COUP is made possible by a grant from the New York Council on the
Arts and the Experimental Television Center
A documentary film about the 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997
interventions and coups d'etat in Turkey
Directed by Elif Savas
Produced by Brian Felsen
COUP explores the origins of the militarily-patrolled democratic system created
by Ataturk in the 1920's; the place of the armed forces in the political and cultural life
of the nation; the causes and consequences of each coup d'etat and how they
differ from those in South America and the rest of the world, and the future of the "military democracy."
COUP contains not one word of voice-over narration or one frame of simulated
footage. The film instead weaves together interviews with activists,
politicians, and military leaders with extraordinary archival and personal
footage of the military actions, street demonstrations and extremist activisms.
This enables the film to illustrate the variegated nature of the
current debate in Turkey, interweaving radically differing viewpoints without
passing them through the filter of an overriding narrator. In so doing, the film can remain true to its subject, giving
the viewer visual experience of the devastating impact of the
collision between state and military authority and extreme civil activism, while
providing a hoard of information that goes beyond the mere
Some of the film's interview subjects are Former National Ministers of
Health, the Interior, and Foreign Affairs; authors of the Turkish Constitution;
current and former Members of Parliament; aides to the President and Prime
Minister; military officers; junta leaders; intelligence agents; publishers;
party leaders; extremist activists; former death-row prisoners, and scholars.
Several of the film's interview subjects have never before spoken on film
about their experiences. The filmmakers have brought together for the first time politicians
from all sides of the political spectrum, even the extremes, to talk about
issues of international importance.
COUP is above all an oral history of world-shaping events, and viewers are
able to hear direct testimony from the participants themselves. Several
who participated in the 1960 coup are well into their 80's, making this film a
great chance to preserve their thoughts and a wonderful window into their times.
Already, two of our speakers are no longer with us: General Muhsin Batur (who died in Florence Nightingale Hospital in
Istanbul of natural causes after filming) and journalist Ahmet Taner
Kislali (who was murdered by a car bomb outside of his home shortly after
Never-before-seen photos, documents, audio clips, and film footage from news
services and personal archives form the backbone of the film. The film contains ceremonials with the Ottoman
Pasha from the 1910's; Atatürk speeches from the 1930's; footage from
the army trial resulting in the hanging of Prime Minister Menderes; speeches by
1960 coup leader Turkes; clips of the condemned student leader
Deniz Gezmis; May Day street demonstrations from the
70's and extremist café bombings; the September 1980 coup announcement and the
follow-up elections in 1983; the 1995 rise of the religious Refah party; the
1997 coup by memorandum and closing down of the Refah office; and military press
briefings from 1998.
COUP examines the degree to which abstract ideals (such as "freedom of
speech" and "human rights") are actually applied in a country
facing political exigencies. Even if such rights exist on paper, there are
practical consequences of asserting them in a nation where the stakes are
so high: one of the film's speakers was murdered by a car bomb after filming; some
were jailed for their writings; and some were punished for having spoken with
Amnesty International about their experiences. The film also takes a hard look
at the practical and ethical issues raised when a country takes anti-democratic
measures in its attempt to preserve a democratic system. These implications are
both national, when the military becomes involved in the political process, and
international, when the nation must balance their own needs with those of
foreign governments and world powers.
bas sayfa (Turkce)
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- Turkish version
Why COUP was created
About the filmmakers
Sounds and video
Copyright ©2000 MM Films/ elifsavas.com
All rights reserved.
Elif Savas and Brian Felsen moved to Turkey right during the time of the 75th anniversary of the
Republic. She was looking for a script, and he was writing his
opera. A religious party had come to power a few years earlier in
multi-party elections with just 20% of the vote, which made the political climate
very hot. The government was subsequently taken
down by the military.
As a foreigner, Brian was both surprised and fascinated at the military's
role and the public's regard for the military as guardians of the republic, and
he wanted to explore the secular place of military in Turkish life. The idea of
a "military-patrolled democracy" intrigued him and he wanted to
explore the motivations and consequences of the recurring coups d'etat
that took place there, and how they differed from those happening in other
countries. With Elif's prior experience in film and desire
to understand and explain her country, they decided to make a documentary about
this odd relationship of the nation and its military.
The film was created and edited entirely out of the need to reveal the
complex spectrum of causes and consequences of the coups; as well as the nature
of the political debate raging in Turkey about the future of such a system.
