MUSTAFA AKYOL > What really happened within Turkey’s military

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One of Turkey’s key political phenomena in the past decade has been the gradual de-fanging of the military, a sinister institution that has toppled four elected governments since 1960. In fact, even until a few years ago, there was widespread expectation, or concern, that Turkey’s powerful generals would not break their tradition and take down a government that they did not like – this time that of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). That obviously did not happen, and the military has rather been reduced to what it should be in any democratic country. Officers, in other words, began obeying elected politicians rather than threatening them.

This has not been a smooth transition, though. It is in human nature to be unwilling to let power go, and Turkish officers have been no angels. The most hawkish among them even considered launching a final assault on “the domestic enemies of the regime” – something a bit like the ill-fated KGB coup during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The response to this threat was the criminal cases – such as Ergenekon or “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) – opened against alleged members of the alleged juntas. However, these cases themselves quickly became controversial, for while some Turks saw them as the gateway to democracy, others saw them as witch hunts driven by vengeance.

That is why the recent legal testimony of retired Gen. Hilmi Özkök, who was the chief of staff between 2002 and 2006, was crucial. Özkök is known by many accounts as “the democrat general” who curbed the hawkish generals under his command and prevented a possible coup. But he obviously was also a loyal follower of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, which made him a figure that few people could dismiss.

So, what did Özkök say in his testimony to the Istanbul court which is investigating the coup cases?
Well, in a nutshell, he confirmed that these cases are not totally imaginary.

For example, Özkök noted that in a brainstorming meeting in 2003, Gen. Aytaç Yalman, the then-commander of the Army, suggested that an “ultimatum” (“muhtıra” in Turkish) should be given to the government, which, if realized, would have been a crime.

Özkök also said he had to warn Gen. Şener Eruygur, the then-commander of the gendarmerie, against “drafting unauthorized plans against the government.” (Eruygur is now in prison, and on trial in the “Ergenekon” case for proceeding solo with his “unauthorized plans.”)

Perhaps most importantly, Özkök confirmed that the “war simulation” meeting held in 2003 under the command of Gen. Çetin Doğan had indeed “exceeded its purpose” and that he had to issue a warning about it. (This 2003 meeting, later nicknamed “Sledgehammer,” is the reason why more than 100 officers, including Doğan, are now in prison in the ongoing trial.)

However, Özkök also said things which indicate that the junta hunt has gone too far. As for Gen. İlker Başbuğ, for example, who was his subordinate and who later served as chief of staff from 2008 to 2010, he spoke highly, confirming Başbuğ’s democratic credentials. (Başbuğ, however, is also in prison.)

All in all, Özkök’s testimony confirmed my basic conviction about the whole matter: Yes, there have been coup efforts within the Turkish military, and their prosecution has been justified. However, this justified process seems to be overdone. Now, I believe, is the time to calm down and undo the excesses of the junta hunt.


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Notice on comments

Agnes Smith

8/9/2012 12:09:45 AM

MA - you are loosing potential by your continual lack of objectivity. Stop dealing with your ghosts/demons of the past and spend some time looking forward. That is where we are going afterall. Turkiye is a growing nation. The past doesn't matter too much when the halk just need, peace, jobs and a roof. They don't need to have hang ups.

attila zorbey

8/8/2012 8:10:08 PM

I dont know how Mustafa concluded that there have been coup efforts based on ÖZKÖK s statement . I read the whole statement of ÖZKÖK but couldnt find anything regarding coup. As for Generals suggestion and discussion, since Supreme Court declared at that time that AKP was commenced to become the center of unsecular efforts, it seems ultimately normal. Because "National Security Policy Document" which was cancelled later on by AKP gave this right to Military Force at that time.

Jarman Hani

8/8/2012 6:25:12 PM

Mustafa, you are fundamentally wrong. Please explain to your readership why it is a good thing that years imprisonment in Turkey go ahead of a trial, and not after, as is the case in most of the world? AKP is hard on the way to become more arrogannt than any previous government party.

Hasan Kutlay

8/8/2012 6:06:38 PM

No coup can happen in Turkey without the consent and approval of the USA. The military officers have understood that now by seeing themselves being thrown in jail. The USA has with the cooperation of AKP "put the military in cage" as said by Henry Barkey, because those officers were 1) already showing stubborness to American interests; 2) a possible coup by them would be a blow for American interests.

Agnes Smith

8/8/2012 5:57:25 PM

MA -you cannot hoodwink any of your readers that holding anyone, anyhow for any reason for months and years without charge is correct. They cannot be guilty for something that never happened. You are doing nothing but kidding yourself. So in your next article lets examine the 2000+ kids who are also held for being terrorists, hurling eggs and not being allowed to continue their education. But I bet you won't!

Recep Ozel

8/8/2012 12:11:08 PM

Mustafa Akyol, you are incorrect in your last statement. There has been NO coup efforts, only suggestions and discussions which are completely normal. The illegal investigation was unjustified, and keeping people in prison for no reason without charges is completely unjustified. Then forcing them all to retire is a joke. Is there no freedom to discuss? Why should people go to prison for discussing things the government does not like?

Murun Buchstansangur

8/8/2012 10:03:24 AM

Dogan Kemal Ileri and Blue Dotterel nail in far fewer words what it takes Mustafa a whole column to avoid saying. He writes that Ozkok's testimony reveals that ' in a nutshell, ....... these cases are not totally imaginary'. He then concludes 'this justified [prosecution] process seems to be overdone'. His flippancy rather lends weight to the 'witchhunts driven by vengeance'. So, nothing new here.

Hakan Salci

8/8/2012 8:13:33 AM

MA, have you ever heard of 'innocent until proven guilty' and more importantly 'guilty beyond reasonable doubt'? The latter is what differentiates judiciary in true democratic countries over so-called ones. Yes, Ozkok provided much needed insight into matters past and confirmed that some Generals were out of line, however, suggesting something does not mean you intend to carry it out; as for war scenarios the words speak for themselves. I don't think such loose proof can warrant these arrests.

Tevfik Alp

8/8/2012 6:10:30 AM

They have considered themselves "elite" and above all ranks of government. Through out the years, they were furnished and provided with a lot of extra benefits. Officers Club was one, services were provided below cost on food, hospitality and entertainment. Government had to put up with their extra expenses. Time had to catch up with them.


8/8/2012 3:34:47 AM

Maybe it is easier to point out what did NOT happen. A coup did NOT happen. An ultimatum was NOT issued. Democratic process that gave permenant power to AKP was NOT interrupted. Sinister institution? Shame on you.
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