The best way to face up to Turkey’s coup attempt

The best way to face up to Turkey’s coup attempt

One of the key court cases regarding the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt kicked off in Ankara on Aug. 1. 

A total of 486 suspects - including the former Air Forces Commander Akın Öztürk, who is accused of running the coup headquarters at the Akıncı Air Base near Ankara - were brought to court for the start of the case. 

The Akıncı base was where Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and generals loyal to him were seized and kidnapped. It was also the place where the F-16s that bombed parliament, the presidential compound, the police special forces headquarters, and satellite communications center - killing 77 of the 250 people killed by pro-coup soldiers – were stationed. 

In the hearing at the 4th Ankara Criminal Court, prosecutors demanded the accused be given aggravated life sentences for trying to overthrow the government and plotting to kidnap the president, along with other accusations. Some 330 life sentences were demanded for 45 of the suspects.

Former general Öztürk is accused of being in command of the military operation of the coup attempt, taking orders from Adil Öksüz and Kemal Batmaz acting on behalf of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist preacher living in the U.S. 

Öksüz, who was allegedly the “air force imam,” or political commissioner, of the illegal Gülenist network, is the number two suspect in the case after Gülen, and he is also on the run. Öksüz was briefly detained near the Akıncı base right after the defeat of the coup attempt but was allegedly released by members of the network in the police and judiciary. A separate investigation is going on against those who released Öksüz. 
Batmaz, another alleged “imam” of Gülen who assisted Öksüz and who was detained near the air base on the night of the coup attempt also appeared at court yesterday.

President Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar have applied to the court to intervene as victims in the case, along with a number of members of parliament both from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who rushed to the parliament building despite the bombings on the night of the coup.

After the coup attempt, Erdoğan asked for “forgiveness from God and from the people” for apparently failing to see the rooting of the Gülenist network in the state, claiming he was “deceived” due to the assumption that they were on the same side. Indeed, Gülen used to be a close ally of Erdoğan from 2002, when the AK Parti entered office, until around 2012-13, when relations started to turn sour beyond redemption.

The court cases that just started are extremely important in terms of Turkey coming to terms with the coup attempt. 

But the best way of facing up to the coup attempt and the anti-democratic ideology behind it is to provide the kind of political atmosphere in which independent courts can deliver justice in such a way that no citizens will have any doubts.

Unfortunately, that is not exactly the case right now. A recent survey carried out within the AK Parti during CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s “justice march” from Ankara to Istanbul reportedly showed that over 75 percent of even AK Parti supporters saw the delivery of justice as a serious problem.

The best way to confront those who want to destroy the democratic order is not to fall into the trap of restricting democratic rights but rather to endorse them. In a pluralistic democracy, independent courts and a free press are as important as free elections and the separation of powers.