News / Europe

Turkish Courts Order Release of Convicted Military Conspirators

Pro-secular demonstrators wait for the release of former army chief Ilker Basbug outside the Silivri prison complex near Istanbul, Turkey, March 7, 2014.
Pro-secular demonstrators wait for the release of former army chief Ilker Basbug outside the Silivri prison complex near Istanbul, Turkey, March 7, 2014.
Dorian Jones
Turkish courts have ordered that high-ranking generals convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government be released from prison, casting a shadow over the ruling AK Party’s achievement of having removed the Turkish army from politics. The move has prompted speculation that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan now may be looking to the army for help in his battle against a powerful religious cleric, Fetullah Gulen.
 
Since Friday, more than a dozen people, including a former chief of armed forces, retired high-ranking officers, a journalist and a leader of a fringe political party, have been released from jail. All were received long prison sentences after being convicted last year of belonging to the alleged Ergenekon conspiracy, which prosecutors claim sought to overthrow the government.

Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of the Istanbul Policy Forum said that some of those released committed serious offenses. "Amongst them there are sheer putschists: even according to the prime minister, there are many amongst them who were preparing a coup d'etat. There are also people who were involved landmark assassinations, like the [the killings of a] high court judge or the journalist of Armenian origin Hrant Dink. Overall, it tells us the present mindset of the government."

Government reforms

The government has welcomed the releases. It follows legal reforms introduced by the government which stipulates that a person can only be incarcerated for five years while awaiting the completion of the judicial process. While those released had been convicted, all are appealing their convictions.

Kadri Gursel, a columnist for Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper, said the move is an attempt by the government to make peace with the army because it believes it now faces a more serious threat.

"It’s a ramification of the ongoing conflict between the AKP government and its ex-de facto coalition partner, the Gulen movement. Because in a deadly fight, the government badly needs to neutralize its potential enemies, including the military," said Gursel.

Fetullah Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, but analysts say he has many followers within both Turkey's police and its judiciary. The AK Party accuses Gulen supporters of trying to overthrow the government through a series of corruption probes alleging high-level government corruption. The prime minister has also accused Gulen supporters of fabricating cases against the army.

Basbug speaks out

Critics of the Ergenekon case and similar cases claim they were flawed trials. Speaking to reporters upon his release Friday, the former head of Turkey's military, Ilker Basbug, steadfastly insisted he was innocent and the victim of a conspiracy.

"Those who acted with hatred and revenge kept us here for 26 months," he said. "They stole 26 months of my life."
 
Basbug said he would campaign for the release of hundreds of his fellow officers still in jail.

Observers point out that despite any legal failings in the cases against the army, however, the trials were key to ending the military’s political meddling. Since 1960, Turkey's military has forced four governments out of power -- the last in 1997.

With the release of some of those convicted of conspiring against the government, the demilitarization process could be coming to an end, according to political scientist Aktar. He warns, though, that the government could be playing a dangerous game.

"Some put ... the military now as the new ally of the government. But the government has never contemplated a fully fledged demilitarization like in developed mature democracies. No one can pretend the military has completely dropped [the idea of] intervening in political affairs," said Aktar.

Columnist Gursel said that with so many senior military members jailed over the past five years, the army is unlikely to return to day-to-day meddling in politics.
 
"Now the military has no such instrument, [no] such a capacity, remaining after these [court] cases. But if the system collapses, if the state institutions become more dysfunctional, if the economy worsens, if Turkey becomes unmanageable, no one can predict what will happen. I [would] never say the army has no capacity to intervene. But we are far from it, I think," said Gursel.

But the government remains mired in corruption allegations and engaged in an increasingly bitter battle with Gulen supporters within the Turkish state and wider society. Observers say that with the atmosphere deeply polarized, sporadic violent protests ongoing and three elections scheduled to take place over the next 15 months, the country still faces severe tests.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid