COUP/DARBE: A documentary film about the military interventions in Turkey




A documentary film about the 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997 military interventions and coups d’etat in Turkey

Directed by Elif Savas Felsen
Produced by Brian Felsen


COUP is made possible by a grant from the New York Council on the Arts and the Experimental Television Center 

COUP (DARBE) 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 “sound-byte.”


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, four of our speakers are no longer with us: General Muhsin Batur (who died in Florence Nightingale Hospital in Istanbul of natural causes after filming), Columnist Raif Ertem, Constitutional Law Professor Bulent Tanor, and Journalist Ahmet Taner Kislali (who was murdered by a car bomb outside of his home shortly after filming completed.)


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.