Some 100 senior Turkish army officers are on trial for their alleged role in a 1997 coup. Critics call it revenge by the Islamic government against the secular army. Others say it is Turkish democracy at work.
Turkey's former military chief and other high-ranking officers began testifying in court on Monday (02.09.) about their alleged role in ousting the country's Islamist-led coalition government in 1997.
The trial has been hailed by the Islamic-conservative AKP government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a manifestation of Turkey's “transformation to democracy."
“Turkey is going through normalization,” said the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) vice president, Ahmet Aydin. “Turkey has been transformed into a new system, a system of the rule of law and democracy,” he stated.
But the politically divisive case has sparked widespread criticism among Turkey's secular opposition, which distrusts Erdogan's policies and claims the AKP is aiming to turn the country into an Islamist state.
“This trial is absurd,” Kamer Genc, a senior deputy from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), wrote on his twitter account as he was following the case in the courtroom. “The AKP government regards measures taken against Islamist reactionaries as crimes,” he stressed. “On February 28, 1997, Turkey's National Security Council decided on legitimate measures for threats against the secular character of our state,” Genc argued. “No Turkish court can have a trial based on such allegations,” he claimed.
The high-profile case concerns events which have become known as the "postmodern coup" or the "February 28 process," in Turkey. Unlike the military coups of 1960, 1971 or 1980, the generals did not seize power or suspend the constitutional order, but orchestrated behind the scenes a political pressure campaign to force the resignation of the coalition government, led by the Islamist politician Necmettin Erbakan.
'Setback for democracy'
Deniz Zeyrek, a political analyst and Ankara bureau chief of the liberal daily, Radikal, says that the Turkish military's last major intervention in 1997 had targeted political Islam, but it was also a setback for Turkish democracy.
“I have personally witnessed the days of this military intervention as a journalist. Not only Islamists, but also liberals and democrats were the political victims of this process,” he told DW.
The “post-modern coup”, as it was labeled by one of the generals, increased the military's role in politics, limited freedoms in political life and imposed several restrictions on the media.
According to Zeyrek, a specialist on civil-military relations, a fair trial of this post-modern coup may contribute to Turkey's democratization and normalization in politics.
“I have some concerns, but still I am hopeful that the trial can be another step towards Turkey's democratization,” he said. “But this can only be achieved if the trial is free from a revenge mentality,” he stressed. “Unfortunately, this revenge mentality was present in similar cases, like Ergenekon and Sledgehammer, and we see it casting a worrisome shadow over the current trial.”
Sensational court cases
Since 2008, Turkey has witnessed sensational probes and court cases against both active and retired army officials, opposition politicians, academics and journalists.
More than 250 retired officers, including former army chief Ilker Basbug, was jailed last month over an alleged Ergenekon coup plot.
In September last year, more than 300 military officers were sentenced to jail for the alleged Sledgehammer coup plot to overthrow the AKP government. All of the defendants deny the allegations and have appealed to the Turkish Supreme Court.
Both the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases were marred by procedural flaws and long pre-trial detention periods. Critics argue that these court cases are politically motivated and aimed at curbing the power of the once-supreme Turkish military.
A recent poll by Gezici Arastirma shows that 53. 8 percent of the Turkish people believe that the principles of a fair trial were not respected during the Ergenekon trial.