'Balyoz case has weakened Turkish armed forces'
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Hürriyet Photo/Levent KuluThe “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) military coup plot case was a grave miscarriage of justice, according to veteran journalist Sedat Ergin, who has written more than 70 articles about the legal proceedings that lasted nearly 5 years.
While all 236 suspects were acquitted March 31, the case has inflicted grave damage upon the Turkish army. “The cadres of the Turkish Armed Forces have been liquidated through the butchered law,” said Ergin, the editor-in-chief of daily Hürriyet.
You are one of the few, if not the only journalist, to have read nearly all the existing documents including the indictment on the Balyoz dossier. When you examined the case, what was the general picture you encountered?
The problem with Balyoz is that there are two kinds of evidence; the first group consists of a planning seminar conducted by the 1st Army in March 2003. There is no suspicion about their authenticity.
The planning seminar is accepted as a trial for a coup in the indictment.
The second group consists of digital evidence. They are about the plans and implementation of the coup and consist of tasking army members [expected] to take part in the coup; these lists are about who will do what during the coup.
If you look at the first group and ask whether the seminar was a trial for a coup, I am not convinced that this was a preparation for a coup.
But when I look at the speeches made during the seminar and the rhetoric; they are problematic. First of all there is a serious problem about the democratic culture that public officials are bound to abide by. The military officers [there] used an extremely disrespectful language about elected civilian authority.
There is a problem of discipline. Instructions from the Land Forces commander, (that scenarios about internal threats should not be discussed in the seminar which was initially intended to discuss plans on external threat scenarios) was disregarded.
But if you ask me whether the planning seminar is a preparation for a coup; in my opinion: no, it is not.
How about the second group?
The more I read the digital evidence, the more I came across contradictions. Let me first underline a point: at first instance, you think the indictment is about a planning seminar by the Land Forces. But when I started to read in detail, I have realized that this was about Naval Forces rather than the Land Forces. When you go over the list of suspects, you realize an important part of them are from the Naval Forces. Most of them were brilliant students in their classes, with extremely bright backgrounds. When you see the profiles, the probability of all these career-oriented people coming together to stage a coup did not appear to suit the natural flow of life.
Also, coups are rather staged by Land Forces; it really did not appear credible to me that all these Naval Forces officers would, as a group, attempt a coup.
During the trials more contradictions started to be revealed. I have to give credit to especially Pınar Doğan [the daughter of Çetin Doğan, former commander of the 1st Army, who was among the primary suspect] and [her husband] Dani Rodrik’s invaluable and eye-opening work during the trials.
I can give hundreds of examples. But two are masterpieces:
Prior to the planning seminar; the famous CD number 11 which allegedly included all the detailed plans of the coup was handed to Çetin Doğan. It was last saved on March 5, 2003. So history must stop on March 2003 as far as the information on the CD is concerned. But some of the documents are written in Calibri font, which was introduced by Microsoft in 2007. As there cannot be a time machine as in the case of the movie “Back to the Future,” the naked truth tells us these documents were prepared after 2007.
Even this information alone was enough in any country under the rule of law for the case to be considered dismissed.
Another masterpiece: There is a list of pharmaceutical companies to be taken over during the coup; among them is Recordati. But Recordati as a company only came into existence in Turkey after 2008. In a 2003 document, we come across a company that is established in 2008.
So in your view, was it a plot against the army as was once said by Yalçın Akdoğan, the current deputy prime minister who was an adviser in the prime ministry at the time of this statement?
Those who knew the dossier did not need Akdoğan’s statement to be proven vindicated that this was a plot. There was a grave miscarriage of justice; the cadres of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have been liquidated through the butchered law.
In other words, Balyoz was actually a political trial that aimed to weaken the army.
I have no objection to this diagnosis.
How could that happen; there is the police, the prosecutors, the judges and even the Supreme Court of Appeal that approved the verdict of the court.
It happens when all the pillars are involved. In the first leg, there are those who prepared the digital evidence, who until now have remained unknown. As long as they remain unknown, the Balyoz case will not be clarified.
