icon bookmark-bicon bookmarkicon cameraicon checkicon chevron downicon chevron lefticon chevron righticon chevron upicon closeicon v-compressicon downloadicon editicon v-expandicon fbicon fileicon filtericon flag ruicon full chevron downicon full chevron lefticon full chevron righticon full chevron upicon gpicon insicon mailicon moveicon-musicicon mutedicon nomutedicon okicon v-pauseicon v-playicon searchicon shareicon sign inicon sign upicon stepbackicon stepforicon swipe downicon tagicon tagsicon tgicon trashicon twicon vkicon yticon wticon fm
6 Aug, 2013 12:14

Ergenekon trial shows Turkish govt fears outside support for military, secularists

The trial over a military coup in Turkey shows that the ruling AKP party now fears a threat from what it perceives as the secularist, military alliance against them could have endorsement from outside, Professor Mark Almond of Bilkent University told RT.

On Monday, a Turkish court handed down 17 life sentences in the trial of nearly 300 accused coup plotters, including for ex-army chief Ilker Basbug and several other ex-top brass, along with leftist party leaders and a journalist.

RT:Twenty-one people have been acquitted. Does that mean that the final outcome won’t be as grim as activists predicted?

Mark Almond: Well we can’t be absolutely certain of the final outcome, but I think the problem is that such is the polarization of Turkish society, and certainly Turkish political groups at the moment, that the really very heavy sentences have been passed for things that have attracted attention from critics of the government, and it’s very difficult to see that people who doubt the judgments and doubt the evidence that’s been presented are really going to be satisfied by this. I think quite on the contrary, the situation is going to get more tense.

RT:But Turkish armed forces are second in the NATO bloc, so why would the man at the head of the army, who got his life sentence today, want to overthrow the government through an internet campaign? What do you think?

MA: Well, it’s very strange, General Basbug himself said originally it was bizarre. If he wanted to organize a coup he was in a much better position to do so in charge of the armed forces than with this rather ragtag group of journalists, peculiar underworld figures and retired army officers. So that’s always been one of the problems with the plausibility of the accusations. And even the prime minister has said that he couldn’t really believe that General Basbug had been at the center of the plot, he may now have changed his mind. And I think more the problem for the government is that they feel under pressure from the street protests that began in Istanbul over Gezi Park, they also feel under pressure internationally because of fall of President Morsi in Egypt, who they saw as their protégé, a new Egyptian version of their own Justice and Development Party in Turkey. They see the pressure in Tunisia.

So I think if we can talk about conspiracy theories and debates, on the one hand you have the charge that there’s a deep state military intelligence conspiracy against the prime minister, but the prime minister’s supporters certainly seem to feel that there’s a deep plot against them organized by secularist forces not just in Turkey.

RT:But we know that Turkey has suffered several military coups, doesn’t this give government reason to worry? To be cautious?

MA: Right. The prime minister said of course the history of military coups up until 1980 would mean that it’s not implausible that such a thing could happen. And in 1997 there was a so-called ‘soft coup’ when the first Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan was forced from power. On the other hand, since 2002 the AKP seem to be growing in support and strength, including from the international community which in the past for instance had rather tolerated military coups, if we mean US government.

Now however in the last few months we’ve seen this dramatic shift in the Middle East, which is why I think they feel particularly vulnerable. They see the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, who they see very much as their sister party, pushed out of power. They feel that the Americans and the Europeans have tolerated that. I think in Ankara, in government circles, in AKP circles they fear that although this particular case got going some years ago, now the threat from what they perceive as the secularist, military alliance against them could have endorsement from outside. Whether that’s the case is of course a different thing, but we find it in Turkey if you like conspiracy theories and deep suspicious, have plausibility to both sides of the political spectrum.

RT:And how has this trial affected the country’s armed forces?

MA: This is again a big question. If the armed forces had really had a core determined to overthrow the government, surely something would have happened. Nothing has happened so far, the armed forces have remained disciplined and in their barracks. What now is the question is what will happen if on the one hand, renewed street protests once Ramadan has passed, once the hot month of August has passed, and the government come under pressure on the streets, there are again rumors in Turkey last week of splits inside even the police force, between police units of very loyal to the government and others who feel the government has been too heavy-handed with protesters. So we could be seeing a kind of crisis with parts of the state that in the past all fitted together as a single unit -- army, police and so on -- beginning perhaps to divide on secular versus religious party political lines. That, of course, would be very dangerous.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.