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