“The former owner of a media group has said Turkish newspapers published lies under orders from the military during Turkey’s Feb. 28, 1997 period, saying he is willing to testify in front of prosecutors, who on Thursday issued arrest warrants for 31 generals accused of orchestrating the coup.
Dinç Bilgin, a businessman who was the owner of the Sabah newspaper at the time, said Feb. 28 generals relied heavily on the media to manufacture stories about a growing Islamist threat and that there was a lot of pressure on newspaper owners and editors at the time. “I see the new developments as a very positive step forward. The military at the time saw itself as the hegemon of the country. They saw themselves as above all the country’s constitutional agencies.”
He said the media, as well as academia and the judiciary and other segments of society, were under significant pressure from the military. Bilgin also noted that he would be happy to testify and share what he knows about the Feb. 28 era with prosecutors or judges.
Bilgin said during the Feb. 28 period, he met once with generals Çevik Bir and Erol Öskasnak, who complained about Sabah’s staff, saying they were not doing enough to assist the military. “I was invited to the General Staff headquarters in Ankara. Chief of the General Staff İsmail Hakkı Karadayı invited me for dinner. Before dinner, we sat together with Çevik Bir and Erol Ökasnak in a room. It was a very unpleasant conversation. They complained about Sabah columnists. They complained because the writers weren’t writing the things they wanted to see. I tried my best to explain that newspapers don’t work like the military; however, at the time, it was impossible to explain this to those people. Being a strong media mogul, I gave snide, arrogant replies. It was very unpleasant.”
He said the press, instead of fighting a democratic struggle, published untruthful stories to instill fear about the imaginary threat of rising Islamism that the military had said it was committed to fighting. “After the media, the generals’ strongest ally was the judiciary. Think about the prosecutors of the day. If you opposed them, you would end up in front of Nuh Mete Yüksel,” he said, referring to the chief prosecutor of the State Security Courts (DGM).
Bilgin said some people that the media reported on, who appeared to be reactionary Islamists, were in fact hired actors. “I am saying this for the mainstream media. Generally, such stories on Islamic fundamentalism were being published through the Ankara offices. Whoever is the head of the Ankara office usually wants better ties with the General Staff. The military was the strongest institution in the country at the time, so they wanted to get along with them.” Bilgin stated he would be happy to testify and share his knowledge with the prosecutors if summoned.
Rector of Onsekiz Mart University Sedat Laçiner also made a statement evaluating the recent developments. He said the Feb. 28 intervention was a crime that went unpunished. “Because there were ongoing coup attempts inside the military, those responsible for the Feb. 28 and the Sept. 12  coups couldn’t be tried earlier,” Laçiner said.
He said the fact that the Feb. 28 intervention was a military takeover is accepted by both those who staged it and those who were victimized by it. He said there was a clear intervention by the military in the civilian government. “Just like the Sept. 12 coup, Feb. 28 also involved torture and many violations of human rights. This is more than the crime of military intervention; there are also people who have been victimized. People were fired from their jobs with no justification, people were treated as if they were second-class citizens. There are people who were put in a cell and interrogated there, people who were told they would be denied their right to education unless they changed the way they dressed. There are people who killed themselves because they were slandered.”
Laçiner noted that the civilian aides of the Feb. 28 architects kept tabs on hundreds of university students and reported on them regularly to the Higher Education Board (YÖK), saying this was a huge violation of human rights. “Despite the fact that millions of people have been victimized, the guilty ones are freely walking the streets. Letting this go unpunished is tantamount to encouraging the crime. You can’t have any statute of limitations here. This crime at hand is obvious.”