visible and Invisible Parts of This Process

Begona Aretxage, in his writing about State terror in Spain, says that "I argue in this essay that the narratives produces by the state have a fictional character, that is, they resonate with existing genres and forms of employment. It is a within-and not outside- these fictional genres that the state is imagined as subject by diverse publics in concrete locales, like Basque Country. Thus the narratives of state violence have the effect of embodying the state by endowing it with agency and feeling."

When we look at Turkey, we see very similar approaches in these strategies. For example, we grew by narratives about Ataturk and we always felt that if we say about the problems of Ataturk's approaches, we will be punished. Today is not/some different. If I want to criticize some dynamics of the state, I have to take a risk for state violence... States, in this way, aim to actualize their "isolation, identification, legibility, spatialization effects" over people.

In February 28 process, the state has used these strategies very well because otherwise, it could not legitimate its violence... For example, "Turkey is secular and will remain as a secular" was/is very popular slogan against to shariah demand and this slogan has been produced by state officials. I want to give some explanations of officials in this process below:

"We are against all type of bigotry and fanaticism"(İsmail Hakkı Karadayı, chief of General Staff at the time)

"Whoever wants to make religion an instrument to the policy and change the regime, he/she will find Chief Prosecutor of Republic against" (Suleyman Demirel, President at the time)

On the other hand, as Sinan Ikinci says, in the course of the military intervention in 1997, General Cevik Bir, the deputy chief of general staff, cynically declared that the aim of the army "was to readjust the balance of democracy."

So, when we look at the picture, there are concrete concepts, ideas which have been shaped or advocated by the regime and if people do not want to compromise with these ideas, they should be ready in order to come across violence of state which has monopoly of the use of the state. In addition to this, there are some unarmed, non-military forces that see themselves bodyguard of this regime. In this way, they legitimize to use violence against opponents of regime. We can see this alliance in 1997 military invention.

According to Mr. Ikinci, "The February 28 military intervention was a carefully planned operation, supported by the media (except the Islamist media), many of the political parties, business organizations, trade unions, women's groups, intellectuals, etc. Even one army general overtly explained the importance of this mobilization by calling their civilian advocators "unarmed forces." This alliance of "unarmed forces" was directly led by big business organizations and spokesmen such as the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association (TUSIAD) and the Union of Chambers of Commerce (TOBB). The Turkish Trade Union Confederation (Turk-Is), and the Revolutionary Trade Union Confederation (DISK)..."

This shows that because the state pictures itself as a fictional character, there are many advocators and supporters who suppose themselves defenders of this state. In this way, they draw borders in which citizens speak, hear, walk, etc... There are produced languages and knowledge and you are evaluated according to whether you are loyal to these rules and structure or not, as it became a fact in February 28 process.

As a conclusion, as Aretxaga says, "I want to suggest that the state, whatever that is, materializes not only through rules and bureaucratic routines(Foucault) but also through a world of fantasy thoroughly narrativized and imbued with affect, fear, and desire, that make it, in fact, a plausible reality."

Practical Cases...

There are some important events that are claimed to lead to military intervention in 1997. As we know, the most popular events are "Ali Kalkancı and Fadime Sahin" issue as well "Aczimendi" problem... What do they represent actually? I think that through this picture, the state wanted to standardize its opponents. After this process, many people who have beard and headscarf suffered from views of other people. In this way, the state polarized society and it showed Muslims as an aim...

Allen Feldman mentions about formations of violence and he focuses on "isolation process. He exemplifies his argument so:

"Take Sean Quinn who lives in Ballymurphy. Let's say he was interned in 1970s. You have a fair idea that he has Republican sympathies. He goes to marches; he buys The Republican News. Then his houses start to getting raided all the time and he's lifted. People think to themselves, "He must be up to something". It is the first reaction. He becomes stigmatized. The stigmatization is further enhanced by the regular stopping of him on the street in front of people without asking his name. Now people say, "They know him well." It's not vocalized; it's thought. People's perception of him becomes that he is one who is actively involved. He is open target for harassment. People associated with him get harassed; people he drinks with get harassed. So people began to move away from him, begin to get careful in his company, and he becomes isolated."