In the second leg we have the police, who prepared the first reports for the prosecutors. We see that today a big majority of those who have their signatures on these reports are in jail accused of being part of the parallel state [the Gülen movement].
The third leg: we can say that TÜBİTAK [Turkey’s science and technology authority] has played an important role. Despite the consensus from the universities pointing technically to the contradictions in the digital evidence, TÜBİTAK challenged the science and was able to issue reports that said these false evidences were authentic.
In the fourth leg, we see the prosecutors and the judges. The former disregarded evidence in favor of the defendants and all the contradictions that were revealed. The latter followed a similar pattern; they disregarded the forgery that was revealed by mathematical precision, inconsistencies and contradictions and sentenced a majority of suspects based on false digital evidence.
In the fifth leg, we see the Supreme Court of Appeals; they repeated the same pattern and turned a blind eye to the truth.
In the sixth leg; we need to register the responsibility of the HSYK [High Council of Judges and Prosecutors], which did not take action against the obstruction of justice by the prosecutors that broke the law by not including the evidence in favor of the defendants in the indictment and hiding this evidence.
Naturally, all of these illegalities took place in front of the eyes of the government. Although the government was exposed to all these truths, it did not want to confront it and supported and protected the will that conducted the Balyoz process. At a time when the AKP-[Gülen] brotherhood bloc was acting in complete harmony, the government did not feel any unease about the illegalities in the Balyoz process. As a result, we need to underline the responsibility of the government as a seventh pillar.
Therefore, a concerted action tells us that there is an organization behind it: the Gülen movement.
We are facing a design that was carried on impeccably in all the phases of the Balyoz operation – from the planning to the implementation. The fact that the process continued with all these pillars in the same direction without facing any obstruction or any legal battle shows that there is an organized effort.
We know that with the exception of the government, the majority of the key players in the first six pillars are public officials who are being investigated, tried or sent to passive duties on claims of being related to the Gülen organization. All are accused of being a member of the brotherhood or acting with the brotherhood. Therefore, all signs are leading to the same address.
Other than these pillars; there is also the press, civil society and public opinion. What do you think about their performance?
We can’t say the press passed the test. The pro-government media especially discovered the truth about the Balyoz dossier only after the rift that erupted between the government and the brotherhood in December 2013. It’s better late than never, but a delay of four years is not one that can easily be explained.
Today Mehmet Baransu and Ahmet Altan, both of daily Taraf and who originally broke the story with the apparent evidence in the case, claimed that what they did was journalism.
I don’t want to get into the debate about specific individuals and media outlets.
I believe some fundamental requirements of journalism were not implemented. When the contradictions, forgeries started to come to the surface, an important part of the media –with some exceptions- buried its head in the sand like an ostrich. A conscientious, fair stance would have required investigating them. The mission definition of journalism would have required that.
Unfortunately, the great majority of public opinion leaders, be they the journalists or intellectuals that carried the debate, had not even read the essential documents of Balyoz. Especially the prejudgment of the army by those who identify themselves as liberals overweighed the forgeries in Balyoz.
At any rate, it is obvious that an important part of the opinion leaders of the country have taken an unjust stance and misled society for five years over fake documents.
As a result, many people have the responsibility of making self-criticism in front of society. But of course, some might want to continue to criticize Hürriyet for its front page stories from 20 years ago rather than face this truth.
In other words, can we explain the insensitivity of the public to the case with the army’s past human rights violations and with the conviction within society that the army could have staged that coup?
During the Balyoz process, the army’s past haunted it.
The TSK’s past track record as a coup stager led an important part of the public to act with a prejudice based on the belief “they certainly did [plan the coup].”
The army’s past worked to convince the public on the validity of these claims.
This past came and struck a blow in 2010 on today’s young staff officers who were actually in high school in Sept. 12 [during the 1980 coup]. Human rights violations peaked in the Sept. 12 period; the TSK is responsible for the human rights violations of Sept. 12.
The TSK has still not made self-criticism on that period and has not offered an apology either.
