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Görmüş: Like rapists, coup plotters should not be forgiven

29 April 2012, Sunday /FATIH VURAL
Journalist and writer Alper Görmüş says just as rapists cannot escape punishment for committing a criminal offense, coup plotters or perpetrators should be treated equally and not be forgiven so that they do not set an example for others to intervene in politics.

Görmüş, who printed a lengthy summary of 3,000 pages of coup journal entries by former Naval Forces Commander Adm. Özden Örnek when he was editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Nokta magazine in 2007, said: “My current opinion is this: Just as we do not forgive rapists, we should not forgive those who staged a coup. They should be punished. The state of impunity has been the primary reason for the subsequent coups. They will no longer act relentlessly and comfortably because they will realize that there will be a price to pay for their actions. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to stage a coup now.” Hilmi Özkök, a former chief of General Staff, made a similar remark: “If there is a crime, punishment for that crime is good for a person.”

What are the landmark events that drove Örnek, the son of a technician working in a paper mill, to become a soldier who makes coup plans, do you think?

The soldiers that were promoted to the administrative level of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) were not the children of the bourgeoisie but the children of common men. I personally don’t know any soldiers whose father was from the bourgeoisie. Interestingly, after they enter the military academy, they change suddenly. They turn into individuals who don’t appreciate the public and the values of the public. They start thinking, “If you leave the public to its own devices, then it drives the entire country into chaos.” This intellectual background occurs by means of the syllabus taught in military high schools and colleges. We don’t know the content of the courses or what students are lectured in. At this point, a different psychological process is also at stake.

What kind of a process?

I think the reason why they become so distant from the people from whom they came after they become generals, and what makes them become hostile to their values, is that people fear returning to the place they came from once they have left it. For people who rose from poverty and gained a certain wealth or power, even the possibility of going back to those old days causes trauma.

Just like Ertuğrul Özkök’s fear of getting on the dolmuş to Ankara’s Çinçin district again…

That is a very good example. I also know many similar people. One is considering his or her social background as an enemy due to the fear of going back to those old days… It is totally psychological. I guess the core of it is the extent of awareness. In military colleges it is imposed on them that “the nature of civilians is a little faulty. Civilians are initially concerned about themselves and their financial interests. But we, on the contrary, are people who are concerned about only our homeland. Therefore, we have the right to intervene in the regime.” This provision of theirs is used as a tool to legitimize coups. This is why this book is important as it shows that this provision, this image does not correspond to reality.

It makes you feel that only when Örnek became less involved with active military tasks and got a “desk job” in the military that he became acquainted with politics and the idea of a coup. Especially when he got involved in the Navy…

That is quite correct. Özden Örnek is a figure who was almost dragged into becoming a coup organizer. When it became evident that he would be a force commander, other force commanders, Şener Eruygur and Aytaç Yalman, visited him. The commanders of the Air Force and Navy were going to change in 2003. Telling him: “These tasks can’t be carried out with them. After you come to Ankara, we will reconsider the issue,” they state their trust in Örnek. In the Navy, he got used to this practice but in mental terms he started approving of the “army’s right to stage a coup.” When he was in a military high school, he felt sorry about the May 27, 1960 military coup, but on March 12, 1971 he reacted against the civilians. He was selected to attend the trials on Yassıada. There we witness the first indicators of his “civilian allergy.” When it was clear that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) would come to power, the idea of intervening in democracy began to appear in the army, starting in the Navy.

With regard to the day when the AK Party swept to power, he notes “an unfortunate and evil day,” doesn’t he?

Yes. It is apparent that he is deeply saddened. Then it turns into rage.

One of the things that we learn from this book is that the idea of the military intervening in an AK Party government appeared in only the third week of this government being in power. But regarding this meeting Örnek wrote: “Each of us was a falcon. I hope we don’t get into trouble.” How do you interpret this hesitation?

He goes back and forth between two ideas. He is afraid. In the future, he -- with Aytaç Yalman -- will become the commander who gives up on the coup most quickly. If Şener Uygur is a professional coup organizer, then Örnek is an amateur one. He moves all the time with hesitation. On the one hand he shouts, “We should topple them!” and on the other he criticizes that commanders didn’t stand up in the National Security Council (MGK) when the prime minister stepped in. At one point Eruygur suggests, “We shall speak and move one by one,” and Örnek criticizes him, too.

What do you think is the reason for his tracing the corruption of Navy Commander İlhami Erdil?

There are two possibilities, and this is guessing. The first is that he is sincerely against corruption and similar things. However, he prefers closing less serious corruption files. That lessens the probability that he is following Erdil’s corruption because of his principles. Additionally, he doesn’t like Erdil at all. Maybe he considered Erdil an obstacle that was blocking his way. I am not sure. Actually, I paid attention to what he wrote about the corruption. Explaining with examples that the military officials are involved in corruption at least as much as civilians, he points to the difference between the image and reality of the TSK. However, because of the notes taken by a businessman, he is also accused. Erdal Şenel informs him that “the commander [Hilmi Özkök] will probably sue you.” Upon this, Örnek answers: “He may sue me. I will resign and appear in court. But 11 generals will face the court with me,” and he names the generals. I think the most important part of the book is the section on corruption.

