ISTANBUL (AFP)–Turkey’s military was under unprecedented public pressure yesterday after a newspaper unveiled what it said was a secret plan drawn up within the armed forces to destabilize the government. This is after a news blackout on the issue ordered by a military court drew condemnation from the media and politicians.
Joining widespread criticism directed against the military after publication of the story about the plan in the independent Taraf newspaper, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, told a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the weekend that his aides were still investigating the story, adding that the AKP would go to court against its authors if the plan turned out to be genuine. “We will not be mere spectators, given this illegal activity against our party,” Erdogan said.
After its initial reaction, which consisted of announcing an investigation and of having a military court order a news blackout about the suspected plan without denying that such a plan existed, the military yesterday tried to distance itself from the document, issuing two statements in short order.
First, the office of the top military prosecutor said an initial investigation suggested the plan had not been written by members of the general staff. A few hours later, the general staff posted a second statement on its website. “If the document is shown to be genuine, we are confident that those responsible will be punished by the judicial authorities according to the legal framework,” the statement said.
“If the document is a fake, the Turkish armed forces will follow the case until it is clear who wrote it and with what aim.” The statements also defended the decision for the news blackout, which has been largely ignored by the media.
Public criticism of the armed forces is highly unusual in Turkey, a country that has seen four governments ousted by the military since 1960.
The military regards itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular values and only two years ago threatened a coup against the religiously conservative Erdogan government.
The political role of the army has come under scrutiny in recent years after a series of political reforms in connection with Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union strengthened free speech and the position of the civilian government.
Serving and retired army officers have been named as suspects in a trial against members of a nationalist group called Ergenekon that prosecutors say tried to bring down the Erdogan government by terror and a military coup. In April, Gen Ilker Basbug, the chief of general staff, said publicly that the army would not allow anti-democratic activities within its ranks. Yesterday, the general staff repeated this assurance.
But Taraf said the plan calling for a destabilization of the government was drawn up in the same month that Gen Basbug said the army would not allow such activities. Taraf, a daily that is known for its critical reporting about the army, reported on Friday that a colonel in the general staff in Ankara had written a secret report titled Action Plan for the Combat against Islamist Extremism two months ago. The report suggested a series of measures to destabilize the AKP and the movement of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher living in the United States who is seen as an extremist bent on destroying the secular Turkish republic by his opponents in the army and the judiciary, Taraf said.
According to Taraf, the report called for agents provocateur to infiltrate the AKP to create tensions within the party and for the creation of negative media coverage of Turkey’s arch-foes Armenia and Greece to strengthen right-wing parties at the expense of the AKP. The report also said weapons should be planted in buildings belonging to the Gulen movement so Gulen’s followers could be presented as extremists.
The newspaper said the report had been found in the office of Serdar Ozturk, a lawyer and former military officer who is among the Ergenekon suspects. Yesterday, Taraf quoted an unnamed former general as saying work on the Action Plan had begun in January.
One of Ozturk’s lawyers, Hasan Gurbuz, told Turkish media the document in question did not belong to his client. But several newspapers reported that another of Mr Ozturk’s lawyers was present during the police search of Mr Ozturk’s office and that the search had been recorded on video.