Ex-top army chief ready to testify at Balyoz retrial
Uğur Ergan ANKARA
Relatives of the Balyoz suspects, who are expected to be released, celebrate the Constitutional Court’s delivered a landmark ruling, which stated that the rights of a majority of convicted suspects in the coup plot case were violated.Voicing great pleasure over a top court ruling that paved the way for the retrial of the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plot case, former chief of the Turkish General Staff retired Gen. Hilmi Özkök has expressed readiness to testify if summoned.
“Believe me, I was very delighted when I heard the ruling,” Özkök told daily Hürriyet June 19, concerning the June 18 decision by the Constitutional Court that ruled the rights of a majority of the convicted suspects in the Balyoz coup plot case, 230 out of 237, have been violated.
“Is it possible to not go?” Özkök responded when asked whether he is summoned by the local courts during retrial process.
Özkök served as the chief of the General Staff through 2002 and 2006, until his retirement. The Balyoz case started in 2010 after daily Taraf revealed documents titled “Balyoz Operation Plan,” dating back to 2003 when Özkök was in office.
An Istanbul court determined a seminar organized by the 1st Army Commandership on March 5-7, 2003, to be a coup plot, which the Supreme Court of Appeals approved in its decision released on Oct. 9, 2013. In its ruling, the Supreme Court of Appeals ordered the retrial of 88 convicted suspects, while approving the convictions of 237 suspects in the case.
Military commanders were accused of trying to destabilize Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in the wake of the 2002 elections with plans to bomb mosques and trigger a conflict with Greece to pave the way for a military takeover.
“No matter who you are, you are obliged to do so when you are summoned. Otherwise, they will forcefully take you. However, you should know that I will go with pleasure when I receive the summons.
I want to underline once more that I’m very delighted by the Constitutional Court’s ruling. I’m pleased that injustice has been eliminated. I have nothing more to say,” Özkök concluded.
In its June 18 ruling, the top court ruled unanimously that the convicted suspects’ rights were violated concerning “digital data and the defendants’ testimonies.” Strikingly, it also ruled the applicants’ complaints regarding a local court’s refusal of their demands for Özkök’s testimony and that of then-Land Forces Commander Gen. Aytaç Yalman as witnesses before the court are “admissible” as part of their right to a fair trial.
In October 2012, while answering questions from members of Parliament’s Coups and Military Memorandums Inquiry Commission, Özkök said he had not heard of a coup preparation plan known as Balyoz, but added he had, however, heard that “expressions beyond the limits” were used during the seminar at which Balyoz was allegedly planned and he had assigned Yalman to examine the issue.
Yalman did not provide him with feedback, Özkök said at the time.
In October 2013, following the approval of the Supreme Court of Appeals, while expressing grief over the convictions, Özkök said if he had been summoned by the Balyoz cases’ prosecutors for a testimony he would have testified, but neither his, nor Yalman’s testimonies would have changed the case’s result.
Meanwhile, due to the June 18 ruling, 18 senior commanders may continue to keep their posts at the TSK. Their final situation will become clear during the summer meeting of the Supreme Military council (YAŞ), which will be held before the presidential elections in August. If they are eventually acquitted as a result of retrial, they may even receive promotions at the YAŞ 2015 summer meeting.