Funding the film by themselves with the help of the New York Council on
the Arts gave the producers the freedom not to have to glorify, promote, or attack the
point of view or interests of any corporation, institution, or nation.
reason, the film is not out to condone or condemn anything at all - not the
secular or fundamentalist movements, the separatist or nationalist causes, the
military or political leaders, the Turkish or American aims, the left or right.
Its purpose is to show the nature, causes, and consequences of the debate that
is carried out every day in Turkey in speech, law, and action. The speakers in
the film hold wildly diverging viewpoints and attitudes, and the goal was to
have all sides speak on camera.
Home (English) DARBE
Bas sayfa (Turkce)
The following 44 speakers appear in the film. You can click on
a thumbnail below to see a larger image of each person.
Turkan Akyol Prof., Hacettepe University; Fmr. Minister of Health
Ishak Alaton CEO, Alarko Holding
Dr. Orhan Aldikacti Author of 1982 Constitution Constitutional Law
Professor, Istanbul University
Oguzhan Asilturk Member of Parliament General Sec., Fazilet Party Fmr. aide
to PM Erbakan
Dr. Toktamis Ates Columnist, Cumhuriyet Prof. of History, Istanbul
Muhsin Batur Fmr. General, Turkish Air Force Fmr. Senator
Mehmet Ali Birand Columnist, Sabah Newspaper Correspondent, Turk CNN
Television host, Show TV
Oral Calislar Author, columnist, Editor, Cumhuriyet Newspaper
Husamettin Cindoruk Fmr. Minister of State Fmr. Head of Parliament Fmr.
Leader, DTP Party
Ilkay Demir Activist; Member, ODP Party Fmr. Member, Revolutionary People's
Necmi Demir Activist; Member, ODP Party Fmr. Member, Revolutionary People's
Tevfik Diker Member of Parliament Secretary-General, DYP
Dr. Sulhi Donmezer Constitutional and Criminal Law Professor, Istanbul
Mehmet Dulger Member, DYP Party Fmr. Adviser to President Suleyman Demirel
Orhan Eren Fmr. Minister of Interior Affairs Fmr. Mayor of Ankara
Raif Ertem Attorney Newspaper Columnist
Ayvaz Gokdemir Parliament Member, DYP Fmr. Minister of State
Dr. Agah Oktay Guner Member of Parliament Vice President of ANAP
Col. Suphi Gursoytrak Pres., Ataturk Thoughts Society; Fmr. Member,
National Unity Committee
Hasan Celal Guzel Undersecretary to Prime Minister Ozal Fmr. President, YDP
Nazli Ilicak Member of Parliament Newspaper Publisher
Ferit Ilsever Publisher, Aydinlik Newspaper
Ahmet Isvan Fmr. Mayor of Istanbul
Col. Suphi Karaman Fmr. Member, National Unity Committee
Atila Kaya Leader, Idealist Hearths Organization
Mahir Kaynak Fmr. Turkish Intelligence Agent (MIT)
Mehmet Kececiler Member of Parliament Fmr. Mayor of Konya
Arslan Kilic Publisher Member, Workers Party
Coskun Kirca Fmr. United Nations Delegate Fmr. Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ahmet Taner Kislali Fmr. Minister of Culture; Member of Parliament;
Ertugrul Kurkcu Reporter, Interpress Service Columnist and Political
N. Mazici Author Political Science Professor Mediterranean University
Mithat Melen Professor of Economics Istanbul University Columnist, Dunya
Aydin Menderes Member of Parliament Son of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes
Nahit Mentese Fmr. Minister of Interior Affairs Member of Parliament
Ceyhan Mumcu Fmr. Deputy Mayor of Ankara Attorney to President Demirel
Brother of writer Ugur Mumcu
Ayse Onal Journalist Reporter, TV Host, Kanal 7
Turgut Ozakman Playwright Fmr. Director of Programming, TRT Radio
Dr. Ergun Ozbudun Turkish Democracy Foundation Professor of Political
Science, Ankara University
Mumtaz Soysal Fmr. Foreign Minister Member of Parliament Columnist,
Bulent Tanor Constitutional Law Prof., Istanbul University Columnist,
Dr. Erdogan Tezic Professor of Political Science Galatasaray University
Zafer Uskul Director of Dept. of International Relations, Mersin
University; Member, CHP Party
Prof. Serap Yazici Constitutional Law Professor Bilgi University
COUP Home (English) DARBE Bas sayfa (Turkce)
in early Republic
Soldiers (Cyprus War)
10, 1980 explosions
12, 1980 coup
1997 army maneuver
of PM Erbakan
future of a military democracy
ELIF SAVAS (Director, Editor) was born in Istanbul in 1970. After
working in Turkey as an opera singer, she moved to the United States in 1994,
where she also sang and won several opera competitions. With a desire to
explore different fields, she also began
working, in 1996, on a variety of independent film productions in NYC. It was there,
with the help of some kind and generous cinematographers, that she learned her
craft, quickly moving up the ranks to become cameraman and then cinematographer.
