February 28: Latest Blow of Cold War-Era Tutelage


We present an assessment on February 28: Turkey’s post-modern coup, by Prof. Dr. Kudret Bülbül, Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences at Ankara’s Yıldırım Bayezıt University.

February 28: Latest Blow of Cold War-Era Tutelage


Exactly 21 years ago on February 28, 1997, Turkey experienced one of the most critical military coups in its recent history.


From Turkey’s perspective, military coups or attempted coups are not isolated incidents in themselves. When we look at the dates of coups in Turkey, we see that we are faced with such attempts approximately every ten years (1960, 1971, 1980, 1997 (February 28), 2007 (April 27), 2016 (July 15).


When it was 1997, and given the latest military coup was carried out in 1980, it could be said that a new military coup was long overdue. However, the situation becomes clearer when we consider that only eight years had passed since putschist general Kenan Evren left power.


Why is Turkey facing the risk of coup attempts every ten years? 

Playmaker countries such as Turkey are not left to their own devices by global actors. Global powers know that when these countries are allowed to do their thing, they would have the potential do achieve a lot. Thus, these countries are kept under constant control. This can be exemplified by the case of Germany; this European nation was imposed a new constitution, and its army and weapons stockpile was limited considerably after attempting to change the global order twice by force.  


Turkey’s potential became evident once more, during the years when its former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was hanged after a military coup. A tutelage system was put in place with the 1961 constitution to keep elected officials in check. Military coups that take place every ten years are actually forceful arrangements to keep a tight rein on our people.


Coups that occur in countries such as Turkey cannot be explained by only domestic factors. Only recently, former CIA director James Woolsey admitted to American meddling in other countries’ election processes, during an investigation launched by prosecutor Robert Mueller on Russian collusion in American elections. Likewise, the American support of 1980 Turkey coup was acknowledged by the CIA Ankara station chief Paul Henze, who, after the government was overthrown, cabled Washington, saying, “Our boys in Ankara have done it.”


Turkey saw significant improvements during 1990s in terms of both economic developments and the level of freedoms and rights, thanks to late President Turgut Özal, who, in my opinion was assassinated. Later on, when RefahYol coalition government, led by late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, was running the country, Turkish economy gained considerable momentum. Should Turkey continued to pursue such a course, the country would have gotten out of control and made its own way.  


February 28 coup took place in such an environment.


February 28 Period

The course of events began with the marching of tanks in Ankara’s Sincan district centre on February 28. This might seem like an ordinary event. However, if you are living in a country whose past is corrupted with horrible incidents such as the surrounding of parliaments by tanks and hanging of prime ministers and ministers, your mind is ready to leap to conclusions, from a seemingly simple tank march.


The process progressed in a similar fashion, anyway. Generals in the National Security Council, a security consultation body that comprises of equal numbers of civilian and military officers, insisted on imposing an action plan on the government. When the true intention of the generals became evident, the whole country lined up as if it was waiting for barbarians to act. Everyone began to perform a sequence of rehearsed moves as the country slipped further into the coup. Judges, bureaucrats and NGOs, one after the other, began to issue General Staff briefings, to tell the Turkish population how grave the “reactionary threat” that the country was facing.


The repercussions…

The process did not end there, of course; what followed that beginning was, an overthrown government, years of instable coalition governments, a great number of people who were detained, lost their jobs, deaths, suicides, and a generation whose youth and future is lost forever…


The result is a country that turned into a military regime, where all gains of basic rights and freedoms were reversed…


A country, whose economy collapsed, as seen in 2002...


A situation where allegations of corruption, plundering and depredation smelled to high heaven…


And After…

February 28 was the last coup d’etat of the Cold War-Era tutelage, carried out by internal and external power groups that sought to keep Turkey under their control. It was clear after this incident, that Cold War-Era tutelage that espoused a nationalitarian ideal, and looked down on the people and their values, would not be able to keep Turkey under control. Due to rising globalization and the communication age, as well as Turkey’s pluralist and multicultural structure, and its democratic experience more or less, Turkey was not to be contained by an old-fashioned Cold War-Era tutelage.   


When we look back, we could say that February 28 succeeded, not in the construction of a Cold War-Era tutelage, but of a new tutelage that seemed at peace with people’s values. For, that era saw the elimination of almost all civilian and religious groups, apart from the group we know as FETO today. Today we understand better that February 28 cleared the ground to a great extent for the upcoming July 15. By eliminating democratic and civilian elements, the process made room for a new tutelage in the making, for FETO terror organization.


That being said, two factors that were miscalculated on July 15, foiled all plans. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s unyielding leadership and our people’s historic resistance in which they put their lives at risk alongside our leader. 250 people were martyred and more than 2000 people were injured on July 15. But, we saved our homeland, our future and our honour. Our people showed to the rest of the world how to turn around a military coup in the most democratic way.


Lessons from February 28

What matters for global actors is not the base the tutelage rests on, but the tutelage itself. Thus, it should not be forgotten that global actors seek a tutelage that would serve their interests, not democracy or human rights in other countries. It does not make any difference for global actors that this tutelage is based on military, religious, secular or nationalitarian legitimacy.  


The antidote to tutelage systems is opening all domains of the system to the people themselves. Opening all domains, overseen by judiciary, high-level bureaucracy and academia, and kept closed to people and politics, is one of the most important methods to push back tutelage systems. A closed and unchecked security bureaucracy is among key elements that give way to tutelage. Thus, supervision inspection and control of security bureaucracy is of paramount importance.


The experience which Turkey gained by paying a high cost, is a guiding light for all nations that wish to pursue an independent, free and proud life.

We presented an assessment on February 28: Turkey’s post-modern coup, by Prof. Dr. Kudret Bülbül, Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences at Ankara’s Yıldırım Bayezıt University.

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