Twenty-nine retired military officers including retired gen. Çevik bir, who is known to have played a major role in the feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention, were 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, it was able to bring down a government. Turkey's government was led by an Islamist-leaning party at the time.
In major operations conducted in several cities, 29 retired officers who staged the Feb. 28, 1997 military coup were detained and two others were declared wanted. The operations were carried out as part of the prosecutors’ most recent actions in the current investigations of Turkey’s past coups
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 and retired generals Abdullah Kılıçarslan and İdris Koralp.
Reports said that on Thursday morning detention warrants were issued for 31 retired military officers, including Bir. 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. Bir is best remembered for describing the intervention as a “fine tuning of Turkey's democracy.” Police searched his house at the War Academies residential complex in İstanbul on Thursday.
His “fine-tuning” comments came after army tanks rolled down the streets of Ankara’s Sincan province following the staging of a religious play by a Welfare Party (RP) mayor.
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.
Nine retired officers were detained in İstanbul. These are ret. Gen Bir, ret. Gen. İdris Koralp, ret Gen. Ünal Akbulut, ret. Col. Yüksel Sönmez, ret. Maj. Salih Eryiğit, ret. Cptn. Mustafa Babacan, ret. Sgt. Necdet Batıran, ret. Cptn. Orhan Nalcıoğlu and ret. Col. Albay Aydın Karaşahin. Two retired colonels – Eser Şahan and Cengiz Çetinkaya – couldn’t be detained as both are out of the country.
Retired Gen. Akbulut was earlier detained and released as a suspect in the ongoing investigation into Sledgehammer, an attempted coup d’état.
In Ankara, ret. Gen. Abdullah Kılıçarslan. retired colonels Hüsnü Dağ, Oğuz Kalelioğlu, Sezai Kürşat Ökte, Ahmet Nazmi Solmaz, Mustafa Kemal Savcı, İbrahim Selman Yazıcı, Ziya Batur, Ruşen Bozkurt Mehmet Şinasi, Abdurrahman Yavuz Gürcüoğlu, İsrafil Aydın, Yahya Cem Özarslan and Serdar Çelebi, ret. Sgt. Hamza Özaltun, ret. Maj. Ahmet Aka and ret. NGO Ahmet Tarık Yelkenci. In Niğdge, ret. Col. Ümit Şahintürk and ret. Col. Alican Türk in Eskişehir were also detained.
The probe was launched in November 2011 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 intervention.
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 Feb. 28 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 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 Welfare Party (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 feelings of revenge, there cannot be justice there,” he said, accusing the government of seeking revenge for the coup.
Some of the retired military officers detained on Thursday have been in the spotlight before. Ret. Gen. Abdullah Kılıçarslan, who worked closely with Gen. Bir during the Feb. 28, 1997 intervention, testified in the Sledgehammer coup investigation last year. He retired from the military in 2006 and later ran in the parliamentary elections as a Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) candidate. Retired Col. Sezai Kürşat Ökte is implicated in the investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine network accused of attempting to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party government.