Nine more suspects who testified to prosecutors on Sunday as part of a probe of the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup, including retired Gen. Çevik Bir, were arrested early on Monday. Bir and the eight other suspects who were sent to jail are among 31 suspects for whom detention warrants were issued on Thursday as part of the probe of the 1997 military intervention, which eventually forced the government to resign in what is widely referred to as a postmodern coup.
The nine suspects were among 12 others who testified to prosecutors at the Ankara Specially Authorized Prosecutor's Office, which is overseeing the investigation, on Sunday and were referred to a court for arrest. The Ankara 11th High Criminal Court ruled in favor of arresting nine of them. The nine suspects were sent to Sincan Prison, while the court has imposed a travel ban on the three others who were released.
With Monday's arrests, the number of suspects arrested as part of the 1997 coup probe now stands at 18. Nine suspects who appeared before a judge after testifying to prosecutors were sent to jail pending trial early on Sunday morning, while seven others were released. Retired Rear Adm. Abdullah Kılıçarslan was among those arrested. The nine suspects had to respond to questions from prosecutors about six plots devised during the coup period in their interrogation on Saturday. The prosecution says the suspects also held meetings with US and Israeli officials seeking “support” for the military intervention, which is usually known as a post-modern coup and was carried out without the use of arms.
It began on Feb. 2, 1997, and unfolded as a process that resulted in the resignation of the Refah-Yol -- a combination of the names of the Welfare Party (RP) and the True Path Party (DYP) -- coalition government in June of the same year.
According to the prosecutor's claims, the suspects, who include retired Gen. Çevik Bir, who was the deputy chief of General Staff at the time, met with US and Israeli officials. According to the prosecution's allegations, Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Onur Öymen also participated in at least one such meeting.
The Western Study Group (BÇG), the group the organizers of the coup formed at the time, produced six wet-signature documents that have the form of action plans. The BÇG was founded to fight “reactionaryism” in Turkey. The BÇG also planned to conduct efforts to overthrow the Islamist regime in Iran.
The Ankara Specially Authorized Prosecutor's Office is conducting the investigation. In addition to the questions on meetings with US and Israeli officials, the suspects were asked to specify their position and duty between the years 1996 and 1998, whether any of them worked together with retired officers Bir, Çetin Doğan, Kenan Deniz, Fevzi Türkeri, Erol Özkasnak and İdris Koralp and the full content of their knowledge about the BÇG and its activities.
They also had to respond to questions on whether the trials of religious mayors of the time -- such as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Şükrü Karatepe, Bekir Yıldız and Ali Nabi Koçak -- were the result of a psychological operation to convince the public that Turkey is faced with a religious threat.
Meanwhile, Onur Öymen responded to the reports about his participation in a meeting between BÇG generals and foreign officials. He said he had had talks with US and Israeli officials at the time, but none of his contacts included seeking help to overthrow the government. He said he was the undersecretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry between 1995 and 1997, noting there was nothing unusual about him having meetings with foreign officials.
Meanwhile, the General Staff made a statement on Monday, stating that it had submitted all the documents regarding the investigation requested by the prosecution. The statement also denied news reports that appeared in the press over the weekend that Bir had requested that someone from the General Staff meet him at the Ankara airport, prior to his being flown to the capital to testify to prosecutors. Turkish newspapers had claimed that Bir requested a military official to meet him at the airport, but that the General Staff had denied him this request.
Meanwhile, many individuals and groups continued to file for co-plaintiff status in the case. The Aczimendi community -- whose leader Müslüm Gündüz made headlines during the Feb. 28 period for his involvement in a sex scandal with a seemingly religious-minded woman -- believes that they were victimized and used as a scapegoat to create fear of rising Islamism. A group of Aczimendi was in Ankara on Monday where they wanted to walk to the Ankara Courthouse to file a criminal complaint against the suspects. Gündüz, who spoke for the group, said they were the worst hit victims by the coup, saying some Aczimendi were imprisoned during the period. The group was stopped by the police from marching. Gündüz said he and his disciples were ready to drive to the courthouse and had no intention of causing trouble. The Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office didn't give the Aczimendi permission to make a press statement in front of the courthouse.
A group of 150 military officers who were forced to retire during the coup also announced that they will file for co-plaintiff status in the case once the indictment is ready. The officers, who are members of the Forced Retirees Association, say their petitions are ready to be submitted once the indictment is complete. Servet Kahramener, head of the association, said hundreds of officers, field officers, NCOs and senior privates were dismissed from the military without any legal basis or severance benefits just because of their religiously inclined lifestyle. Others, whom the BÇG believed would not be useful for their cause, were forced to retire, he said. The possibility of trial for the architects of Feb. 28 is a “victory for democracy,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç told reporters on Monday following a Cabinet meeting that the government needs time to assess the probe in some detail before allowing state ministers to apply for co-plaintiff status on an individual basis as well as the government as an institution. He added the Cabinet hadn't discussed the postmodern coup investigation.
Dangerous short-order cook
The BÇG generals did not just keep tabs on individuals who might be too religious for their liking, but also on businesses. One such organization was the Şiribom Kebab Restaurant, which the military at the time listed as a “potentially harmful” eatery. Ömer Şimşek, the owner, said he was very pleased about the recent developments. “I said yes to the constitutional package of 2010 to make sure that those who have staged coups answer to the law. I voted for the elimination of those who blacklisted us although we have no guilt. I am very happy to see that military tutelage has been lifted, and the people who have that mentality are answering to the law. God bless those who made it possible for us to see this.”
Şimşek's restaurant Şiribom Kebap, located on İzmir's Mithatpaşa Street, was listed as a potentially harmful facility and placed on a list of businesses deemed “detrimental to the country” and therefore not advised for shoppers. Şimşek, who coincidentally found out that his restaurant was listed on an army blacklist published in a newspaper, remembers being shocked. “I tried to explain that I had nothing to do with politics,” he remembers. However, things didn't go as bad as he feared, and his customers showed utmost support. Many others came to the restaurant to support his business, after its name appeared in newspapers. Today, Şiribom Kebap is a restaurant chain of three eateries.
Fermani Altun, head of the World Ehl-I Beyt Foundation also wants to be granted co-plaintiff status in the case. Altun, who released a written statement on Monday, said his foundation was pressured and faced attempts to shut it down during the Feb. 28 period. “We will file criminal complaints against about 15 of the defendants. These individuals include the İstanbul governor of the time, Erol Çakır, and the torture instrument of the time, Adil Serdar Saçan [former head of the İstanbul police force's anti-smuggling and organized crime department, who is currently a suspect in the trial of Ergenekon, an illegal gang suspected of plotting a coup.]”