Although he exemplifies his argument from Belfast, I think, we saw very similar pictures in Turkey in February 28 process. There were many stories about that people who were beard were exposed to criticisms of some people who claimed themselves as secular and they became open target for violence. Actually, for this part, the state practiced its violation by isolation, segregation, exclusion process.

In that time, students of Imam Hatip High School have become target because of their preferences. Military and its unarmed forces have always targeted 'fundamentalist'(!) Muslims and always described their features. In this way, there existed some pictures about these Muslims in the mind of any normal person. When Deana Taylor emphasized 'standardization' process in nation-states, he pictures men and women in educational system: "Males: Short Hair, Ears Visible, No beard, Classic Trousers, Jacket, Shirt, and Tie; Females: Hair pulled back, white apron covering shirt, blouse or sweater, shirt buttoned at the neck or white undershirt. If trousers are worn, they must be navy blue; no makeup".

Although we can mention standardization of nation-states, I want to focus on the standardization of target group at that time. After military intervention, there is interesting atmosphere in which people always blacken religion and its representatives. In Zulfi Livaneli's concert, audiences have shouted slogans as "Kemalists are here, where is Erbakan?" On the other hand, some speeches, that were against secularism and have been actualized seven years ago, have been published again...

Moreover, we can see some similarities between Feldman's Butcher's case and February 28 case:

"In the Butcher's case the tortured and disfigured body encapsulated the spectacle of collective Catholic holocaust. The encoded body and killing zone became sites of a transaction where residual historical and political codes and terror and alterity were fused, thus transforming these sites into repositories of a social imaginary. These invested surfaces have the semic and sensory potential to trigger the sickening slide of reality into historical otherness."

In February 28 period, some regions have been labeled and stigmatized; in this way, there existed hostility against to aggrieved people. There was regulation about continuous education for 8 years because they wanted to eliminate Imam Hatip High Schools. As a reaction to this decision, many people began to pray in Eyup Sultan mosque every morning. At that time, one general said that "If these protests continue, we will do whatever Ataturk do". After this speech, many 'secular' people began to stigmatize this region and there became many events about this issue.

After this period, headscarf has been banned in universities. This means that state has renewed its power through practicing its law in every region of life and using violence against people who do not obey to these laws. Many people began to be interned because of participation to these protests. Actually, many processes that have lived in February 28 process have similarities events that have lived in Ireland. I think, here, we should again give an ear to Feldman:

"On August 9, 1971, the Northern Ireland government introduced internment. In a series of predawn house raids the British army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary(RUC) arrested 342 Catholics who were supposedly active Republicans and/or secret members of IRA. In fact IRA leaders and membership, having been forewarned about the internment order, largely evaded arrest. Because the selection of internees was based on out-of-date or inaccurate Special Branch files, numerous men, uninvolved in paramilitary activity and in numerous cases politics of any kind, were arrested and in instances subjected to violent interrogations. Within six months of the initial internment order a total of 2,357 people, mainly Catholics, have been interned. Internment rapidly became a technique for confining 'suspected terrorists' against whom court convictions could be obtained (Hillyard 1983:37; McGuffin 1973:86-87)"

In February 28 process, almost the same process has been actualized. Many people who participated protests and/or did not send their daughters to school because of headscarf problem and/or people who were very active in Islamic activities and wanted to live under the shariah laws have been interned and even, polices and soldiers raided these people's home in the night and they remained in prisons for some months. This was a very psychological pressure for these people. Maybe, the state was saying if you do not obey our rules and laws, we provide 'just order' by violence... This was very legitimate means for them.

Because the state saw this process as a very dangerous period for its future, it began to fight against these Muslims who want to live Islam as a lifestyle very dimensionally. In this way, they aimed to eliminate all dangerous ideas. For example, after long period, for the first time, "Worship/Praying in Turkish language" event has been become an agenda in National Security Council (MGK). In addition to this, "evolution" part has been added to Religion course books. In this period, unarmed alliances have always advocated these regulations because they also saw these events as a threat of regime. So, here we can again understand that the state is very effective in order to be internalized its 'language' and 'knowledge' to society. There are also many similar events about these regulations, but I want to focus the role of media rather than repeating these annoying events.