COUP is her debut film as director.
Click here for an interview with Director Elif Savas
BRIAN FELSEN (Producer, Editor) was born in Los Angeles in 1968.
He played classical piano as a competitor until receiving
degrees at the Wharton School of Business and the Annenberg School of
Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. After college, he
founded and ran an annual international music festival, the Philadelphia Music
Conference. Upon the sale of the business, he attended the Mannes School of
Music and studied composition. While living in Turkey, he composed his
first opera and made the film COUP.
Click here for an interview with Producer Brian
Home (English) DARBE
Bas sayfa (Turkce)
Interview with Director Elif Savas - by Brian Mahoney, Chronogram 12/99
Q: How did you manage to get so many prominent current and former Turkish
politicians to agree to speak to you?
A: "I just cold-called them; I was very honest with them and told them
who I was and why I was interested in this topic. Then they said let me meet
with you so I had to go to everyone's house and I had to talk sometimes for
three hours to make them believe that I was honest and really trying to make a
good film out of this and not just use them and expose them. They weren't
worried that I was a female, a new director; they were scared that I didn't know
enough about Turkish politics because I was too young. For example, a rightist
politician was scared that I would put leftist politicians longer in the film,
so it would become leftist propaganda."
Q: What was it like growing up in Turkey in the 70s at the height of the
civilian unrest and street violence between leftist terrorists and rightist
paramilitary? Did that have a strong affect on your childhood?
A: "I was never scared to be on the streets; maybe I was too young to be
scared, too childish. They would soot at our school and we would have to go down
under our tables so we wouldn't get shot. But it was just like it was a big game
to us. We really didn't understand. [The military government in the 80's] had a
policy to get politics out of the minds of children. We were ignorant. Everybody
cared about American films more than anything else."
Q: In the film, a number of the people you interview mention that the Turkish
people hold the military in high regard and look on the politicians very poorly.
Why is that?
A: "Maybe because they have respect for people who stay away from media.
The military keep themselves somewhat away from conventional life and they are
very well educated. To be a politician, you don't have to go to school- you can
just decide to become a politician and go with it. You don't have to know
anything, you can just create this illusion around yourself. So Turkish people
see that, and they also see that politicians will act like they are leftists one
day and rightists the next. The people trust the military more because they are
always there for them."
Q: A politician interviewed in the film makes the comment: 'A man who is
involved with politics in Turkey should own two shirts: One for his daily life
and one to wear to his hanging.' This is a deeply cynical comment for a
politician to make about the prospect of a stable civilian government in Turkey,
free from the threat of military intervention. Especially in light of the recent
ousting of the fundamentalist National Welfare Party from power by the military,
do you think that a stable civilian government will ever be possible?
A: "If politicians and government acted normal, then the military
wouldn't have to intervene at all. I'm not saying that coup is a great thing; I
think it's a terrible embarrassment for Turkey to have military constantly over
us, looking at us like a father figure. But you have to live there to understand
it because the politicians screw it up so terribly, you really go to the streets
and look for a soldier to help you."
Interview with Producer Brian Felsen - by Ann Morrow, Metroland
"I've never been politically active, but it happened to be the 75th
anniversary of the Turkish Republic," Felsen says, recounting how he and
his wife, Elif Savas, got caught up in the tide of Turkish history. "We
were living in Turkey when they were having the anniversary celebration, and we
marched in the pro-secular parade. Here we were, with tens of thousands of
people holding up candles and pictures of national hero Ataturk and shouting,
"Turkey will remain secular! And "Turkey will not fall under Koranic
"The idea of a militarily-imposed democracy is fascinating and strange
and confusing." So fascinating in fact, that Felsen and his wife made a
documentary about it. COUP, their digital-format documentary, incorporates rare
archival footage as it examines the collision between military authority and
civil action in Turkey.
