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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.


Basbug heads the army but is believed not to have been involved in the alleged plot, codenamed Sledgehammer, that was revealed last month. The detailed documents, published by the Taraf newspaper, described provocateurs linked to the army who would plant bombs in mosques and would precipitate a military incident with Greece in order to create the conditions for a coup. Army officers explained away the document as “contingency planning” by the military.

Addressing lawmakers in Ankara, Erdogan defended the arrests as “setting free the consciousness of the people” as Turkey adopts the kind of tough rule of law reforms that will allow it to enter the European Union.

But secularists believe that Ergenekon is not so much a military conspiracy as the government persecuting the army under the guise of a legal investigation.

“The root of our power as a nation always came from the army because it was an army of the people for the people,” said one engineer who asked that his name not be printed when criticising the government. “Now the Islamists are trying to destroy the same thing that made Turkey strong.”

One of the less visible power centers accused in the ongoing crisis are the supporters of an influential spiritual leader living in informal exile in New Jersey. Fethullah Gulen is a preacher who has been accused of seeking, since the 1970s, to re-establish an Ottoman-style religious caliphate. Several of his supporters are said to be powerful security services officials.

In February, a crisis was triggered in Turkey's judiciary when the prosecutor in Gulen’s home province of Erzurum had the prosecutor of another province arrested. Critics of Gulen claim that his supporters were responsible for the arrest and accuse them of operating as a “state within a state,” the same charge as that levied against the military.

“Turkey has replaced one “untouchable” organization for another, more dangerous one,” noted Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Criticizing the Gulen movement, which controls the national police and its powerful domestic intelligence branch, and which exerts increasing influence in the judiciary, has become as taboo as assailing the military once was.”

The pro-Gulen Turkish newspaper Zaman called Cagaptay’s comment in Foreign Policy magazine “highly biased, unscholarly” and part of a “smear campaign” against Gulen.
Nevertheless, some Turkish journalists are scared that they are more constrained than ever in reporting the more sensitive aspects of Ergenekon.

“Now we are publishing much less of the truth than we could in the past because of worries over fines levied by the government against the press,” said a Turkish journalist for a mass-circulation daily who requested he not be named. “For example, we are pretending that the prosecutor’s arrest was over his investigation into the Ismailaga fraternity (a small, hyper-conservative Muslim group) when in fact it was because of his longstanding investigation into the Gulenists.”