Martial law and state of emergency in Turkey

Since 1940 Turkey has frequently been under extraordinary rule, either the whole of the country or specific provinces. According to Articles 119-122 of the 1982 Constitution the four types of extraordinary rule are martial law (sıkıyönetim), state of emergency (olağanüstü hal), mobilization (seferberlik) and situation of war (savaş hali).



On 27 December 2001 constitutional law professor Dr. Zafer Üskül presented some details in the daily Radikal.[1] The first law passed in 1940 was called law on extraordinary administration (İdare-i Örfiye Kanunu). It was replaced in 1971 by Martial Law.[2] The first law on state of emergency, mobilization and war was passed under military rule in 1983.[1] It was Law 2935 of 25 October 1983, promulgated in the Official Gazette on 27 October 1983.[3]

Legal background

State of Emergency

Articles 119 and 120 of the 1982 Constitution state on the reasons for the announcement of a state of emergency:

ARTICLE 119. In the event of natural disaster, dangerous epidemic diseases or a serious economic crisis, the Council of Ministers... may declare a state of emergency in one or more regions or throughout the country for a period not exceeding six months.

ARTICLE 120. In the event of serious indications of widespread acts of violence aimed at the destruction of the free democratic order established by the Constitution or of fundamental rights and freedoms, or serious deterioration of public order because of acts of violence, the Council of Ministers, after consultation with the National Security Council, may declare a state of emergency in one or more regions or throughout the country for a period not exceeding six months.

Martial law

Article 122 of the 1982 Constitution provides:

ARTICLE 122. The Council of Ministers, under the chairmanship of the President of the Republic, after consultation with the National Security Council, may declare martial law in one or more regions or throughout the country for a period not exceeding six months, in the event of widespread acts of violence which are more dangerous than the cases necessitating a state of emergency and which are aimed at the destruction of the free democratic order or the fundamental rights and freedoms embodied in the Constitution; or in the event of war, the emergence of a situation necessitating war, an uprising, or the spread of violent and strong rebellious actions against the motherland and the Republic, or widespread acts of violence of either internal or external origin threatening the indivisibility of the country and the nation...

Extension of the period of martial law for a maximum of four months each time, shall require a decision by the Turkish Grand National Assembly. In the event of state of war, the limit of four months does not apply.

In the event of martial law, mobilization and state of war, the provisions to be applied and conduct of affairs, relations with the administration, the manner in which freedoms are to be restricted or suspended and the obligations to be imposed on citizens in a state of war or in the event of emergence of a situation necessitating war, shall be regulated by law.[4]

Imposition of martial law

At the end of 2001 law professor Dr. Zafer Üskül stated that 40 of its 78 years the Republic of Turkey had been under extraordinary rule.[1] In December 1978 martial law was imposed in 13 provinces in response to violent incidents in Kahramanmaraş. During the nine months after the Kahramanmaraş riots the government extended martial law to cover 20 provinces.[5] When the military seized power on 12 September 1980 the five generals of the General Staff announced martial law in all of the existing 67 provinces of Turkey. From December 1983 military rule was gradually withdrawn. It was finally lifted throughout Turkey in July 1987.[5]

On 1 July 1982 five States (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France and the Netherlands) filed an application against Turkey with the European Commission of Human Rights. In December 1985 a friendly settlement was reached that demanded that Turkey should lift martial law within 18 months. Turkey did as requested, only to replace martial law by emergency legislation.[6]

State of Emergency

A new era started with the declaration of a region under emergency legislation in the provinces of Bingöl, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Hakkari, Mardin, Siirt, Tunceli and Van and the declaration of Adıyaman, Bitlis and Muş provinces as neighbouring provinces (Mücavir İl) on 19 July 1987.[7] The legal basis was the Decision 285 with the power of law (285 sayılı Kanun Hükmünde Kararname)[8] that appointed a regional governor for the state of emergency. The regime and the region became known as OHAL Region (the State of Emergency Region, the Emergency Region Governorate, the Emergency Rule Region etc.).


