Retired Gen. Çevik Bir, who is known to have played a major role in the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention, was detained on Thursday as police raided dozens of premises in three provinces as part of an investigation into the 1997 coup.
The intervention is often referred to as a “postmodern” coup d'état due to the fact that as bloodless as it was able to bring down a coalition government led by an Islamist-leaning party at the time.
Most of the addresses searched are homes of former military officers who played a major role in the postmodern coup. Among the homes searched by police are the houses of retired Gen. Bir, known as the architect of the 1997 coup, and retired generals Abdullah Kılıçarslan and İdris Koralp.
Reports said in the morning that Bir was among 31 retired military officers for whom detention warrants were issued. The state-run Anatolia news agency said that later in the day Bir was detained. Police are searching 31 premises in İstanbul, Ankara and Çanakkale.
Specially Authorized Prosecutor Mustafa Bilgili is conducting the investigation into the actions of generals of the time, including then-Chief of General Staff Gen. İsmail Hakkı Karadayı, National Security Council (MGK) Secretary-General Gen. Tuncer Kılınç and former Land Forces Commander Gen. Erdal Ceylanoğlu. These officers, who have all since retired, are all suspects in the investigation.
The probe was launched after hundreds of complaints were filed by plaintiffs from different provinces across Turkey. Most plaintiffs are individuals who say they were victimized by the Feb. 28 process.
On Feb. 28, 1997, an unarmed military intervention that resulted in the fall of the coalition government led by Necmettin Erbakan of the now-defunct Welfare Party (RP) occurred under the leadership of Gen. Bir. In reference to the coup attempt, which was termed a “soft coup,” Gen. Bir has said on several occasions that they “made a balance check for democracy.”
Bir is also the mastermind behind a 1998 memorandum that targeted several journalists and institutions with the intent to intimidate and cause them to lose their jobs.
Reportedly at the heart of the investigation are the actions of the West Study Group (BÇG), which was established within the military to categorize politicians, intellectuals, soldiers and bureaucrats according to their religious and ideological backgrounds during the Feb. 28 coup process. Bir, the deputy chief of General Staff of the time, was the head of the BÇG.
The Feb. 28 coup introduced a series of harsh restrictions on religious life, with an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the use of the Islamic headscarf. The military was purged of members with suspected ties to religious groups.
In addition, a number of newspapers were closed down after the coup based on an MGK decision that required closer monitoring of media outlets. However, none of the military figures who had a hand in overthrowing the RP government have stood trial.
Commenting on the investigation on Thursday, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said the probe is a part of “Turkey's efforts to prevent any suspension of democracy.”
However, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was critical of the investigation. “You cannot seek justice with feelings of revenge. If you seek justice with feeling of revenge, there cannot be justice there,” he said, accusing the government of seeking revenge for the coup.