It may the most important trial in Turkey’s recent history: hundreds of active and retired military officers accused in a civil court of plotting to overthrow the Islamic-rooted government!
The two-year-long case wrapping up near Istanbul stands out in Turkish politics because it directly attacks the secular army, once untouchable even though the country is predominantly Muslim.
The alleged plan in 2003 – codenamed ‘Sledgehammer’ – was to bomb historic mosques in Istanbul to facilitate a military coup and drive the ruling Justice and Development Party (the AKP) from power.
The men in the dock have rejected any guilt.
When the process began in December 2010, the suspected ‘mastermind’ General Cetin Dogan, said: “This trial has no valid basis. We will prove it. Listen patiently and tell others. Tell them what is going on in Turkey.”
All the defendants have denied the charges and branded what has been tabled as evidence as fabricated.
The AKP is considered by some to be mildly rooted in political Islam or Islamist-leaning.
The Turkish army sees itself as the guarantor of Turkey’s secular principles.
As a labyrinthine battle of wits got under way, the then head of the army, Ilker Basbug, said: “I ask you: how can an army whose soldiers invoke the name of Allah when they attack put a bomb in the house of God, the mosque? Can we be so low?”
The coup trials are seen as part of an effort by the AKP government to reduce the military’s influence in politics.
Pro-government circles have praised the trial as a step toward democracy, but pro-secular voices said it was merely a bid to silence opposition.
Before the trial was launched, President Abdullah Gul successfully engineered a ground-breaking political transformation. He convinced the Turkish people to back amendments to the constitution. This was to curtail the power of the judiciary and make the armed forces subservient to civilian rule.
Memories in politics are long, and the army’s three coups since 1960 are part of its overall record. Also, in 1997 the military pressured an Islamic-leaning prime minister to step down; he was the political mentor of current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.