The 1980 Coup in Turkey: A History of the Present

By Asli Z. Igsiz
Submitted to Session P6450 (Marking Violence: Archives, Media, and Regime Change in Contemporary Turkey, 2021 Annual Meeting
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Public discussions on the failed coup of July 15, 2016 in Turkey often address the putsch attempt as the triumph of the civilian governmentality against militarism. But in fact, the current configuration of political legitimacy relies heavily upon the authoritarian institutions, legislation and discourses established during the 1980 military coup. Arguably the bloodiest coup d’état that succeeded in Turkey, the 1980 coup drastically changed Turkey’s socio-political landscape. Deeply hostile against dissidence and difference, the junta altered the country’s economic, political, social, cultural, educational, and legal infrastructure in the name of securing law and order. Within this framework, a series of population engineering projects were launched, promising national unity, stability, and social order. The detrimental impact of the 1980 coup is yet to be examined beyond the teleology of civilian/military or secular/religious divides.

How are the legacies of the 1980 coup engaged today? What is at stake in such engagements that often appear to circumvent the broader implications of this military coup ideologically and transnationally? Drawing from parliamentary records, legal documents, military publications, propaganda pamphlets, 1980 junta’s leader Kenan Evren’s speeches, newspapers, national culture reports, statistics, and political debates, this paper explores the broader implications of militarism, its ideological ramifications, and the legacies of the 1980 coup in contemporary Turkey. Through textual, legal, and visual analysis of these sources, the paper argues that the 1980 coup has reached its logical conclusion today. Within this framework, the paper identifies key methodological problems in the academic engagements of the 1980 in the present, and proposes a “history of the present” approach to reconsider the detrimental legacies of this coup d’état--as an ongoing process.