In his first comments on the detention of dozens of top ex-military officers for their role in the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention, President Abdullah Gül has said there is nothing more normal than launching a probe into the illegalities of the coup period. “Feb. 28 was an interim period [for Turkish democracy] in our recent past. It is still fresh in our minds. So, examining the illegalities of such an extraordinary period and the launch of a judicial process [on the coup] is normal. We have to interpret this [situation] like this,” Gül said on Friday.
On Feb. 28, 1997, an unarmed military intervention, often dubbed a postmodern coup, resulted in the fall of a coalition government led by Necmettin Erbakan of the now-defunct Welfare Party (RP). President Gül was also a victim of Feb. 28 as a deputy of the ousted RP.
Detention warrants were issued for 31 suspects, including retired Gen. Çevik Bir, who is known to have played a major role in the postmodern coup, on Monday as part of an investigation of the coup being conducted by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office. Twenty-six of the suspects were brought to Ankara late on Thursday and spent the night at the Ankara Police Department's counterterrorism department. Police began questioning suspects.
Five of the 31 people for whom detention warrants were issued could not be detained yet as three of them are abroad and two of them could not yet be reached. The detained suspects are expected to be referred to the prosecutor's office for questioning by prosecutors Mustafa Bilgili and Kemal Çetin.
Speaking to journalists during a Communications Fair being hosted on Parliament grounds in the capital, Minister of Science, Industry and Technology Nihat Ergün said he was very pleased that Turkey's constitutional infrastructure and judicial mechanisms have reached a level of democracy where perpetrators of past coups can be tried. He said: “The Feb. 28 era was a coup d'état against politics, democracy, Parliament and the government, and it has been successful to a certain extent. It caused major damage to society. We are happy that our legal system and judicial mechanisms are now at a level where they can try interventions in democracy.
Nobody else will think of similar interventions in the future. I believe that this will be result of the investigation.”
Ergün also criticized the Republican People’s Party (CHP), whose leader said the government was acting vengefully. “This doesn’t have anything to do with the Justice and Development Party [AK Party],” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ also responded to the CHP’s criticism on Friday, during a visit to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA). He responded to questions from the press during his visit, saying: “There are no discussions at all that the Feb. 28 era was an extraordinary time in Turkey. There is no question or controversy that this era needs to be investigated. Furthermore, the CHP, including its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, criticized the government many times for not conducting an investigation into the Feb. 28 coup. … Nobody has ever taken a stance against investigating Feb. 28. But all of a sudden, the CHP, which has been calling on the judiciary to act, is now accusing the government of taking revenge for the past. This is a great contradiction,” Bozdağ said.
He said he finds it difficult to understand the CHP’s uneasiness: “Why is the CHP getting nervous? Why are they disturbed by this? I am really finding it hard to understand,” noting that the Feb. 28 investigation should have occurred earlier. He added, “If they are irritated by the investigation, they should say so openly and share with the public the reasons for their irritation. Turkey is a democratic country, and leveling accusations at others is wrong.”
AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Mustafa Elitaş, who responded to questions from reports in Parliament on Friday, said the investigation was of utmost importance for illuminating the shady chapters of Turkey’s recent history. “All sorts of operations were staged from May 27 [1960 coup d’état] to Apr. 27 [2007 memorandum issued by the military as a threat to the AK Party] to overthrow democratically elected governments. All of these will be investigated by the commission that was recently set up in Parliament. We hope that after this, Turkey will have higher standards of democracy. The Feb. 28 generals explained what they were doing as “fine tuning” democracy. In the Turkey of 2012, we should be thinking about how we will bring democracy to the highest-level,” he said. On Friday former True Path Party (DYP) Denizli deputy Mustafa Kemal Aykurt, said: “Those who are putting forth accusations of seeking revenge are trying to cover up their own crimes. There is no revenge in law. There is only a crime and the appropriate punishment.”