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

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid