Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has targeted a political figure of the 1970s and 1980s, who was a major target of the Turkish military both before and after the military coup of 12 September 1980.
Addressing a crowd in Turkey’s northern city of Ordu on Saturday, Erdoğan said:
“The people of Ordu know what a disaster terrorism is. The people of Ordu know Fikri the Tailor too. My people of Ordu paid a high price for the things those people did.”
Fikri Sönmez, known as ‘Fikri the Tailor’ because of his profession, was the mayor of the district of Fatsa in Ordu province in 1980. He had won the elections in 1979 as an independent candidate, backed by one of the most influential Marxist groups at the time. He was arrested in a military operation dubbed ‘Point Operation’, which was actually a prelude to the military coup of two months later.
When the military took control of the administration on 12 September 1980, abolishing the Turkish parliament, suspending the constitution, and banning all political parties and trade unions, the case of Fikri Sönmez and his colleagues quickly became emblematic for the ruling generals in the most negative sense, because his election win in Fatsa signified a democratic alternative to the conservative political establishment, including the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) of Bülent Ecevit.
He was detained and severely tortured in prison while a smear campaign was carried out in most of the Turkish press, in compliance with the instructions of the military rulers.
Sönmez died of a heart attack in May 1985 at the age of 47.
The Fatsa experience of local democracy remained frozen in Turkey for many years, until it was restored in Kurdish-majority cities and districts some decades later, only to be quashed again, this time by the Turkish political administration, by ousting elected officials and replacing them with state-appointed trustees.