When it comes to Balyoz, the 2010 representatives of an institution which is responsible for the past’s vicious rights violations have been subjected to heavy rights violations. The roles have changed. The army’s past sins led at least part of Turkish society to stay indifferent to the suffering of the soldiers. Obviously, the current cadres of the TSK should at this point do some soul-searching.
I guess the essential lesson is that we should not let our emotions and prejudices overshadow facts.
There were such inconsistencies and contradictory evidence in the case that even a high school student would have rejected them with a simple rational judgment. No one wanted to see these truths.
In 2010 my conscience told me I should stand by the victims. But this involved risks as well under the circumstances of that period because at that time, you were branded as “a coup supporter,” or “pro-military” when you pointed at the contradictions.
But what you should do as a journalist is to listen to your conscience; it does not lead you to a mistaken path.
If today the case is reversed, do we owe that to the normal working of the procedures of democracy and the rule of law? Could the case have been reversed had there not been the rift with the Gülenists?
I would have expected the Constitutional Court under the leadership of Haşim Kılıç to take that decision even if there had not been the rift.
But we need to recognize that the most important turning point was the eruption of the rift, because the seven-pillar structure collapsed. The case could have gone on for years had there not been the rift. I thought it would have taken years to reach the point of acquittal.
What is the dimension of the suffering?
You cannot measure the suffering on the human dimension. You cannot bring back those who lost their lives [during the trial]. How can you measure the suffering of those kept in prison nearly for four years?
But we can say this: The best educated cadres of the TSK have been deprived of a bright future. For instance; in the Naval Forces alone, the careers of 27 admirals and 74 colonels and lieutenant-colonels were terminated.
The problem here is that these people did not get promoted because they were in jail. But promotions in the army continued for five years; some colonels directly became generals and admirals. There was no fair competition. No doubt some among them deserve to be promoted, but as they know they were not promoted under a fair competition, they must feel bitter.
The army received a serious blow in terms of losing its best-educated and trained cadres, in terms of losing its human capital.
Indeed there has been tremendous suffering, but can we say that at least the TSK has irreversibly removed its hand from domestic politics?
I don’t believe a process based on illegalities can contribute to democracy. This would lead you to a pre-acceptance that illegalities, injustices and inflicting suffering on people can be legitimized in order to reach democracy.
If you really want to reach the target of becoming a country with the rule of law, you are committed to doing everything based on a democratic and legal framework. I don’t share the acceptance on the question. In addition, I believe the tradition of staging a coup ended in Turkey before the Balyoz case.
What should happen now?
Since there has been a serious miscarriage of justice, those responsible should pay the price. I don’t see any other way out if we are to continue our path in a country of rule of law.
A legal process has started, yet we are most probably not at the point of saying comfortably that this is done from the perspective of seeing justice served?
There was a grave illegality; the fact that such a mistake was committed will be registered as another disgrace in republican history. From now on, the only way to rectify this disgrace is to reveal those responsible and make them pay the price within the framework of legal rules.
I am not that sure if Turkey will be able to pass this test. One is concerned that this has taken place as a result of a dimension of a political feud. I don’t know if we will ever see justice served. I did not expect two or three years ago that we would come to the current stage. I am less pessimistic compared to 2010. I knew the exculpation of the suspects would be revealed at some stage, but I thought it might take many more years. Indeed, today we stand at a point nearer to justice.
Who is Sedat Ergin?
Sedat Ergin has been the editor-in-chief of daily Hürriyet since August 2014.
Born in Istanbul in 1957, Ergin started to study literature at Boğaziçi University, during which time he worked part-time for the Turkish News Agency.
He continued his career in journalism in Ankara where he graduated from Ankara University’s Political Sciences Faculty. Between 1979-1987 he worked as a diplomatic reporter in daily Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau.
He became Hürriyet’s Washington representative in 1987 and the newspaper’s Ankara representative six years later. After a period from 2005 to 2009 as Milliyet’s editor-in-chief, he returned to write his regular column in Hürriyet.
Ergin has been given a number of notable awards; one of them being the 2010 investigation award from the Journalism Association of Turkey for the articles he wrote on the Balyoz case.