1980 Military Intervention: Economic and Political

Military intervention and political and economic restructuring
The military takeover began on Friday,
September 12 1980 shortly after midnight.
Tanks and armoured personnel carriers rolled
into major cities throughout the early hours
of morning. Troops set up barricades at
major intersections, while military police
searched for persons marked for arrest.
Soon the state radio broadcasted Military
Communiqué No.1 that explained the
rationale of the coup. The aims of the coup
were expressed as preserving the integrity of
the country, restoring national union and
togetherness, averting a possible civil war,
re-establishing the authority of the state and
eliminating all the factors that prevent the
normal functioning of the democratic order.
constitution, outlawed all political activity and
declared martial law throughout the country.
The military government institutionalised as
the National Security Council (NSC), dissolved
the parliament and government and assumed
all legislative and executive powers.
The Turkish ambassador in Rome, Admiral
Bülent Ulusu was appointed premier and
formed a cabinet consisting chiefly of
civilians. Kenan Evren, Chief of the General
Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces became the
head of state.
Three days after the coup, the army headed to
factories where rumours of protests circulated.
More than 50, 000 workers were on strike since
July. The military ordered them to give an end to
strike and go back to work while the employers
were forced to mandatory wage concessions.
At this stage, many union leaders and rank and
file cadres were already in jail and army units
were stationed in many key plants. Consequently,
few clashes occurred and nearly all workers
returned to work.
The junta imposed censorship and many
newspapers were banned and journalists
imprisoned. Following the closing down of
several newspapers and periodicals, the
newspaper editors chose to exercise selfcensorship and avoided printing news or
editorial comments that were critical of the
government’s policies to avoid these
Mayors and city council were removed from
their posts and military officers took charge
of running the main cities. 150 trade union
offices, dozens of political party offices, all
professional and cultural associations and
other groups were closed. Arrests continued
in every city and region, but especially in the
Kurdish region of the east, where the junta
sent military reinforcements.
The first executions were carried out in October
1980. By the end of the military regime the
number of executions reached 48. The period of
detention without trial was extended to 90 days.
Between September 1980 and February 1983
over 60,000 people suspected of terrorism and
illegal political activities were arrested. In this
period, 800 people went missing, 300 people
died “suspiciously” and 171 people’s death from
torture has been confirmed via documents.
acknowledged arrests that took place
between September 1980 and February 1983.
54 percent of the arrests were classified as
leftists, 25 per cent as unknown, 14 percent
as rightists and 7 percent as Kurdish
The 12 September process can be best described
a simultaneous
authoritarianism and economic liberalism. On the
one hand, the wrath of the junta fell on the
political parties, trade unions, bureaucrats and
restrictions as part of the political restructuration
On the other hand, the military regime carried
out structural adjustment policies in an
environment where all groups that could
potentially resist these economic policies were
All political parties were dissolved and 240
politicians were banned from politics for five
to ten years. Thus the Turkish political
landscape was totally devoid of any legal
party activity between late 1981 and early
Apart from banning all political parties and
their leadership cadres from politics, the
military rewrote the constitutional, legal and
electoral rules governing the Turkish political
The 12 September coup was a de-politicisation
operation that targeted the entire society. The parties
were organised in such a way as to prevent their links
with associations, trade unions, co-operatives,
According to this logic, voluntary associations were
meant to be non-political and limit their activities to
those directly connected with the purposes for which
they have been established. This operation also
required crushing every manifestation of dissent from
the left, including revolutionaries, social democrats
and trade unionists. The extreme right, represented
by the Nationalist Action Party, was also crushed.
The junta also undertook measures to bring
the civil service under tighter control. At first,
the military regime experimented working
with the existing civil bureaucrats. Towards
the end of 1981, there were signs that largescale purges were in prospect. Martial law
commanders across the country were
empowered to remove or reassign civil
servants under their jurisdiction at their
Regarding the universities, the Constitution legalized
the centralization of university administration under
the Higher Education Council which meant that the
universities lost their administrative and financial
autonomy by being attached to the president through
the Higher Education Council Higher Education
Council was designed to prevent the excessive
politicization of the universities throughout the
The students and the faculty members were banned
from participating in political organizations while a
number of professors were expelled from the
universities due to their alleged or real involvement in
“subversive” activities prior to the coup.
On the other hand, junta’s political authoritarianism should
assume responsibility for the rise of Kurdish problem in the
1980s. The military regime tried to “solve” the Kurdish Problem
through the use of violence.
The PKK was one of the weakest political groups when the 12
September Coup had taken place. There were other political
groups, such as Özgürlük Yolu (The Route to Freedom) that was
very influential. In the words of Oral Çalışlar “PKK was the
Kurdish alternative for violence, whereas Özgürlük Yolu was the
alternative for peace”.
Through the violence exerted in the South East region and the
torturing of Kurdish intellectuals, the 12 September regime
contributed in the repression of the peace alternative among the
Kurds. It thereby entrenched the violent alternative within the
Kurdish Population. Hence, PKK capitalised on the frustration of
the Kurdish People and entrenched its own position.
The hallmark of this period was the political
authoritarianism that aimed the de-politicization
of the entire society. In this frame, the most
severe pressure was experienced by the labour
unions. The impact of the coup on the labour
unions has been severe.
Although the major labour confederation Türk İş
was allowed to survive, the activities of DİSK were
suspended on the very first day of the coup.
administration on 14 September prohibited all
strikes and lockouts until new instructions.
