Writer Koru: Road to Feb. 28 was paved with murders, assassinations



Fehmi Koru
The road to the so-called “postmodern coup” of Feb. 28, 1997, was paved with political assassinations and plots, said journalist and writer Fehmi Koru, who has been a close follower of the developments in Turkey’s recent past.

“In order for Feb. 28 to happen in 1997, there needed to be a chaotic situation created in society. Following U?ur Mumcu’s assassination, 1.5 million people were on the streets shouting, ‘To hell with Shariah.’ The society had been divided by fears that Shariah law could be established. All fingers were pointed at some Islamic movements,” he told Today’s Zaman for Monday Talk.
The Ergenekon investigation has revealed that the organization played a determinative role in social upheaval prior to the Feb. 28 process, which started with allegations implying that the RP-True Path Party (DYP) coalition government was not competent to deal with religious fundamentalism.
‘In order for Feb. 28 to happen in 1997, there needed to be a chaotic situation created in society. Following U?ur Mumcu’s assassination, 1.5 million people were on the streets shouting, “To hell with Shariah.” Society had been divided by fears that Shariah law could be established. All fingers were pointed at some reactionary movements’.
Convened in January 1997, high-ranking military officers discussed whether religious fundamentalism had become influential in the country. Labor and business unions, professional organizations and trade associations began speaking out against the government as women’s organizations held rallies to protest what they saw as the return of Shariah and to promote secularism. Then came the General Staff’s briefings on religious fundamentalism and Prime Minister Erbakan was forced to approve decisions of the National Security Council (MGK). Erbakan subsequently resigned, handing over the post of prime minister to Tansu Çiller.
Answering our questions, Koru, who started his career in journalism at the Zaman daily, elaborated on the issue and compared the Turkey of the 1990s to the Turkey of today.
What is the story behind your departure from the Yeni ?afak daily after you wrote there for 12 years? Does it have anything to do with WikiLeaks, as some claim?

It doesn’t have anything to do with WikiLeaks. I was the Ankara representative of Yeni ?afak and had a lot to say about Eric Edelman, who as US ambassador at the time was trying to promote the war in Iraq. I vehemently opposed the resolution in Parliament to allow US soldiers to enter Iraq through Turkey. [The resolution was turned down on March 1, 2003, in Parliament.] The story is that a writer for Yeni ?afak claimed Eric Edelman had a desire to have him fired from the paper at the time, and some Yeni ?afak writers whom Edelman had contact communicated his wish to the owner of Yeni ?afak. There has been no reason for me to think that I was among those messengers because I was not, but there has been talk started that I was one of those people. Then I argued that only the newspaper’s administration would know what went on at the time, and I said that I would not continue to write my columns unless a clear explanation comes from the newspaper management about it. The management said I should continue to write and that they’d make a statement, but I insisted that a statement should come first. I ended up severing my relationship with the paper. Now I am back at the Zaman daily, where I am comfortable.
You’ve seen the period of Feb. 28, 1997. There is now a trial process related to “Ergenekon” probably going back to those years, but currently some more recent military coup plans against the government are in question. Did you think in the 1990s that there would be a trial process in the future?

The Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials are very much related to the political murders that started at the beginning of the 1990s. It started with the assassination of Muammer Aksoy on Jan. 30, 1990. Then such valued people as Bahriye Üçok, Çetin Emeç and U?ur Mumcu were victims of political assassinations that continued with killings of more intellectuals. We also saw the Sivas incident. I always tried to say these were not the work of Islamic organizations, as some circles indicated, but rather they were political acts of some well-organized gangs inside the state. However, a lot of people at the time preferred to lay the blame on the usual suspects, and my explanations about deep state elements seemed absurd.

You had a document in 2001…

It was the first ever document about Ergenekon. I wrote about it in my columns. I’ve been watching this process very closely since 1990. In order for Feb. 28 to happen in 1997, there needed to be a chaotic situation created in society. Following U?ur Mumcu’s assassination, 1.5 million people were on the streets shouting, “To hell with Shariah.” The society had been divided with fears that Shariah law could be established. All fingers were pointed at some reactionary movements. Observant Muslims started to be expelled from the military at the time. The road to the Feb. 28 military intervention had been paved.

Today, tension is still present in society. But there is a different feeling. Would you elaborate on that? What is the difference between today’s Turkey and the Turkey of the 1990s?

There are big differences. First of all, today we have evidence to evaluate what really happened in the past, and we can see some people did not deserve all the blame that was put on them. Fears were created. Today, a lot of people still have fears, but their fears are different than the fears of yesterday. Today, some people fear that the government’s policies might negatively affect their lifestyles. But in the past some people feared that their whole life was going to be threatened by Shariah law. In the past, fears affected not only secular people but also pious Muslims; since they were enemies, they were at the brink of a clash.

Today, there are those called “concerned moderns…”

Their fears are not based on realistic evidence but on political reasons. In addition, Turkey experienced a very serious economic crisis in the early 2000s. People lost their jobs. Today Turkey’s economy has been growing despite the global economic crisis. Moreover, Turkey is more politically stable today than yesterday because we have one-party rule, not fragile coalition governments. Internationally, Turkey has become a more respected country that is consulted on with regard to issues of peace and in crisis situations.

