As part of the investigation into the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention, police took into custody on Thursday several former generals. Among them was Çevik Bir, the deputy chief of General Staff at the time, who is known to have played a major role in the so-called post-modern coup d’etat of Feb. 28 and is the most important figure of the arrestees.
Arrest warrants were issued for a total the 31 retired military officers, after which police searched premises in İstanbul, Ankara and Çanakkale. Reports indicate that most of the locations searched are the homes of former military officers who played a major role in the postmodern coup d’etat. The military intervention is often referred to as “post-modern” because although it was bloodless, it was able to bring down a coalition government led by an Islamist-leaning party.
The investigation can be considered a follow-up to the “cleansing process” implemented by the 88-year-old Turkish Republic, a process which began with the coming to power of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in 2002. Since the first military coup d’etat in 1960, the republic has been exposed to military coups nearly every 10 years; the military saw itself as the real owner of the republic and did not hesitate to intervene when it felt such action was necessary. The military, which got away scot-free in the past as far as its misdeeds were concerned, is now facing the consequences.
Mehmet Altan, a professor at the Faculty of Economics of İstanbul University and former editorial writer of the Star daily, told the Cihan news agency he feels the investigation is important for Turkey. “It may be a little late, but it’s an important move as far as democracy is concerned,” he commented. The role the judiciary played in the affair has also been much criticized. As one of the victims of the Feb. 28 post-modern coup, Altan’s words are striking in this regard. “The judiciary acted as an accomplice. Members of the judiciary attended briefings at the General Staff,” he said.
Another victim of the Feb. 28 post-modern coup, Nazlı Ilıcak, a columnist for the Sabah daily, also spoke to Cihan, saying the investigation came as no surprise and might be extended to include former Chiefs of General Staff İsmail Hakkı Karadayı and Hüseyin Kıvrıkoğlu. “Feb. 28 was an attempt at a military intervention that took place within the chain of command and toppled the government. So the investigation may reach the two former chiefs of staff as well,” she remarked.
Before the AK party came to power in 2002, the military was perceived as an institution which governments were incapable of calling to account. Rather, it was the military, the high-ranking generals, who imposed major policy preferences on governments.
Şeref Malkoç, a former deputy and the deputy chairman of the Voice of the People Party (HAS Party), is one of the people who has recently filed a criminal complaint concerning the Feb. 28 coup. Commenting on the investigation conducted by Specially Authorized Prosecutor Mustafa Bilgili, he told Sunday’s Zaman, “I think this is a promising process.” He believes the decision made by Parliament, with the support of all parties, to found an investigation committee, has also contributed to the process. “What we want is to create a political atmosphere in which no move against democracy will ever be on the country’s agenda,” he said, stressing that those who are responsible for the crimes should not be allowed to get away unpunished in order to ensure society does not lose faith in justice. Malkoç, who believes like Ilıcak that the investigation is just at its preliminary stages, expects it to extend to accomplices in the media and politics.
The probe was launched after hundreds of complaints were filed by plaintiffs from various provinces across Turkey. Most plaintiffs are individuals who say they were victimized by the Feb. 28 process. On Feb. 28, 1997, an unarmed military intervention that resulted in the fall of the coalition government led by Necmettin Erbakan of the now-defunct Welfare Party (RP) occurred under the leadership of Gen. Çevik Bir. In reference to the coup attempt, which was also termed a “soft coup,” Gen. Bir has said on several occasions that they “performed a balance check for democracy.”
Bir is also the mastermind behind a 1998 memorandum that targeted several institutions as well as journalists and with the intent to intimidate and cause them to lose their jobs. Reportedly at the heart of the investigation are the actions of the West Study Group (BÇG), which was established within the military to categorize politicians, intellectuals, soldiers and bureaucrats according to their religious and ideological backgrounds during the Feb. 28 coup process. Bir, the deputy chief of General Staff at the time, was the head of the BÇG. The Feb. 28 coup introduced a series of harsh restrictions on religious life, with an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the use of the Islamic headscarf. The military was purged of members with suspected ties to religious groups.
Commenting on the investigation on Thursday, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said the probe was part of “Turkey’s efforts to prevent any suspension of democracy.” However, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was critical of the investigation. “You cannot seek justice with feelings of revenge. If you seek justice with feelings of revenge, there cannot be justice there,” he said, accusing the government of seeking revenge for the coup.
*Ali Aslan Kılıç contributed to this report from Ankara.