Although Felsen was fascinated by Turkey's complex political turmoil, he was
inspired by the level of involvement of the Turkish population: "The people
are so politically active, it's amazing. We think these countries are more
naïve than America, but actually, it's the opposite. The people are much more
aware of the events around them. It was both exhilarating and a culture
"…People I talked to loved the army and were hoping the military would
come and have a coup. The people were rooting for the military to overthrow the
prime minister they had voted for and impose their own guy, because he would be
more democratic. I thought that was an oxymoron. It's very odd that a democracy
the US supports would need the army to protect it. We had been there almost a
year before I realized what an amazing story was occurring...the army basically
said to the ruling religious party, 'You'll step down, or what happened during
the last three coups will happen again.' The Refah Party did step down, and the
army appointed a new prime minister, but there are still a lot of Fundamentalist
mayors in power."
Most of the couple's success in obtaining never-before-seen military footage
and high-ranking interviewees was due to timing: "Turkey has a multiparty
system, and the political climate can swing wildly. In 1998, we had a unique
opportunity. The '97 coup was a coup by memorandum, and there wasn't much street
violence. A lot of the people involved in the events leading up to the 1980 coup
were ready to talk who hadn't been willing before. Some of the extremists were
no longer afraid, although one of the columnists who speaks in the film was
car-bombed to death shortly after. And the people who were involved in the 1960
coup are older now- we were lucky to get them while they're still with us. One
of the generals in the film died of a heart attack about two months ago."
But what Felsen is most proud of is the film's objectivity: "Elif and I
shared the goal of not imposing our points of view on the picture. One of the
questions the film raises is whether an abstract American democratic ideal can
be globally transported. I think we were true to our goal of telling a complex
story as an extended debate."
Home (English) DARBE
Bas sayfa (Turkce)
American and CIA involvement in the Turkish military
interventions and coups d'etat is generally accepted as fact by the majority of
the Turkish public. Consistent with this, in COUP, a Turkish
Intelligence Agent gives the information that the 1971 coup was 'preemptive' - a
tug-of-war between factions in the Armed Forces over America and Soviet spheres
of influence - and was staged with American support to prevent a more left-wing coup from taking
Several speakers tell alarmingly consistent stories about an American-sponsored
Counter-Guerrilla Center and the famed Erenkoy Kiosk. A host of interviewees
talk about a "Green Belt Project" spearheaded by General Alexander
Some of this is corroborated by information back in the
States. Paul Henze, famously, is alleged to have reported back to the Pentagon
after the 1980 coup, "Our boys have done it!" Several State Department
press briefings from 1997 refer to "Operation Democracy" where
"very high-level" administration and military officials met with
Turkish counterparts in the days leading up to the 1997 military intervention.
Noam Chomsky provided some confirmation of this,
writing us that this American behavior consistent with a 'Green Belt
Project' "...didn't end in 1979. Support for Islamic
fundamentalist militants became more extreme in the 1980s, both in the US and
its Israeli client state. The US, as is now well-known, trained and armed some
of the most fanatic Islamic fundamentalist elements in the world in its effort
to impose maximal costs on the Russians in Afghanistan, probably delaying their
departure (as intended), and with horrendous costs for the Afghans, still
continuing. The terror network created there by the Reaganites has since
extended throughout the world, with substantial "blowback" to the US.
Middle East specialist John Cooley has a recent book on this, as you probably
know. As for Israel, it invaded Lebanon in 1982 in the hope of destroying the
secular PLO, which was becoming a serious irritant because of its pressure for
diplomatic negotiations that neither the US nor Israel wanted. It ended up
helping to create Hizbollah, which drove it out of most Lebanon. After that
brilliant intelligence coup, Israeli intelligence proceeded to do exactly the
same thing in the occupied territories, undermining the secular and much too
accommodating PLO in every way it could, assisting extreme Islamic
fundamentalist elements, and finally ending up with Hamas on its hands. That's
by no means the whole story."
These statements, while often consistent, have not been
and probably never can be publicly proven or adequately refuted by any
authorities. But whether
they are actually true in fact, the prevailing existence of such a belief
throughout Turkey gives them a life of their own.