It is a case that has brought Turkey’s military to heel and sewn the seeds for the civilian government to assert more control.
The jailing of a former military chief and other senior figures in the so-called “Ergenekon” case will have deep and long-lasting repercussions.
Ex-generals, politicians and journalists were all thrown in the dock – 275 people in all – accused of being involved in a plot to topple the Islamic-orientated government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
More than a dozen of them received a life sentence, including former Chief of Defence Staff General Ilker Basburg – the most prominent defendant.
Well known journalist and opposition member Mustafa Balbay was jailed for 35 years.
According to prosecutors, a network of secular nationalists – code-named Ergenekon – planned high profile attacks, aimed at causing chaos in Turkey and triggering a military coup.
Critics say the charges were trumped up and aimed at stifling opposition.
Erdogan denied interfering in the legal system and the government said it respects the court’s decisions.
“It is a fact that no-one has any right to commit a crime. The court gave the best decision according to its deliberations and we will see what happens with the subsequent appeals,” said government spokesman Bulent Arinc.
The secularist military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980. It cleared the first Islamist-led government out of office in 1997.
The trial has sparked protests, with police blocking hundreds of demonstrators from reaching the criminal court west of Istanbul.
Stones were thrown during clashes and police responded with tear gas and water cannon.
The case did initially have the backing of the Turkish public, who hoped it would hold secularists to account. But that support waned, as people increasingly took the view that it was an effort to clean up political opponents.
Markar Esayan, a journalist with the Taraf newspaper in Istanbul, has been closely watching the Ergenekon proceedings. He discussed the repercussions of the landmark trial with euronews correspondent Bora Bayraktar.
euronews: “What does the Ergenekon case mean for Turkey, what is it all about?”
Markar Esayan: “It is not only a trial about a military coup attempt. It is also a trial of all the preliminary activities, killings and provoking incidents, to convince the people that a coup is actually necessary.
“From this point of view, it is the first of its kind in Turkey. And politically it is a turning point and a milestone. Because of this, it has also triggered many debates.
“At the beginning it was discussed within the public and we can say that the Turkish public was divided in two because of this. This was normal. It was a step to rule of law from the law of the privileged people.
“Strong generals, businessmen, journalists, well known people and military people, politicians, who were considered untouchable, faced justice in this case. And now they have been punished. It is the first time in Turkish history.”
euronews: “Because of the political nature of the case, some people perceive it as an attempt to take revenge. Do you agree with that?”
Markar Esayan: “I would not agree with that, I can’t. The real answer to your question is this. With this case, together with the Sledgehammer case, Turkey is changing the mind of the state.
“When we talk about Ergenekon, we are not talking about people or a narrow gang who gather in secret underground offices and organise crimes.
“Ergenekon is what we called Gladio in the 50s, or Counter-Guerrilla or JITEM. Under different names it continued to survive.
“If you put this in a certain period of time you cannot understand it. Ergenekon, for me, starts in 1913 with the attack of the (Committee of the) Union and Progress against Ottoman liberals. It includes assassinations and coups and it is the structure of the state.
“I mean Ergenekon is not an organisation but it was the state itself. It is a way of ruling the state which includes moving from the routine, eliminating others by using the force of the state, executing the ministers and the prime minister as they did.”
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