A new week of hearings commenced yesterday in Ankara for 103 defendants, mostly former generals, who will present their pleas in a case in which they are accused of overthrowing the government in 1997. Called "postmodern" as it did not involve bloodshed, the military coup, the third outright military takeover in the Turkish republic's history, forced the main coalition partner to step down. With a veiled ultimatum issued on Feb.28, 1997, the all-too-powerful army forced out what they called "Islamist" Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's government a few months later.
For three days, generals, including the former military chief and his aides, mostly men in their 80s, will testify in response to an indictment by prosecutors who seek life sentences for the 60 defendants.
The trial is an opportunity for Turkey to confront its shady history of military takeovers. Those involved in the 1960 coup attempt went unpunished as most of the offenders had either passed away or fell under a statute of limitations. Kenan Evren and Tahsin Şahinkaya, two generals directly responsible for the 1980 coup, died of old age shortly after they were sentenced to life a few years ago. Currently, hundreds of military officers are on trial across Turkey for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, with dozens already sentenced to life.
The Feb. 28 coup trial was overshadowed by allegations that prosecutors in the original probe were linked to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which is blamed for the 2016 coup attempt, and defendants were quick to exploit this link. Çetin Doğan, a former general who was imprisoned in a trial overseen by FETÖ-linked prosecutors and among other defendants in the coup trial, pointed out the FETÖ links while speaking to reporters outside the Ankara courthouse where he and others are being tried. Doğan and other defendants were released pending trial after a brief detention. He claimed it was "a conspiracy" against him and others, while defending his role in the coup. He said a feared military "study group" he helped found was "a legal department set up to stop political Islam," a term used to justify the secular elite's witch hunt against anyone they deemed conservative.
The coup, or rather the process before and after it, disrupted the lives of people forced to drop out of school, dismissed from their jobs and jailed on trumped-up charges. Within the scope of the infamous Feb. 28 decisions, the "Batı Çalışma Grubu" ("West Study Group") was founded and chaired by then Deputy Chief of General Staff Çevik Bir who was considered the "mastermind" of the coup plot to control the proceeding of the decrees under the name of the "Action Plan against Reactionary Forces." Briefings on secularism were given, particularly to judges and civil servants, by members of the military. The repression of religious segments of society was hardened, including a ban on headscarves at universities that was enacted after a previous coup but not widely enforced. A great number of civil servants were fired. Heavy censorship was imposed on the media and opposition journalists were fired. Some companies saw embargoes imposed on the pretext that they supported reactionary politics. "Reactionary" or "irticacı" in Turkish refers to a broad derogatory term used by hardline secular groups to brand any person with religious affiliation.