Kenan Evren


A Turkish military officer who assumed his country's presidency by leading a coup. General Kenan Evren led a military coup in Turkey and then imposed the harshest repression in his country's history leading to his trial and conviction more than 30 years later. Turkey had fallen into near anarchy and violence had reached such a peak that it prompted the coup that took place on 12 September 1980. Many Turks welcomed the military intervention. It was even known initially as the 'Coup in Velvet Boots' as no one was killed. Presiding over a five-man junta, General Evren declared himself head of state and imposed martial law. More than 500,000 Turks were jailed on political charges, including many of the country's intellectuals and artists. Torture was common. Tens of thousands of people were removed from their jobs. A roughly equal number fled the country. Newspapers were shut, and dozens of journalists were imprisoned. Prominent politicians were arrested. Parliament was dissolved. Political parties and labour unions were banned. University professors suspected of harbouring liberal or leftist views were dismissed. Turkey's social and economic development under General Evren's presidency did have its admirers. He campaigned for women's rights and abortion was legalized. Industrial development and job creation was rapid, and benefits such a telephones and electrification were brought to impoverished rural areas. General Evren also declared the Turkish-occupied zone in Cyprus an independent state, helping to transform a difficult geopolitical problem into one that has proved intractable. General Evren held the presidency after Turkey returned to ostensible civilian rule in 1983. He remained in office until 1989, but played a diminishing public role and cultivated a fatherly image. He was a symbol of the Turkish army's belief in its privileged role in defending the country's secular inheritance and constitution - and he had long assumed that laws passed when he was in power gave him immunity from prosecution. However, General Evren came under increasing public criticism as military power waned. His political opponents, who now held sway in Turkey, were determined to tame the army. A change in the law enabling prosecution had been approved by referendum in the hope that the showcase trial would help put an end to military's interventions. In 2012, Turkish prosecutors indicted him and the other surviving member of his junta. In 2014, the court found General Evren and his co-defendant guilty of crimes against the state. Both were sentenced to life in prison, and, by military custom, reduced to the rank of private. They served their sentences at home and in hospitals. Avenues named after General Evren in several cities were renamed. Born in Alasehir in western Turkey, what was then the Ottoman Empire, Kenan Evren's parents had been immigrants from Balkans. He was promoted to general in the 1960s and became chief of the general staff in 1978.

Compiler: M. Nauman Khan

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