Saturday, March 03, 2007

Turkey's ex-president Evren probed for Kurd remarks

Reuters - By Gareth Jones

ANKARA, - State prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into ex-president Kenan Evren, leader of a 1980 military coup, over his call for decentralising power in Turkey, the state Anatolian news agency said on Friday. Evren, 88, told the Sabah newspaper this week he favoured giving more powers to the provinces, and he dismissed fears this would embolden Turkey's Kurds -- "our brothers" -- to push for independence.

Ironically, Evren once denied the very existence of Kurds in Turkey, describing them as "mountain Turks" whose name came from the squelching noise their boots made when walking in the snow. After the coup, he restricted the use of the Kurdish language.

Anatolian quoted prosecutor Mehmet Yurtseven in Evren's home province of Mugla as saying: "I have given the necessary order to the relevant departments. We have begun an investigation. If there is a crime, we will do what is needed."

The agency quoted Ayla Kara, head of Mugla's bar association, as saying she thought Evren should be tried for his remarks because they would give a boost to separatist groups.

Under the post-coup constitution drawn up under Evren and still in force, Turkey has a very centralised political system. Calls for redistributing power away from Ankara are rare because of fears this could reignite Kurdish separatism.

Security forces have been battling rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that has claimed more than 30,000 lives.
In his interview with Sabah, Evren said Turkey had nothing to fear from devolving power to the regions.


"They keep saying Turkey's Kurds would declare independence. They would not. Why would they want to secede if they are given the same rights? We must treat the Kurds as brothers," he said.

Evren broke another Turkish taboo in his interview by saying Ankara should accept the reality of an independent Kurdish state in nearby northern Iraq. Turkey fears such a state would fan separatism among its own Kurds and destabilise the wider region.

Turkish media later quoted Evren saying he had never spoken of setting up a "federation" in Turkey.

As leader of the September 12, 1980, military coup, General Evren presided over the jailing of hundreds of thousands of people, the banning of trade unions and a purge of universities. Torture and other human rights violations were widespread.

He has defended those actions, saying Turkey was heading towards anarchy in the late 1970s as leftists and rightists clashed violently in the streets and on university campuses.

From 1982 Evren served a seven-year stint as president. He then retired to Marmaris in the Aegean province of Mugla and took up painting, mostly shunning the political limelight.

Last year, during the funeral of ex-premier Bulent Ecevit, Evren expressed regret about arresting Turkey's political leaders during the military coup.

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