Guardianship cannot be eliminated without destroying coup tradition



Emine Gürsoy Naskali
She was just 10 years old, living in the presidential palace, when she woke up to the sound of the tanks.

She stepped out of her room with fear, and it would only be shortly after that she would understand what was going on. A group of military officers had taken over the administration by carrying out a coup on May 27, 1960. This was the end of the road for her grandfather, Celal Bayar, and prime minister at the time, Adnan Menderes. Emine Gursoy Naskali, along with her family, was taken to Çe?me where she would remain in custody, whilst Bayar and Menderes as well as their colleagues were arrested and put on trial, which would eventually take them to an execution court. The Yass?ada trials were held to convict the Democrat Party (DP)-led government members; the democratically elected government had been overthrown and the military had introduced a guardianship regime.
Bayar had warned the government about a coup plot by nine military officers in 1957. However, the DP did not take the warning seriously; eight out of the nine suspects were released and reinstated in their positions. The juntas went underground. Bayar’s concerns were confirmed three years later on May 27, 1960.

We talked with Professor Naskali about the tradition of coups that began with the May 27 coup. Naskali gave interesting details on the Yass?ada trials and explained why businessman Vehbi Koç had not agreed to be a witness despite requests by DP members. Her most important message, however, suggested that the guardianship regime is not over yet despite growing efforts to address the coup issue. Naskali, who gave the minutes of the Yass?ada trials to researchers, deserves greater attention because of her extensive firsthand experience of the near past of Turkey, her expertise on historical documents from the 1960 period and what she learned from talking with the leading actors of the time.

What would you say about the involvement of the military officers in the Yass?ada trials, in the coups and the prosecution of the military for similar charges today?

The junta carried out the coup and during the period between August 1960 and February 1961; 235 generals and 5,000 high-ranking officers who would not lend support to the coup were expelled from the army. Is this our glorious army or the junta? Those who represented the military after the coup are the same as the post-coup structure that the coup-makers desired. I cannot talk about a normal and regular army after the coup in 1960. In the aftermath of the coup, the military was surrendered to the coup makers.

Are the traces of May 27 still evident in the army?

Some army members see the military as a command party superior to regular political parties. The 1961 Constitution involved the military in politics. It honored the 1960 coup and promoted the idea that coups are a part of the army’s regular job. The military has not gotten rid of the May 27 mentality. It does not say that May 27 was a criminal act, but it makes statements in regards to any issue that does not actually concern it. Chiefs of General Staff make public statements on a variety of issues, including economy and language. They visit storeowners. This is pretty unusual; it seems that the army is unable to interpret the world and Turkey.

How do you perceive the retirements of I??k Ko?aner and three top military commanders right before the Supreme Military Council (YA?) meeting?

The recent resignations, the change in the Supreme Military Council, the ongoing investigation into the coup plots and plans to foment chaos as well as the decisions not to promote the military officers under detention are positive and constructive developments.

Your grandfather Bayar warned the DP government over a likely coup attempt. How would he react to the Ergenekon case now?

He would extend full support for the investigation and ask the authorities to exhibit determination in addressing this issue.

The request by Chief of General Staff I??k Ko?aner and the top military commanders for early retirement did not result in a crisis. Is the era of coups over?

I would not say there is a chance for a coup, but I still have some doubts. The laws are important, but they alone do not resolve the problems. How the military officers are trained in the army is an important issue. They are indoctrinated there that they are the true owners of this country. The officers are raised by this mindset. This needs to be changed. It is a matter of mentality, not a matter of law. The civilians should also see this that way.

What should the civilian administration do about this matter?

They should dominate the military and should not make concessions. They should also get rid of the coup mentality from the Constitution and the laws. All these are fine, but the chance for a coup in Turkey is still not remote in Turkey.

Why is it so difficult to eliminate the guardianship?

They have governed the country with a single-party regime; guardianship means that they come in between individuals and the institutions. It is not all about whether an institution exists or not. Guardianship persists if the people with this mindset are still in that institution.

How is that?

The judges and prosecutors at Yass?ada as well as the interrogators were appointed to the top positions in the justice system after the coup. They have remained in judicial mechanism their whole lives; naturally, they have left indelible marks on the judicial mechanism by picking the members of the judiciary that would replace them. The judicial bureaucracy has been shaped by people who served the coup attempts. The chief judge, Salim Ba?ol, who said, “The power that locked you up here asked for this judgment,” was appointed as a member of the Constitutional Court created by the ’61 Constitution. The chief prosecutor, Altay Egesel, was appointed as a member of the Supreme Court of Appeals. There are a number of other similar cases. The same is in the military. The low ranking military officers from that era have been involved in all coup attempts since.


May 27 was good training for coups; Ergenekon suspect Hur?it Tolon filed a lawsuit against me, arguing that I was influencing the trial process because I had made a statement. I said this: Tolon said he was a cadet during the coup. But he moved to the War Academy right after the coup. Where are the two years in between? In Ankara, the War Academy. What does the War Academy represent? The coup; the commander of the War Academy was executed in 1962. Why? Because he attempted to stage a coup against [?smet] ?nönü; I am drawing attention to the atmosphere within the War Academy.

Do the military and the judiciary have coup supporters?

It should be noted that there have always been coup attempts; the army has such a tradition. It strongly affects the military. Huge progress has been made with the referendum. The provisions on military guardianship have been amended. But not everything has been fixed. The coup tradition should be addressed properly. Defending the coup supporters in some courts goes to show that this mentality is still around in the military.

What did you feel when reading the minutes of the Yass?ada trials?

This hurt me. I was hurt really badly reading the minutes; I was deeply hurt by the fact that these people, who had served extensively for the people and the nation, had been tortured. There were horrible things back then. Why did you kill the finance minister? Well, you executed the foreign minister because he was tough on the military. What was the fault of [Hasan] Polatkan? It is not possible to understand it.

