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Turkey follows drama of alleged coup plot

Generals, top army officers arrested for reportedly planning a coup against the Erdogan government.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Army Chief of Staff General Ilker Basbug pray during a funeral in Ankara February 28, 2010. Turkey's prime minister met the head of the armed forces two days after the arrest of two retired generals over an alleged coup plot risked renewing tension between the government and the military. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turks may love their dizilar, the interminable serials that dominate television, but none are as compelling as the real-life drama playing out in courtrooms, army barracks and government offices nationwide.

Consecutive revelations of buried weapons caches and documents purporting to be blueprints for an anti-government coup have held this country spellbound since 2007.

Last week, the drama crested as several serving generals were arrested, then hauled in front of civilian courts to be charged with membership in Ergenekon, an organization so controversial that even its existence is disputed: It is alleged to have been formed by Turkey’s deep state to overthrow the Islamically-rooted government.

It was the first time that serving members of the military were detained by a civilian government in a country where the Army is seen as the guarantor of the secular Republic founded on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

“The events in Turkey are both terrifying and exciting all at once,” said Joshua Walker, a Turkey expert at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington DC. “The time for tanks in the street is over but this does not mean that the time for the military as a political actor is over. Rather, we’re witnessing a series of internal struggles being waged.”

Prosecutors in the ongoing Ergenekon case have arrested over 200 journalists, intellectuals, politicians and military officials in what they claim is a conspiracy by secularists to overthrow the ruling AK Party. Along the way, they have breached several taboos, such as trying serving generals in civilian courts.

“Now, no member of the military can rest assured that he will not be detained or arrested in the future if he attempts to overthrow the government,” wrote columnist Mumtazer Turkone in the pro-government Zaman daily. “With the latest attempts, the last nails are being hammered into the coffin of the tradition of overthrowing governments.”

Following the arrest of some 50 suspects last Wednesday, President Abdullah Gul brokered a crisis meeting between arch-rivals Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Army Chief of Staff Ilker Basbug.

Three top Army detainees were concurrently released in a move interpreted as a bid for de-escalation. But on Friday, fresh countrywide arrests netted another 18 officers, jacking up tensions and bringing the total of those arrested close to 40.