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TURKEY: Coup trial seen as vital to 'normalization' of military's relationship to government

Coup plot

Nearly 200 mostly military personnel accused of plotting to bomb mosques and assassinate journalists as part of a plan to overthrow the government went on trial Thursday in Istanbul in a milestone case many observers have characterized as a key step in the process to demilitarize Turkish politics.

The alleged coup, dubbed the "sledgehammer" plot, was reportedly planned for 2003 but only came to light in February of this year when the Turkish newspaper Taraf obtained documents it claimed laid out a detailed plan for overthrowing the government.

According to the Taraf report, the alleged coup-plotters intended to sow unrest by blowing up two Istanbul mosques and provoking the Greek military into shooting down a Turkish fighter jet. They are also accused of planning to assassinate 19 journalists, arrest 36 others and “make use of” 137 others.

 "The relationship [between the civilian and military branches of government] is normalizing, and Turkey is in a process of transition from a tutelary democracy controlled by the military to a normal democracy," Sahin Alpay, a senior lecturer in political science at Bahcesehir University, told Babylon and Beyond. "There is public support also in the country for normal role for the military ... as a normal, professional army."

Turkey has been caught in a tug of war between the military and civilian branches of government for decades, with the armed forces maintaining a powerful influence over domestic and foreign policies and periodically stepping in to overthrow the governments seen as too sympathetic towards Islamism.

Partly due to reforms introduced as part of Turkey's bid to join the European Union, the military's role over the last 10 years has been questioned, and the trial of the alleged coup-plotters has been seen by many as an important step to reigning in what was the nation's most powerful institution. Among the defendant are many high-ranking officers, including four admirals, a general, and two colonels, according to the BBC.

But supporters of the military see it as a vital bulwark of secularism against the rise of conservative Islam, and have accused the government of fabricating the alleged coup in order to consolidate its own power.

"It's very difficult because we don't have any opinion polls on this, but I don't think the trial is that polarizing among Turks," said Mensur Akgun, an expert at the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, a think tank.

"By and large [most people] do trust the judiciary, and I think the majority of Turks believe [the charges] have some substance," he added. "This is another milestone in the emancipation of Turkish democracy from the control of the military."

The opening of the trial followed a setback earlier this week for Turkey's bid to join to EU when accession talks stalled over Turkey's unsettled dispute with Greece and Cyprus over the status of the northern part of the island, which is currently under Turkish control.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Security teams guard an Istanbul courthouse Tuesday, where proceedings relating to the coup plot were taking place. Credit: Ibrahim Usta / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (4)

@Lincoln: Unless you were paid to write these comments, I'd say you were informed so wrongly about the subject. These trials have nothing to do with killings of Christian pastor(s)/Armenian-Turkish writer. Just on the contrary, government's unsecular Islamic ideology fuels these crimes. The people indicted for Sledgehammer/Ergenekon have nothing to do with these charges, indeed they are the secular antidote for AKP government's ever increasing Islamist conservatism. It is amazing to read such slanted and wrong articles/comments about what is really and clearly happening in Turkey.

Before these assassins were in jail, look at the killings of minorities and Christian pastors and missionaries to ferment chaos in the society, the killing of the Armenian journalist have been linked to these cold blooded murderers in jail.

Turkey's democracy is way better than it was before.

This trial is a milestone for democracy and Turkey is safer when these assassin coup makers are in jail.

Make no mistake about it; Turkey is polarized and public's reflexes are silenced, thanx to AKP and prime minister Erdogan's systematic fear politics. He is very dangerous as his aim is to topple the secular establishment, convert the country to Islamic monarchy, jail Kemalist citizens with no solid evidence. They have positioned scores of AKP sympathizers into judiciary, police departments, universities. The situation in Turkey is very serious and sliding towards religious conservatism day by day. Free speech and protesting civil rights against AKP government, Erdogan and his cabinet is the quickest way to be tortured and put into jail. The trial is a joke. They have jailed so many patriots, anybody who raises voice against AKP without credible evidence. The charges are manufactured and proved to have lots of logistical and material discrepancies, crucial errors. Yet they are still in the jail. Its judge is replaced in the last minute by the ministry as he is probably not from AKP's rank. In AKP's democracy, citizens are considered guilty and stay that way regardless of the lack of evidence. Yet Western media still plays to their hands by praising AKP and Erdogan as democrats. Wake up !


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