Three women judges make last rule in coup-plot case

Three women judges make last rule in coup-plot case

June 18, 2014 marked two important court rulings, both of which were about Turkey’s problematic history of relations between politics and the military.

The first came from an Ankara criminal court, which condemned former generals Kenan Evren and Tahsin Şahinkaya to life in jail for leading the military coup on Sept. 12, 1980, toppling the elected prime minister of the time, Süleyman Demirel. There were actually five top generals who lead the coup, but three of them have already passed away. Evren and Şahinkaya themselves are actually under continuous treatment in a military hospital due to their old age. After the 1980 coup, Evren imposed a new Constitution, for which a referendum was held in 1982 under the strict military regime; the vote also included Evren’s presidential election, making him Turkey’s 7th president.

This latest ruling was particularly important, as for the first time a Turkish court has tried and sentenced a coup that actually succeeded, not a failed or conspired one. This is a turning point for a country that experienced three military coups during the Cold War, in 1960, 1971 and 1980.

Hours later, the Constitutional Court ruled unanimously that the trial of the major Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plot case was “unfair” and there should be a retrial. The Court said that the Istanbul criminal courts that oversaw the trial should have examined the complaints about the quality of the digital evidence submitted by prosecutors and should have listened to the two top - now retired - soldiers of the time as witnesses, after they volunteered to testify.

Adopting the Constitutional Court ruling, the 4th Istanbul Criminal Court decided on June 19 that all 230 convicts of the Balyoz case, including the air and naval force commanders of the early 2000s, should be released until the end of the retrials. The releases started in the evening hours on the same day.

Earlier in the year, the convicts of another conspiracy-against-the-government case, named “Ergenekon,” were released, including former Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ.

There is an interesting detail regarding yesterday’s Balyoz case release ruling: All three judges of the Istanbul court that have ruled in parallel to the Constitutional Court were women: Özlem Karaçam, Mübeccel Saraçoğlu and Gülperi Güneş. This is interesting because after the graft probes of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013 - which targeted members of the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan government and even his family - a serious bureaucratic operation has been going on within the administration to “root out,” as Erdoğan says, sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen, a moderate Islamist scholar living in the U.S. The Justice Ministry is one of epicenters of the removal-from-post operations, as the prosecutors and judges during the Balyoz and Ergenekon cases are believed to be Gülenists. Now, based on the logic that secular women judges and prosecutors cannot be members of an Islamist group, including the Gülen movement, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, headed by Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, relies on women judges and prosecutors. This is quite an irony for the Erdoğan government.

Both the Balyoz and Ergenekon cases have been seen as a confrontation between the Erdoğan government and the military and secularist judiciary mechanisms, which the prime minister believed were trying to undermine and topple him with another coup d’etat. Starting in 2010, after a series of stories in daily Taraf newspaper, the case had caused the resignation of a chief of general staff and three force commanders in 2011. These figures resigned in protest at the government’s lack of sensitivity about the claims of fraud, especially in the digital evidence presented by the prosecutors in order to put the military officers behind bars. At one point, a third of all navy high officers were either in jail or in detention.

The latest rulings and releases come at a very interesting time, as the country heads for the first round of presidential elections on Aug. 10. Erdoğan has expressed his will to become the next president, but has still yet to announce his candidacy, despite the fact that the two main opposition parties have announced their joint candidate as the prominent secular-but-conservative figure, Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the former Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).