The Role of the Media

When we talk about prohibition and media and visual elements' effect on implementation of these "don't"s, we can mention again Ireland example:

"To assist in the task of developing a new cultural interpretation, a list of don'ts instructed "citizens living in a new age". The new militarized semiology insinuated itself seamlessly into daily life. This was, as the indications show, a negative space in which do disappeared and everything multiplied into an endless series of don't. This was the world in which anything that wasn't obligatory was prohibited. Road signs, showing a military silhouette bearing arms, warned drivers: "Don't stop or the guard will open fire". Public space itself had been transformed into a non-stop zone."

Actually, there is no psychical war in February 28 process and many practices mentioned above did not actualize in Turkey directly. But, we have witnessed very similar visual elements at that time. For example, I am remembering that there were boards in front of officer's club and there were two different pictures; one represents secular idea and the other represents Islamic idea. While, they always blackened people who want to live under Islamic law, at the end of the picture, there are execution picture that have been practiced by Ataturk against to Imams, mollas.

In addition to this, media has become very influential in order to canalize people against these rebellious people. As it always become, media amplified feelings of fear from shariah throughout the public sphere- many ads, reports, and new items reiterated this dominant message which military officer wanted to emphasize it. As Hilal Kaplan, from Taraf daily newspaper, "there were no 'alternative' media organs in the Feb. 28 process. All media organs were supporters of a coup d'état."

There were some popular words; secularism and reactionaryism are two of them... And also there are some influential media groups such as Dogan Group and they have shaped their titles according to demands. Can Ataklı explains this reality in his confession about February 28 period: "Many newspapers have shaped their titles with the commands of some generals. When we went to generals, they were saying agenda and even, one day, generals said that you will prepare your title and transmit it from our language".

As I said above, public opinion against the RP was inflamed with the help of the secular media, particularly the Dogan Media Group (DMG). An article published by the Economist in 2002 explained, "Aydin Dogan [the owner of DMG], Turkey's leading media magnate, and the chief object of Mr. Erbakan's ire, helped to accelerate his downfall through a sustained anti-Islamist campaign in his newspapers and television channels."

For example, Emin Colasan mentioned about dinner between three generals and three journalists in January 19. According to him, these generals have explained which dates they will operate to 'fundamentalist' Muslims... They were producing always imaginary news about the process and people who were active in Islamic activities. This has become very debatable issue only after 5 years of this military intervention. With the help of these titles, people began to reshape their mentality about their neighbours. People prefer to judge these people by trusting these newspapers rather than asking to their neighbours.

If we think from the perspective of these Muslim people, we can easily see that they were exposed to subordination, stigmatization processes, so they witnessed influential psychological problems. Actually, this process was breaking-point because the state has used all the forms of violence such as psychological, psychical torture in prison or internment period... They were/are criminal because they wanted to exit out of the borders of state's language and knowledge. In this way, law-making violence punished the law-breakers with law-preserving violence. But, law-breakers did/do not finish. Although some of the people who 'deserve'(!) this violently period because of their practices prefer to change their ideas and lives, the others prefer to remain as a 'criminal', even in the form of more and more radical... So, after from this point, I want to focus on the effects of state terror over people...

Effects of State Violence...

Veena Das, in her "Life and Words" studying, focuses on the violence and how its internalization actualizes throughout the process. She looks at the lives of people who were exposed to violence and tries to find their reactions in ordinary life. When we look at the effects of February 28 process, I can see two opposite reactions to this period. I prefer to exemplify one side by AKP and other side by conscientious objection of Enver Aydemir.

