ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Kenan Evren, the Turkish general who led a 1980 coup that ended years of violence but whose rule unleashed a wave of arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings, died on Saturday. He was 97.
The ailing former general who later ruled as president for seven years, died at Ankara’s GATA military hospital, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported, hours after he was placed on a respirator and his family was called to his side.
Evren was hailed as a hero at the time of the coup for ending fighting between rightists and leftists that left some 5,000 people dead and put the country on the brink of a civil war. But he later became one of the country’s most controversial figures, remembered more for the torture of former militants and their supporters and for introducing a constitution that restricted freedoms and formalized the military’s role in politics. Turkish political leaders are today still scrambling to change the constitution he helped institute.
Last year, Evren was convicted of crimes against the state and sentenced to life imprisonment, becoming the first general to be tried and convicted for leading a coup in Turkey which has a history of military takeovers.
The trial was made possible after the Islamic-rooted government of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured constitutional amendments in a 2010 referendum. It was intended as a showcase trial that would help put an end to the military’s interventions once and for all.
Too frail to attend the trial, Evren testified from his hospital bed and said: “We did what was right at the time and if it happened today we would carry out a coup again.”
Evren, the head of the Turkish military, sent tanks rolling through the streets at 4 a.m. on Sept. 12, 1980, wresting power from a civilian government that was unable to keep order. It was the country’s third coup since 1960.
A vast majority of Turks welcomed the coup at the time. In urban centers, soldiers dismantled checkpoints manned by militias. Civilians were no longer afraid to send their children to schools and the economy, which had nearly ground to a halt, had a chance to recover.
But soldiers also rounded up some 650,000 people, most of them leftist militants. Torture was common and at least 299 people died in the jails.
Evren said that torture was not sanctioned by the military.
“It may have happened but neither the (military-appointed) government nor the (military) council gave a directive for torture, torment or oppression,” Evren said in a documentary on the coup.
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