Feb. 28 this year is the 20th anniversary of what many call the "postmodern coup." The system of tutelage, created by the putschists after the 1980 military coup, took over the reins of government under the threat of violence. The military, through the National Security Council (MGK), forced the government of the day to implement a series of policies, which included economic, political and socio-cultural measures. Under the guise of protecting democracy from reactionism, enormous pressure was imposed on religious individuals and groups. The senior party of the coalition government, the Welfare Party (RP), was shut down a year later in 1998 and its leader was banned from practicing politics. The right to education of students wearing headscarves was rescinded and they were banned from entering universities between 1997 and 2008. The current president and then Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality mayor, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was sentenced to 10 months in prison and lost his post for merely reciting a poem.
Civil society was fettered and every officer with an inkling of religiosity, which included attending prayers or fasting, was fired from the military.
Despite public anger, such measures continued to disenfranchise many. Students who tried to protest the measures were tried. Some prosecutors even asked for capital punishment at headscarf trials. Some universities set up "persuasion rooms" to convince students to remove their headscarves through psychological torture.
The media was the main channel through which society was manipulated during the Feb. 28 coup. Media organs demonized a huge portion of society. Almost every single mainstream media organ at the time got their orders from the military. Apart from a few instances, the mainstream media was united in its condemnation of what the military saw as a danger. The concerns of almost 70 percent of the nation found no room in the media. Only in the last decade has the media gained a multi-dimensional character with multiple voices that reflect the concerns of the majority of the country.
Feb. 28, 1997, is actually the first day of the dramatic transformation Turkey has gone through in the past two decades.The Feb. 28 measures targeted almost 70 percent of the country's population. There had been military coups in the past but never before had such a huge portion of society been victimized so systematically.
Feb. 28 mobilized a previously politically dormant section of society, compelling them to organize as a mass movement to fight the injustice. The selective targeting of such a huge portion of society was destined to spark a reaction, and it did in the form of the current political subjectivity we see in Turkey. Everything possible to eliminate the military's tutelage over the country and facilitate the development of a truly functioning democracy is being done. As we stand now and look back, we see the maturing of a society over the years and the development of the instinctive opposition to military interventions, whether they are through coups or periodic coercion. This maturity was evident on July 15 last year.
Those who planned and launched the July 15 military coup had no idea they would face a huge outpouring of hostility from ordinary people. Feb. 28, 1997, was a historic occasion, after which Turkey would never be the same. However, the change was nothing like the putschists of the time had imagined.
No one can doubt the fact that terrible things happened 20 years ago, but the passage of time has shown that despite the short-term roadblocks, progress toward full democracy never wavered and we are currently at a junction unimaginable in those dark times.
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