Three decades after a coup that traumatized Turkey the Ankara trial has has begun of two ex-generals whose regime was blamed for executions, disappearances and political repression. Their immunity was lifted last year.
Former Turkish chief of staff Kenan Evren, now 94, and former air force commander Tahsin Sahinkaya, now 87, are expected to be questioned from the Ankara courtroom via video link to hospital because of their frail health.
They face end-of-life jail terms on charges of crimes against the state stemming from the coup in September 1980. Their three years of military rule saw 50 people executed, half a million arrested, and Turkey's then political elite persecuted.
Evren and Sahinkaya are the only surviving members of the former junta that overthrew the government of Turkey's president at the time, Suleyman Demirel.
The trial had been unimaginable until recent years when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted AK party, which was first elected in 2002, began curtailing the clout of Turkey's military, which established a secularist tradition in the 1920s.
The backers of the coup had argued that they intervened in 1980 to avert a potential civil war after fatal clashes between extreme leftist and right-wing groups.
Keeping military at bay
Turkey had previously experienced two other military takeovers - in 1960 and 1971 - but the 1980 coup is known as the bloodiest. An Islamic-rooted government was also pressured to relinquish power in 1997 by the military.
Evren served as Turkey's replacement president until 1989, when he retired. A constitution enacted in 1982 exempted the generals from prosecution, formalized the military's role in politics, and restricted public freedoms.
Several officers and retired generals have landed in court recently over alleged coup plots. Many are said to belong to the Ergenekon network, which is accused of conspiracies against Erdogan.
Some say the Ergendekon trials are the Erdogan government's way of silencing opponents - charges the government denies.
ipj/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)