Turkey's military defanged: Is it good for democracy?
The resignation of Turkey's top brass a week ago was hailed as a sign of democratic progress after four coups. But some allege that the military was brought down with fabricated evidence.
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The military displayed its dominance again in 1997, when it forced Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to resign. When Mr. Erdogan’s Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, a confrontation seemed all but inevitable.Skip to next paragraph
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The arrests of military officers started in March 2010, triggered by a sensational scoop in the daily Taraf newspaper, which had been handed a suitcase containing documents, tape recordings, and CDs.
The paper detailed the Sledgehammer plot, allegedly hatched in 2003 by a cabal of top soldiers aiming to overthrow the AKP by staging terrorist attacks and assassinations, thus fomenting chaos as a pretext for seizing power.
The scandal dealt a body blow to the military’s prestige, and led to the arrest of scores of officers, including generals and admirals.
Inconsistencies in evidence
But families and lawyers of defendants claim that scores of inconsistencies exist in the evidence amassed against them. These include references to hospitals, military installations, and other institutions that either did not exist in 2003, or had different names.
Some of the accused also claim documents, CDs, and computer drives were planted at their homes or workplaces.
In one bizarre case, police acting on a tip that an officer named Emrah Karaca was involved in a military espionage and blackmail case, instead reportedly raided the home of another officer named Emrah Kucukakca, who was not at home but was later arrested and held in prison for nine months.
He was finally released in June after the court acknowledged that none of the evidence was related to him.
“Nowhere was my name found in any of this,” Kucukakca had told the court, “so why was I arrested?”
Fear about investigating judicial misdeeds
But for some, any doubt about the authenticity of some documents in the trial have been laid to rest by the words of the suspects themselves.
In one recording of a military seminar from March 2003 that forms the core of the Sledgehammer case, officers are heard discussing detailed plans to seize power in the event of an Islamist uprising. Defendants acknowledge the recordings are genuine, but describe them as a “war game scenario.”
Earlier this week, another imprisoned colonel admitted the authenticity of a military memo in which generals authorized the setting up of websites to disseminate propaganda against the AKP, as well as minorities including Kurds, Greeks, and Armenians.
“What’s revealed is that [coup-plotting] is their normal, routine work, and in those seminars they really planned a coup without even calling it one,” says Etyen Mahcupyan, an adviser at the liberal Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation think tank.
Others disagree, but are afraid to investigate further. In March, two respected investigative journalists – Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik – who had been researching sensitive topics, including judicial malpractice, were arrested for alleged involvement in a terrorist conspiracy.
“It’s sad that we now have a media environment in which no one wants to touch this stuff,” says Ms. Aydintasbas. “I don’t want to touch it anymore, because who knows that I won’t be included in the next roundup?”