DİSK was tried in a military court until April
1991, when article 141 of the Turkish
organisation, the crime attributed to DİSK
itself, was repealed. The Military High Court
of Appeals overturned the decision of lower
court to close down DİSK and acquitted the
DİSK leadership in 1991.
What was the bourgeoisie’s relationship to the
24 January 1980 decisions reflected a will to
restructure the economy in the general direction
advocated by TÜSİAD. The military banned all the
parties and civil society organizations but TUSİAD
was an exception. The junta regime sent a group
of TÜSİAD representatives to Washington to give
the message that it will remain loyal to structural
adjustment policies.
In October 1981, the NSC appointed a
consultative assembly to draft a new
Constitution. Unlike the 1961 constitution
when a constituent assembly made up of
civilians had deliberated the rewriting of the
constitution, the newly drafted 1982 did not
representatives of political parties and
interest groups.
As part of the political restructuration process,
the 1982 Constitutional Referendum has been
carried out within strict circumstances. The 1982
referendum followed a one-sided campaign
conducted by General Kenan Evren, the head of
state and chair of the NSC.
The criticism of the speeches made by Evren in
his pro-constitution campaign was banned with
an NSC decree. The decree also prohibited the
expression of any views intended to influence
voters’ decisions.
Furthermore, the 1982 constitutional referendum
was combined with the election of the president
of the republic. A “yes” vote for the constitution
would automatically mean that General Evren
(the sole candidate) would be the President for a
seven year period.
Under these circumstances, the referendum was
held on 7 November 1982. Voter participation
was 91.27%, 91.37 percent of voters affirmed
the Constitution whereas 8.63% were negative.
The 1982 constitution provided for an
enlarged role for the military in politics in the
form of the National Security Council.
This council would consist of the president of
the republic as presiding officer, the prime
minister, the chief of the general staff, the
ministers of foreign affairs, interior, and
defence, and the commanders of land, air and
naval forces and the gendarmerie.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the
1982 Constitution was its restructuring the
executive. The 1961 Constitution had been loyal
to the superiority of the legitimacy principle
whereas 1982 Constitution increased the powers
of the executive.
The changes in the internal structure of the
executive is also remarkable. Two tendencies can
be observed: the increase in centralization and
the expansion of the power of the Presidency.
Furthermore, the 1982 Constitution brought forth
provisions that aimed to discipline the working class.
According to the Article 52 of the Constitution of 1982,
the unions could not have “political aims”, they could not
engage in political activities, support political activities or
receive support from them . The Unions Law issued in
1983 further contributed in the curtailing of the workers
Unions are defined in terms of narrow economic demands
of workers. Such kind of a definition excludes pursuing
action in the name of democratic rights and freedoms.
According to Articles 37 38 and 39 of the Unions Law of
1983, unions cannot engage themselves with politics,
unions can not deal with trade, unions can not make
meetings in issues other than those related to their own
specific aims.
Thus, by imposing strict control over all the
potential sources of opposition, namely the
political parties, trade unions and the press, the
coup made it possible to achieve the policy
objectives of the stabilization package. 24
January decisions were mainly introduced to curb
the growth of domestic demand.
Domestic demand was restrained by a
combination of contractionary fiscal and
monetary policies in order to generate excess
capacity that was intended to meet the external
The success of this policy depended on two
things; the existence of the products that could
be exported and the slackening of the internal
prices. On the other hand, it was believed that
inflation derived from the demand pressure and
especially the increase in wages and deficits of
Public Sector.
Due to these reasons, an anti-inflationist policy
was formulated which was based on the one
hand on the suppression of wages, and on the
other, the overcoming of SEE deficits through
continuous price increases.
Turkey’s way out of the deepening crisis of the world
economy of the late 1970s turned out to be further
integration into the world capitalist economy. The aim of
the economic transformation and the new strategy of
capital accumulation was to specialise in low-value added,
labour-intensive industries in conformity with the role
Turkey was allocated in the world economy.
In this frame, in 1980 Turkey emerged as the “test case”
for the newly instituted World Bank-IMF joint programs
involving “cross-conditionality”. During the 1980-1984
period, Turkey received five successive structural
adjustment loans (SALs) from the World Bank whereas the
IMF’s stand-by agreements was for an unprecedented
three years and was extended for a further one year in
In an environment where the unions and left wing movement was
severely repressed, labour has borne the whole burden of the
economy’s adjustment to the export-oriented growth model.
Silencing of dissent gave the state a free hand in fulfilling the
necessity to appropriate a greater amount of surplus value
dictated by internationalization.
As international competition assumed growing importance for
capital tending to become internationalized, the contradictions
between the working class and capital was intensified. Starting
from 1980s, the state has been responsible of various acts that
resulted in a fundamental change of balance of class forces in
Turkey. As a result, labour’s position increasingly deteriorated
through the prevention of unionization, suppression of wages
and the flexibilization of the labour markets.
Furthermore, the tax policy that was adopted in
the early eighties was in conformity with the
export- oriented strategy of contracting the
internal demand. While the tax burden on the
wage-earners increased, taxes levied on the
corporate enterprises were visibly decreased with
an intention to contribute to new investments
and the capital accumulation process.
Yet, this measure would fail to produce the
expected result. Despite the tax burden on
capital being released, there was no considerable
increase in the investment in post-1980 Turkey.
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