How were the trials held? What was the most interesting thing in the minutes?

The fate of the trials in Yass?ada, ?mral? and Kayseri were all decided before they began. They had already made up their minds who they would execute and who they would send to jail. They did not insert any information that would help the DP; the lawyers tried to call ?nönü, but the prosecutor and judges did not accept the motion, arguing that he was such a noble man that he could not be called to the court for testimony. However, his name appeared in all the cases. Businessman Vehbi Koç was also not summoned as witness. One of the accusations against the DP was that they contributed to the increase in the wealth of their supporters. For this reason, the DP lawyers called Koç as witness. He did not show up, saying he had a business meeting in Italy.

Why was Koç asked to give testimony in court?

The indictment stated that the DP government put pressure on the people and that the DP allegedly threatened to grant loans for its supporters alone. However, Vehbi Koç from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) received the greatest amount of loans during DP rule. He was asked to confirm this fact in court. Koç was a registered member in the CHP, but he later resigned. Again, they argued that the DP had forced him to do this. But the reason for his resignation was not that.

What was it?

Vehbi Koç relied on imports. Hasan Polatkan sent him a message saying that he had not implemented any project that would improve industrial production. Koç became concerned about this because what he really needed to make industrial investments. Back then, he was about to decide to become involved in the automotive industry. But it was difficult for him to do this with his CHP identity. In order to avoid this disadvantage, he stripped off his political identity by resigning. But he has always been close to the CHP.

The DP was also accused of introducing a dictatorial regime in the country?

The same happens now as well. A DP deputy said in his defense, “A government that would introduce a dictatorial regime requires armed forces.” It is certain that the military was not backing up the DP. The police was half the size of the Paris police department back then. The total number of police staff was insufficient to create a dictatorial regime in the country. A review of the other dictatorial regimes shows that they have strong party organizations, youth assemblies and local branches relying on violence. The DP did not have such organizations. The youth organization was assembled as an attempt to imitate the CHP. Otherwise, the government members would not have been summoned and taken to Yass?ada within half an hour.

Why do some circles and the CHP still defend the Ergenekon-like groups facing charges over coup attempts?

They are pleased with these illegal groups. They want the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to be overthrown and some of its members to be executed.

The Yass?ada decisions are still out there; what should be done about it?

May 27 has not yet been confirmed as a criminal act. Most people condemn the coup. The judicial decisions taken during this period should be declared invalid. Their crimes should be confirmed. But how would this happen? The families of the victims should file a petition or motion for the annulment of the decisions of the Yass?ada courts. Such a process may work. A special court was set up, but this is a coup court. Most of the staff were military judges and prosecutors. There is no such court anymore. A legal process may be initiated to annul the decisions of a nonexistent court. This should be given a thought.

I??k Ko?aner was also in the drill in Yass?ada. The military officers who carried out the May 27 coup were well trained. These officers were appointed to the key posts in the military councils, where the civilians had no voice. These officers played extensive roles in the Sept. 12, Feb. 28 processes, the Ergenekon and Balyoz coup attempts. Some commanders currently facing trial in the Ergenekon case assumed roles in the processes, where the DP members were persecuted and tortured during the coup in 1960. ?smail Hakk? Karaday? attended the rally held by War Academy cadets 60 years ago. ?lker Ba?bu? was in the Land Forces War Academy, which played a key role in the coup attempt on Feb. 22, 1962.

Before the start of the Yass?ada trials, in June 1960, an announcement was made at the Kuleli Military School, calling on the second graders to appear in official uniforms in the morning gathering and noting that there would be a military drill in Yass?ada. The second graders were called to the drill. The cadets called to the drill included I??k Ko?aner and Veli Küçük. I heard this incident from Professor Mustafa Çetin Varl?k and Professor Metin Karaörs. They were also second graders in Kuleli. They walked out of the school building, boarded a boat in Çengelköy and their IDs were checked at a barracks used as a liaison office in Dolmabahçe; they then boarded another boat. Nobody talked on the boat. When the boat arrived in Yass?ada, they got off the boat and headed to the courtroom. The students took this drill as if they would attend the hearings in the next court session. The details of the drill were all planned, including the distance to be travelled and the time to be spent. But the most shocking exercise was done by the Yass?ada judges and prosecutors. When the students took their seats, the Yass?ada judges and prosecutors appeared in the courtroom, talking to the officers and making the final touches to the fictional hearing.

What did Bayar say about the junta within the army?

“When the incident with the nine officers was exposed in the army, Adnan Menderes got quite upset as prime minister because he thought the army was not involved in political affairs. He believed that Atatürk’s army would not get involved in daily political business and take action against a government elected by popular vote. For Menderes, the army was part of the nation outside of the political domain. It should be under the command of the nation. The prime minister held these views because of his understanding of Atatürk’s constitution and the state ideal. He took care of the incident. But he was so confident that the army would not be involved in politics that he did not go into detail. I found the incident with the nine officers pretty serious. I warned the prime minister and the Cabinet about this issue. The setup included Cemal Y?ld?r?m, who shared his idea of organizing a coup in 1946. Menderes and I had Cemal Y?ld?r?m in Selahattin Güvendiren’s home in ?stanbul where we gave him extensive advice. Apparently, the ambitious officer was not affected by our advice and recommendations and sought additional ventures out of his ambition. The prime minister recalled all this, and he was aware of it. Despite this, he did not initiate a thorough investigation. I likened Menderes to a sad father who did not want to expose the criminal acts of his son. The officers were acquitted; the informant officer was convicted. The prime minister found the appointment of a new defense minister suitable and sufficient to address the whole case…”

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