Turkey in a Tough Spot: Military Officers Arrested

March 30th, 2010   Articles | Countries and Regions | Turkey

In late February, a civilian Turkish prosecutor ordered the arrest of some ten senior officers, still active in the Turkish armed forces. The officers were accused of planning a coup d’états against the present AK party government. This is the first time representatives of the Turkish civilian judicial system have arrested such a large number of still active officers for planning a coup.

In late February, a civilian Turkish prosecutor ordered the arrest of some ten senior officers, still active within the Turkish armed forces. The officers were accused of preparing a coup against the then AK-party government led by Prime Minister Abdullah Gül, today the Turkish president.

The arrest came after plans of the coup had been published in a Turkish newspaper, Taraf. According to the paper, around 150 officers, including some twenty generals had been making plans at a seminar, officially focusing on planning a war role game.  Whether this was indeed a war role game or a coup masked as a game, and, if the latter turns out to be the case, the roles of the individual officers will now be examined in a juridical process.

According to a report handed over by a general staff officer to the military prosecutor working on the case – which has been named Operation Sledgehammer by its authors – the documents  must be characterized as a planned coup. Needless to say, this falls outside of the authority of the involved officers.

Quotes from the coup plan have caused major distress within the Turkish public debate. The anxiety is not primarily due to the fact that these scenarios are possible to realize. Rather, they indicate a mentality among the putschists which has been defined as “treachery” by active politicians and participants in the public debate. For instance, one quote contemplates pushing Turkey into a state of economic and political chaos, thereby directing the public opinion to welcome a military intervention.

“The economic actions that will be taken by friendly groups outside the Turkish armed forces will force the country, at a national as well as an international level, into an economic crisis. This development will pave the way for more extensive public protests against the AK-party government, protest which will need to be coordinated. In order to direct public opinion to expect the Turkish armed forces to do what is necessary, efforts will be made, including frequent news on reactionary religious activity, student protests, increased numbers of funerals for soldiers fallen in combat, on the economic crisis and on protest in the streets against unsolved crimes.”

What sets this event apart is not, keeping Turkey’s unfortunate modern history in mind, that a few officers conspired and planned a coup d’états beyond the knowledge of the General staff. Several similar plans against the AK party government, originated in 2004, have been circulating in the Turkish media for the last year. Furthermore, the extensive trials continue against a network of individuals and organizations, accused of using provocations for instance attacks and assassination to evoke a coup d’états – the so called Ergenekon process.

Neither is it unique that coteries of officers go behind the back of the Turkish General staff, that is, the Military Command, in their attempts for a coup. The Military Command has on at least one occasion intervened to prevent a coup planned by lower ranked officers. 

The first military coup in the history of the Turkish republic on May 27, 1960 was conducted by lesser ranked officers and led by the General Cemal Gürsel. The putschists at that time arrested the head of the General staff, the four star General Rüºtü Erdelhun, who was sentenced to death. Eventually, he was paroled by Gürsel, who had by then ascended to be President, and had his capital punishment transformed to life in prison.

 What sets the latest event apart is that this is the first time that the civilian Turkish justice system has arrested this many active officers for attempting a coup. Previously, the judicial system has acted on both civilians linked, for instance, to any of the military defense authorities, or on retired officers. However the judicial system has halted whenever a criminal investigation, with or without political consequences, has pointed at still active officers. The investigation has either been turned over to a military prosecutor, or the military prosecutors have themselves chosen to intervene. The military courts have at that point, at multiple occasions, chosen either to drop the charges or to settle for symbolic disciplinary actions.

 The revealed coup plans – and the plans for forcing a coup, as well as the efforts by the civilian judiciary law to charge the people responsible – have abroad been interpreted as a struggle of power in general between the Turkish military and the Turkish politicians. More specifically it is seen as a struggle between the majority party AKP and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, this analysis is flawed.

 The previously mentioned report on ”Operation Sledgehammer” could thus also conclude that the coup plans had been prepared without the knowledge of the Turkish General staff. Further, the documents, which had purposely been leaked to the Turkish media, have been gathered during a longer period of time by officers who must have had access to the coup plans, but who did not concur.

 What we see is thus a struggle of power within the Turkish society between those who believe Turkey should be run according to the principles of an open and democratic society, and those who want Turkey to continue, as it has previously, to be a society where authoritarian and non-democratic fractions within the state may decide where the country is heading. This is a struggle of power which divides the entire Turkish society in politics as well as within the military, the judicial system and the different actors of civil society.

 It is promising that the forces who want a Turkey where democratically elected governments are relieved of power in a democratic way and where civilian law rules the fundaments of the state – such as military, the gendarmerie, the police, the intelligence and the judicial system – get stronger no matter where in society they can be found.                                        

 

Text:Thomas Gür, Writer and advisor to the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation

Translation: Evelina Lorentzon

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