‘About 70 percent of society comes together around common values’

It seems like all parties will fiercely fight to consolidate their power in the June 12 elections, but especially the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Do you think Prime Minister Erdo?an will be able to garner more than 50 percent of the vote, as he hopes to achieve?

My theory since 2002 is that any central party that appeals to a majority of the people in the country is capable of garnering about 70 percent of the vote. All public opinion polls show that when people are asked about the most important values for them, a majority say “more freedoms” in regards to freedom of thought and expression and freedom of belief. Almost 90 percent of society attaches great importance to that. Then come democracy, religiosity, secularism, etc. About 70 percent of society comes together around these values. This is a great chance for Turkey. When we look at the electorate of the AK Party, we see that even though they attach great importance to religiosity, they do not do that by excluding secularism. On the other hand, when we look at the electorate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), we see that even though they attach great importance to secularism, they do not do that by excluding religiosity. If a political party adopts policies that also accommodate the values of more traditional segments, its votes could reach 70 percent. We see that when the AK Party sticks to those values, it increases its votes.

Do you have an example of when this happened?

When we analyze the 58 percent “yes” in the public referendum held on Sept. 12 of last year [concerning a constitutional amendment package] that had a process similar to an election campaign since parties aligned themselves in the “yes” and “no” camps, it was obvious that a majority of the people supported the AK Party’s proposal, and if the AK Party had gone even further on guaranteeing more freedoms, the percentage of the “yes” votes could have been even higher.

What chances do you give to the ruling AK Party and the main opposition CHP in the election?

The AK Party’s votes are likely to be more than 40 percent. When it comes to the main opposition, it had a great chance when it changed its leadership, but we see that it continues to have the same weaknesses under Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu. This is due to two factors; one is that the party sticks to the old policies of the CHP, and the other is that K?l?çdaro?lu was liked more in the past when he was not that well known. Some of the CHP electorate who are “concerned” but not “modern” would probably go to other parties, possibly to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), for these reasons. Although expected to lose some of its electorate, the MHP is not likely to fall under the 10 percent threshold to enter Parliament.

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) is apparently concentrating on carrying at least 20 independent deputies into Parliament.

If the BDP had changed its rhetoric and appealed to different segments of society instead of having a pro-Kurdish agenda, and if it had been able to garner a percentage of the total vote that is close to the 10 percent threshold for parliamentary representation, it could have pushed the government to lower that high and unjust threshold.

During his campaign for the referendum on the constitutional amendment package, Prime Minister Erdo?an promised that he would focus on constitutional change on Sept. 13 if the package received approval. As you said, the approval rate was 58 percent, but the prime minister postponed his promise. What is happening?

It looks like a strange election process because as the nation has never previously been that ready for a constitutional change, none of the political parties are revealing their policies regarding what they foresee for constitutional change. They don’t talk about the specifics of that change. The prime minister says the new constitution will be a “zero-kilometer” constitution. What does that mean? On the other hand, the CHP concentrates its policies as being against the AK Party, and it does not even provide clues as to what ideas the party has on specific issues. K?l?çdaro?lu had a recent meeting in the eastern province of Van, but did not offer any thoughts on how to solve the Kurdish problem. It is not enough for him to say that his party supports the teaching of Kurdish, which is already not a problem in Turkey.

‘The AK Party has no policy to change how people dress’

“When the AK Party came to power in 2002, there were news stories in some newspapers saying that if a woman did not wear a headscarf, she would not be allowed on a bus. It is quite obvious that the AK Party has had no desire to interfere in how people dress, but they are maybe trying to ensure that women who are covered have a place in society.”

‘Kingdoms, emirates will have to change’

“Democracy will reign in the region if people make sacrifices. People are currently shaking military regimes, but there are also kingdoms and emirates in the region. Those regimes will eventually change too and become similar to something like the monarchy in the United Kingdom.”

‘The AK Party should understand what is happening in ?zmir’

You’re from the western province of ?zmir, which has been portrayed as a city of “concerned moderns.” What is happening in the city?

The portrayal is not completely true. It’s been a big misperception that ?zmir has always had a left-leaning electorate. Indeed, many political parties of the right started out in ?zmir. ?zmir has always been a place where people of all segments have felt comfortable. The problem is that the AK Party and ?zmir have not been in harmony. The AK Party should become a bit like ?zmir. ?zmir is one of the provinces that receive most of the migrants in the country. These migrants are from provinces in central or eastern Anatolia that support the AK Party, but the AK Party has not been able to win the municipality in ?zmir. It falls upon the AK Party to understand why it cannot garner more votes in ?zmir.

Do you think ?irince will be saved? (?irince is a historical village on a hill near Ephesus set to be demolished on the grounds that the houses were illegally restored. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, however, postponed the demolition in a last-minute decision.)

It should be saved. The town has a distinct character because of the efforts of one person [Sevan Ni?anyan]. The houses, which had been in ruins, were saved. In villages, property development does not have strict rules like in cities. Besides, it is not only about the houses, but about the people of the town. The villagers earn a living because the village attracts many visitors. You can’t demolish buildings just because they were built by somebody whose opinions might not be in line with your own.

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