Prosecutors in Turkey filed charges Monday against 86 military and civilian suspects accused of plotting to overthrow the government. The case highlights the tensions between the Islamic-oriented ruling party and ultranationalist forces in military and intellectual circles, where there is deep suspicion of Islamic politicians.
A separate case is pending in the constitutional court against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If found guilty of subverting Turkey's secular system of government, the party could be dissolved and its leaders barred from politics. The two cases have become battlegrounds in Turkey's ongoing struggle between secular nationalists and Islamic-oriented politicians.
Turkey is a NATO member that in recent months has conducted air raids and sent troops across the border with northern Iraq to attack Kurdish militia opposed to Turkey's rule in its Kurdish-dominated southeast. It has a history of military takeovers that have weakened democratic institutions. This is one of the reasons its admission to the European Union sees delays. Some nationalists are opposed to joining the EU as it demands too many economic and political concessions.
The Financial Times reports that Istanbul chief prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin accused the 86 of being members of an armed terrorist group and attempting to use force to topple the government. Although they were not named publicly, the accused are linked to Ergenekon, a shadowy far-right organization that includes disaffected retired Army officers, academics, lawyers, writers, and fringe politicians. A separate indictment is pending against two retired generals and 19 others who were detained earlier this month as part of the same investigation, Mr. Engin said.
Agence-France Presse reports that the 86 defendants are accused of involvement in the bombing of a pro-secular newspaper and the killing of a senior judge in 2006. Both attacks were originally blamed on Islamist militants. In June 2007, police seized explosives from a house in Istanbul, triggering the current investigation into Ergenekon. Of the 86 suspects, 48 are in custody.
A court in Istanbul must decide within two weeks whether to proceed with a trial of the suspects, reports the Los Angeles Times. Political tensions arising from the coup plot and the constitutional case against the AKP have already paralyzed policymaking and damaged Turkey's economic standing.
In recent months, Turkey's media have aired lurid speculation about the alleged coup plot, which hinged on a campaign of violence and protests to provide a pretext for a military intervention. The BBC says that while the speculation may not be well founded, many Turks see the hallmarks of what they call the "deep state" – a shadow government of military and civilian nationalists who see themselves as guardians of the secular state. Some past coups have also involved covert destabilization campaigns to sow chaos and allow military intervention.
The Associated Press reports that the military threatened to intervene last year when Gul was nominated for the presidency. As the indictment was announced Monday, a military court prosecutor reportedly demanded to see the documents in the case, suggesting the military wants to mount its own investigation in parallel to the civilian trial. Analysts say that retired generals were unlikely to have sufficient clout to launch a coup without the backing of the military command.
The Turkish daily Hurriyet says that two suspects arrested in the Ergenekon case were released late Monday. A prominent businessman who chairs the Ankara Chamber of Commerce and another man were released on appeal after two weeks in jail, but ordered not to leave the country. However, eight other detained men, including two retired generals, failed to persuade the Istanbul High Criminal Court to free them.
The New York Times says that the arrest of the two retired generals – others are also linked to the case – has stirred debate over the political role of the powerful military. But some Turks see the timing of the coup indictments and the heavy hand of investigators in rounding up suspects as an attempt to intimidate secularists ahead of Constitutional Court hearings against the AKP. Some observers also fear that the AKP, which grew out of a conservative Islamist movement but often espouses moderation, is blurring the boundaries between religion and the state.
A deputy leader of the opposition Republican People's Party said that persistent leaks to the media ahead of Monday's indictment had "manipulated the investigation process," reports the Turkish Daily News. A deputy leader of the ruling AKP denied any interference and said that the judiciary is independent.