Mission accomplished with collateral damage
There was little room for a surprise anyway; the Istanbul Specially Authorized 13th Criminal Court ruled on August 5 for life imprisonment of 19 people, including Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s former Chief of General Staff, retired general İlker Başbuğ, on charges of attempting to overthrow the government through an illegal organization called “Ergenekon.” Among those who are sentenced for life there are other retired generals like Başbuğ’s Deputy Hasan Iğsız, former Gendarmerie Commander Şener Eruygur and former (Istanbul based) First Army Commander Hurşit Tolon. And among civilian figures who get life imprisonment there are political figures like Workers’ Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek and (former journalist) Yeni Party (YP) leader Tuncay Özkan, nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz (who had lead opening of numerous cases against Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink before his murder in 2007 and Alparslan Arslan the murderer of Council of State member Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin in 2006.
There are prominent figures who were sentenced to heavy penalties by the court like journalist Mustafa Balbay (34 years), scholar and writer Yalçın Küçük (22 years), former head of Turkey’s Supreme Education Board Kemal Gürüz (13 years) and internationally renowned surgeon Mehmat Haberal (12 years) for participating in the conspiracy against the Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government.
Haberal was released since he already served a part of his sentence in the trials which had started in 2008. Haberal had been elected as a member of parliament on the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) list when he was in prison; so he can take his oath and begin his political career. But Balbay, who had also been elected as a CHP MP will stay inside. Another CHP deputy, Sinan Aygün, the former head of the Chamber of Commerce of Ankara, who is currently free, was sentenced to 13 years by the court.
The ruling of the court added more to controversy during the trials because of long and extended detention periods and restrictions on the defense rights of the defendants.
On the other hand it reflects the determination of Erdoğan and his government against any intentions to undermine a democratically elected administration which had cost three military coups in Turkey in the Cold War times between 1960 and 1980, plus a psychological operation in 1997 causing the government of the tine to resign.
In a way, Erdoğan accomplished his mission to deter the military from intervening into politics and anyone who would see a place for military in Turkish political system. It started with a government statement on April 28, 2007 against a military statement a day before, telling military to mind their own business, for the first time in Turkish politics, then declaring early elections to endorse his power, opening up the Ergenekon probe the same year and strengthening the Criminal Code regarding attempts against the political system. The violations of rights of defenders in Ergenekon case, could be regarded as collateral damage for this firm deterrence operation and government added an article to the 2010 referendum which put a Constitutional Court stage in front of Turkish citizens’ application to European Court of Human Rights, like a preemptive move against the possibility of most of the cases yesterday would end up in Strasbourg.
The Ergenekon trials indeed changed at least a part of Turkish society’s views on the abnormality of military involvement in politics; there was the collateral damage which it seems Erdoğan was ready to pay the price for which he might have thought it would be worth.
The ruling of the Court is likely to be a turning point in Turkish political life.