The state of emergency was extended 46 times for four months each.[7] On 6 May 1990 the newly created provinces Batman and Şırnak became part of the OHAL region. On 19 March 1994 Bitlis became a neighbouring province. Starting at the end of 1994 the region was slowly narrowed down. First Elazığ was excluded from the provinces under emergency legislation and Adıyaman was no longer counted as neighbouring province. On 30 November 1996 Mardin was "degraded" to neighbouring province. The same happened to Batman, Bingöl and Bitlis provinces on 6 October 1997. Emergency legislation was lifted in Siirt on 30 November 1999, in Van on 30 July 2000 and in Hakkari and Tunceli provinces on 30 July 2002.[7] On 30 November 2002 OHAL was lifted completely. Until the end emergency legislation had been in force in Diyarbakır and Şırnak provinces.

The name of the regional governors (also called "super governors") were

  • Hayri Kozakçıoğlu (12.01.1987-02.08.1991)
  • Necati Çetinkaya (17.08.1991-29.01.1992)
  • Ünal Erkan (21.02.1992-01.11.1995)[9]
  • Necati Bilican
  • Aydın Arslan (died on duty because of a heart attack in 1999)
  • Gökhan Aydıner[10]

Since 2002 the Turkish Armed Forces have declared parts of the former OHAL region as security zone (güvenlik bölgesi).[11] Some people argued that this was another form of the OHAL regime.[12]

Balance sheet of 15 years OHAL

In an article of September 2005 the lawyers M. Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Serdar Yavuz (both working in Diyarbakır) presented some figures concerning human rights violations in the region under emergency legislation (OHAL) between 1987 and 2002.[13] These are official figures, since they were given in reply to a request of Diyarbakır deputy Mesut Değer of 29 January 2003 to the Defence Ministry. The response dates 28 February 2003.

The death toll was given as:

Civilians Security staff Militants
5,105 3,541 25,344

In addition 371 members of the armed forces and 572 civilians lost their lives because of exploding mines or bombs. In the region 1,248 political killings had happened. Among them 750 had been clarified, while in 421 cases the murderers had not been determined. Eighteen people had died in custody and 194 people "disappeared". Some had been found in prison, in good health or dead, but 132 were still missing. There had been 1,275 complaints of torture and in 1,177 cases investigations had been initiated. In 296 trials against civil servants 60 had resulted in conviction, while in 56 of them the sentences had been suspended.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Article accessed on 4 September 2009
  2. ^ See the text of Law 1402 (Turkish); accessed on 4 September 2009
  3. ^ The complete text in Turkish; accessed on 4 September 2009
  4. ^ The translation was found at on 4 September 2009
  5. ^ a b Report of Amnesty International (AI Index: EUR/44/65/88 - November 1988) Human rights denied; Introduction in plain text; accessed on 4 September 2009
  6. ^ German source: hearing in parliament (Bundestag) on 11 and 12 May 1993 Expert Helmut Oberdiek on Human Rights in Germany's internal and foreign affairs; accessed on 4 September 2009
  7. ^ a b c See the daily Yeni Şafak of 22 November 2002; accessed on 4 September 2009
  8. ^ Text of decision 285 (Turkish); accessed on 4 September 2009
  9. ^ The dates are mentioned in a text of the dialogue circle "War in Turkey" (German) on Parliamentarian break a Taboo; accessed on 4 September 2009
  10. ^ The names can be found in an article of the daily Evrensel of 31 July 2002; accessed on 4 September 2009
  11. ^ See special report of the Democratic Turkey Forum; accessed on 7 September 2009
  12. ^ See an article of 14 June 2009 OHAL’in adı yok, uygulaması var; accessed on 7 September 2009
  13. ^ The article was published in the Journal for Social Sciences Research (Sosyal Bilim Araştırmaları Dergisi) of the Association of Academic Research and Solidarity. The online edition is in Turkish; accessed on 4 September 2009

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