Turkish police arrested the former heads of the Navy and Air Force along with several other senior military officers yesterday in a sweep against top brass linked to a coup plan against the Islamist-leaning Government.
The existence of Sledgehammer, a detailed plot hatched in 2002-03, came to light last month. The arrests could be a spectacular milestone in the democratic history of Turkey, where four previous governments have been ousted by the military but no one has come to trial.
“This morning our security forces began a detention process,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister, said during an official visit to Spain.
By the end of the day almost 50 people — including Ibrahim Firtina, the former Air Force commander, and Ozden Ornek, the former Navy commander, five other senior former generals and seven serving soldiers — had been detained in a series of early-morning raids in nine cities. They were taken to Istanbul for questioning by anti-terrorism police.
Police carrying out the raids entered military schools — from where previous coups were fomented — and the Mehmetcik Foundation, which helps the families of dead soldiers and veterans. Other teams searched the house of the former General Cetin Dogan, who used to head the First Army in charge of the region around Istanbul. He was credited with masterminding the so-called Sledgehammer plot. His lawyer said that he believed the police would be seeking a warrant for Mr Dogan’s arrest.
Another former First Army chief, Ergin Saygun, and the retired admirals Ahmet Feyyaz Ogutcu and Lutfi Sancar, were also arrested, as was Engin Alan, a well-known name among the military who spent much of his career in special forces or anti- terror squads fighting the Kurdish insurgency in southeast Turkey.
Many soldiers were named and their duties were outlined in the Sledgehammer plans, which could explain the swift arrests.
The plot, which was discovered by the independent Turkish daily, Taraf, was the most detailed coup plan ever to come to light in Turkey. It included more than 5,000 pages of scanned documents, CDs of slides and 48 hours of audio recordings, which were seen by The Times. Computer files had digital imprints dated 2002 or 2003, apparently tracing them to military computers.
General Firtina’s name was linked to an alleged plan to bring down a Turkish Air Force jet and blame Greece to generate the nationalist solidarity necessary to stage a successful coup. The Government, it was hoped, would also look inept in issues of national security.
The plot included plans to attack two mosques and use subsequent riots by survivors as proof that Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK) was encouraging Islamic extremism.
It was through the leaked diaries of General Ornek that the Turkish public first heard of a series of other coup plans currently being tried under the banner of Ergenekon — a shadowy, well-connected group of ultra-secularist rightwingers. More than 200 people, including military officers, lawyers, journalists and politicians, have been arrested since the case began 2½ years ago.
Generals Firtina and Ornek had been questioned in December by the police as part of the Ergenekon investigation.
The trial has been attacked by its critics as a witch-hunt against AK opponents, despite what appears to be evidence against many of the detainees. Liberals who have supported it have complained that prosecutors have been unwilling to touch the senior military, where many suspect the plots were founded and directed.
“There was a justified criticism that ... those who really had the power to stage a coup were still at large,” said Alper Gormus, whose magazine, Nokta, was forced to shut down after publishing extracts from General Ornek’s diary. “Now with the detention of the former forces commanders, this objection is no longer founded.”
Sledgehammer, like the Ergenekon plots, tried to justify a military takeover by creating an atmosphere of chaos, nationalism and the fear of fundamentalism in the predominantly Muslim but secular state.
The generals involved in Sledgehammer and other plots cite the widespread fear that the AK party, which was established partly by members of a defunct political Islamist movement, would sweep away Turkey’s secularist system.
1960 The Prime Minister and two other ministers were hanged after a military coup
1971 The Coup by Memorandum came after civil unrest. Suleyman Demirel, the Prime Minister, quit and martial law lasted two years
1980 The military gave itself almost unlimited power in a provisional constitution
1997 Necmettin Erbakan, the country’s first Islamist Prime Minister, resigned under pressure from the army and the judiciary, which said he threatened the secular order
2002-03 Sledghammer was allegedly hatched by Ozden Ornek, the commander of the navy, and other top military figures
Sources: Reuters; Times archives
http://www.timesonline.co.uk / Portal Turkey