Turkey, which is now confronting the coups and coup attempts of its recent history, has the April 27, 2007 military memorandum next to face up to, which many say was a “direct intervention in politics” and hence its masterminds should clearly be brought to trial.
Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the release of this memorandum, popularly known as the “midnight memorandum” or “e-memo,” against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) at the culmination of a power crisis between the government and the military over the election of the country's new president in 2007.
Published online at www.tsk.tr close to midnight on the 27th, the statement said the military was following the debate over secularism in the presidential election with “concern” and would “openly display its position and attitude when it becomes necessary.”
The April 27 statement came amid a political crisis over the election of the country's president in 2007 as the Republican People's Party (CHP) threatened to walk out of Parliament if the AK Party presidential nominee's spouse continued to wear the Islamic headscarf.
In late April 2007, the AK Party announced that then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, whose wife wears a headscarf, was its presidential nominee. Shortly after that a former prosecutor put forward an idea to the media based on his interpretation of the Constitution, claiming the parliamentary quorum for a presidential election was 367. The AK Party held 361 seats in Parliament and Gül received 361 votes from his party's deputies in the first round of voting.
The CHP appealed the vote's result at the Constitutional Court, which canceled the first round of the vote. But on April 27 at 11:17 p.m., before the court had even announced its decision, the e-memorandum was posted on the General Staff's website.
Adnan Tanrıverdi, president of the Advocates of Justice Association (ASDER), told Today's Zaman that the April 27 memorandum was an open military intervention in politics to deadlock the presidential election process in 2007, hence the actors behind it have to be prosecuted.
He said if the government had not stood firm against the memorandum, many things might be different in Turkey today.
In its response on April 28, the government stressed that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) were an institution at the command of the government. “It is regrettable that there were utterly incorrect statements about the relationship between the government and the General Staff. All of our state institutions should be more sensitive and careful,” the government said.
“In addition to the government's stance against the memorandum, the start of the trial of coup plotters following the 2007 general elections became the first steps taken to eliminate military tutelage system in Turkey, which is gradually allowing civilian authorities to take the control of state institutions,” he said.
The AK Party received 47 percent of the vote in the 2007 general election, which were called early to resolve the deadlock over the election of the new president. Gül was elected president by Parliament following the same election.
According to Tanrıverdi, the masterminds of the April 27 statements will sooner or later be brought to trial, and if this does not turn out to be the case, prosecutors will not have fulfilled their duties.
“It should not be forgotten that the TSK is a side in this debate and a staunch defender of secularism,” the statement said. “The Turkish Armed Forces are against those debates … and will display their position and attitudes when it becomes necessary. No one should doubt that.”
The General Staff's statement cited as examples a series of events, such as an attempt in Ankara to hold a Quran reading competition on April 23, National Sovereignty and Children's Day. Undeterred, the AK Party government gave an equally harsh response to the statement.
In February, the Ankara Specially Authorized Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into the April 27 memorandum upon receiving dozens of criminal complaints about the notorious statement from throughout Turkey. The office compiled all the complaints in Ankara. The prosecutor overseeing the probe is Specially Authorized Prosecutor Kemal Çetin, who is also conducting an ongoing investigation into the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d'état, the two surviving leaders of which were brought to trial in early April in a landmark move.
The prosecutor is expected soon to summon then-Chief of General Staff retired Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt, who admitted in 2009 to having written the e-memorandum, and other force commanders in charge at the time to testify as part of the investigation. Çetin is also expected to investigate the background of the release of the e-memo as well as the masterminds behind the statement.
According to retired military judge Ümit Kardaş, the April 27 memorandum was a clear and direct intervention in politics which prevented the election of the president, so it should definitely be investigated to prevent similar military attempts in the future.
“Büyükanıt already admitted having written the memorandum. So, an investigation needs to be launched against him. Just as coups and coup attempts since 1980 are being investigated, those behind the April 27 memorandum will also be investigated,” he said.
In addition to the investigation of the 1980 military coup, Turkish prosecutors are currently investigating the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention, widely known as a “postmodern coup,” when the military forced a coalition government led by the now-defunct conservative Welfare Party (RP) to resign on the grounds that there was rising religious fundamentalism in the country. Major actors of the coup, including retired generals and active-duty military officers, have been put behind bars over the past several weeks for their role in the coup.
When asked about the remarks of the prime minister, who last year said he does not accept that the April 27 statement was a memorandum, Kardaş said he does not agree with the prime minister. “If it wasn't a memorandum, why did the government call for elections then?” he asked.
In a statement last June, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: “I don't accept the statement as a memorandum. I just see it as the approach of the General Staff at the time. If you want to take it as a military memo, then by all means do so, but we did respond correctly and in the right way the following day, and we were done with it. This shows how much politics has transformed in Turkey, and that is what makes the AK Party special.”
Retired Supreme Court of Appeals Public Prosecutor Ahmet Gündel said he believes the April 27 memorandum should definitely be prosecuted but added that people should not expect its prosecution to be similar to the Sept. 12 or Feb. 28 coup investigations.
“April 27 was a memorandum released by then-Chief of General Staff and a group of other commanders. No armed force was used or there was no planning behind it, contrary to the cases in the Sept. 12 and Feb. 28 coups. So, there is no need for police searches or arrests like have been done in other coup investigations,” Gündel said, adding that the masterminds of the statement could be tried in accordance with the military penal code for abuse of power and expressing a political opinion.
In a landmark move, the statement was removed from the General Staff's website last August after remaining on the website for years despite long being a target of criticism by many in Turkey.