As Sinan Ikınci says, in 2001 the AKP was formed under the leadership of Erdogan as a split from the main Islamist party and the "old guard." Along with sharp shifts within the Turkish population in general, the wing with Islamist sympathies had also changed profoundly. Under the conditions created by liberalization, and the globalization of production, Istanbul has also entered the sphere of finance capital. Based on this objective development, the AKP distanced itself from the traditional line of the Turkish Islamist movement doctrine and adopted a very friendly approach to the West and global finance capital. At the same time, the AKP has sought to further the interests of the Islamist wing and has steadily undermined the hegemonic position of the "secular" wing of the ruling class.

Actually, advocators of AKP has realised that they do not struggle with this system, so they prefer to integrate to the system and change it very carefully. But, this is not so because they, firstly, internalize the state violence which was very effective over them in February 28 process. They abandoned their 'shariah' demand and they tried to live in these times by forgetting their past.

On the other hand, there are some people who prefer to continue their ordinary lives with original ideas. In this way, they always become potential threat for the state because although many people have been tortured in prisons, they are still shouting their slogans, ideas. According to media, this group is more and more fundamentalist in compared to past because they want to break law system of the state intentionally. Of course, the state will not accept it, so they will be exposed this terror again.

"Enver Aydemir had declared his conscientious objection on 24 July 2007 after being forcefully taken to the Bilecik 2. Gendarme Commandership to perform military service. Refusing to serve in a secularist military because of his religious convictions, Enver was arrested and transferred to Erzurum 1. Tactical Air Force Commandership Military Prison on 31 July 2007 where he was physically attacked and forced by 10 soldiers to wear the military uniform. Enver Aydemir was imprisoned in Erzurum for more than two months while awaiting trial on insubordination charges. There he suffered physical ill treatment on more than one occasion. He was released at the trial session on 24 October 2007 and ordered to report to the military unit in Bilecik. Since he was released without the accompaniment of soldiers, Enver Aydemir never reported to the military unit and went home instead."(wri-irg.org)

So, when we compare the effects of state violence on the same period's people, we can see their different experiences very clearly. I think, we should focus on their backgrounds rather than changing in their ideas in order to understand and explain these differences.

And Today...

As we mentioned above, after Sledgehammer(Balyoz) case and especially after September 12 Turkish Constitutional Referendum, the effect of the military in Turkey has decreased very dramatically. In this way, decisions taken by the military council in Feb. 28 period has begun to change.

According to Gulay Gokturk, a columnist for the Bugün daily, "Military tutelage is becoming a thing of the past. ... From now on, military commanders will be aware that the stars they carry on their uniforms will not prevent them from appearing before the judge. And they will act accordingly. The military will move back to its barracks and get accustomed to being criticized if it falls short of fulfilling its duties. ... None of this will happen in a day or two. We will experience much turmoil. We will spend much time and energy. But we will never witness a step back from our position"

On the other hand, "Debate over EMASYA, which has been harshly criticized for allowing the military to conduct operations and intelligence gathering in cities without the approval of the civilian administration, was signed after the Feb. 28 [1997] postmodern coup between the General Staff and the Interior Ministry and it enabled the armed forces to intervene in social incidents without a directive from a governor's Office, flared in 2010 after a retired general confessed to having drafted a plan to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government." (globalsecurity.org) After these developments, EMASYA protocol was annulled.

So, today, the picture is different and this changing picture are deserved to be discussed as a subject of different analysis. But, we can say that the atmosphere, today, in Turkey 2011 is not the same with the atmosphere in 2010.

As Hilal Kaplan says, "Now, however, there are many press organs that stand against coups. ... In short, there is a clear political stance against coups and people are raising their voices against a prospective military takeover. Therefore, I believe Turkish society is more 'organized' against coups when compared to Feb. 28"

As we mentioned, there are more hopeful changes in Turkey and maybe, for the first time, the victims of February 28 period feel that they will be able to call pro-coup mindset to account. We prepared a different analysis for the changing structure of militaristic atmosphere in Turkey and we focused, in that analysis, on the dynamics of this process and the meaning of this shift in terms of the changing structure of secularism in the world.

Maybe, reading this analysis together with the other analysis about "The victory of civil authority in Turkey?" can be very effective.

Last Mod: 08 Mart 2011, 11:24
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