When money is concerned, the limitations of the military officers are removed. For instance, Örnek states that even military seminars are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and that two companies always win all the contracts. Does money affect the military officers’ stance?

Absolutely. Chief of General Staff Hüseyin Kıvrıkoğlu plans to move the navy to İzmir. The reason for this is that the military officers have been a little too hand-in-glove with businessmen. Then Örnek asks, “Sir, aren’t there any businessmen in İzmir?” This proves that when the issue is money, the image of the army that claims that military officers are free of the faults and the corruption of the society at large is totally wrong.

From the journal we learn that after he donated $10,000, his son Burak’s friends fulfilled their compulsory military service without even dropping by the military unit. I heard that you would have investigated this issue, if Nokta magazine hadn’t been closed. Is that right?

This is correct. There was unconfirmed information and we were trying to confirm it. We received a list detailing where the sons of all the generals fulfilled their military service over the last five or six years. Draw a straight line on the map of Turkey below Ankara. The cities that are situated on the west are the ones where the sons of generals fulfilled military service. There wasn’t even one person who fulfilled his military service in the east of Turkey. Yes, we were going to publish it. But we couldn’t. The niece of Ali Babacan died in southeast Turkey, and this was published as news.

Is it as Perihan Mağden says it was? Would terrorism end if a martyr’s funeral were held at the Teşvikiye Mosque?

This is very true. She says it using a very strong symbol. That was what our list proved. That is one of the things that made me feel sorry about Nokta’s closure.

Örnek mentions that a businessman tried to hinder him from [proceeding with his career in the military]. Did this situation cause a change in the meaning they ascribed to being a military officer?

This is valid for everyone. Money and modernity destroy many values. If major interests and large amounts of money are at stake, people get involved in relations that we all criticize internally but that we can’t avoid. As a result, the military officers are using a budget that can’t be controlled. You know, last year the Court of Accounts unusually stopped controlling the budget again. As long as there isn’t any control, it is very natural for corruption to occur. Moreover, since the military is a closed body and since there isn’t a risk of this being discussed in the media, the corruption is carried out with less of a chance of being caught. Let me add that the members of the Ministry of Defense Commission [MSBK] visited Örnek. During that period the commission was headed by AK Party deputy Cengiz Kaptanoğlu. “Although they are the MSBK, they don’t check the budget of the Ministry of Defense. I think that is very interesting. They themselves also mentioned that they did not understand it either,” says Örnek. In such a closed body, anything can happen.

The Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting on Dec. 26, 2002, was very important. Prime Minister Abdullah Gül and Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül expressed reservations about YAŞ decisions dismissing some of the officers. Gen. Çetin Doğan said in response to this, “If this is how you behave, you will be burning all the bridges between us.” Would you say that that YAŞ meeting is an indication that the government always stood up to the military from the beginning?

Most certainly. Didn’t we all see this stance as a form of resistance when we read about it in the newspapers at the time? Wasn’t the military exasperated by this? They saw that this government would stand up in the face of a possible coup d’état, and the government actually showed this on April 27, 2007 and furthermore took steps to make sure that the system of military custodianship would regress. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used a different tactic.

Which was?

Right after he succeed Abdullah Gül as prime minister, the chief of General Staff and force commanders invited Erdoğan to a meeting, where they openly scorned him. They were extremely insolent, telling him, “You should convince us that this change is real.” So they had the confidence to say such things. Interestingly enough, the prime minister remained calm and explained to them at length that the change was for real. The background message was, “I am talking to you now, but you shouldn’t think that Turkey is what it was before.” Özden Örnek wrote in his journal after that meeting: “He put us to sleep. And then he took us to dinner.”

With an appreciation of what Örnek wrote in his journal, we can see that as you have stated, the military acted hypocritically regarding the March 3, 2003 rejection by Parliament of a proposal to allow US troop deployment in Turkey ahead of the Iraq war.

We should not forget that in the run-up to the March 3, 2003 resolution, people were wondering why the military was silent. They weren’t saying anything. The same military that made comments on every single issue that didn’t concern it even a bit was now silent in the face of a decision to go to war. And in the background they were spreading the message “We are anti-American. The pro-American camp is the government. We won’t go to war together with the US. We shouldn’t intervene in Iraq.” Actually, the last day before the parliamentary resolution, a high-ranking general in an interview with journalist Fikret Bila said: “The request to deploy troops should be rejected. We have nothing to do in Iraq.” At National Security Council (MGK) meetings, all the senior generals usually get together before they meet with civilian politicians. In that year’s meeting amongst themselves, the generals took two decisions. One was that the issue of Cyprus should not be left at an impasse. The second decision was to go into Iraq together with the US. They say there was a unanimous consensus on that issue. They actually wanted the resolution to pass. Hilmi Özkök [then chief of General Staff] made a statement saying, “We wanted the resolution to pass.” So there is utmost hypocrisy here. The same thing applies to Cyprus, as the issue has been left at an impasse.

How can we say that?

The Sarıkız (Blonde Girl) coup plot was based on the belief that the impasse would remain. A headline we used while at Nokta about the coup plot was “Sarıkız from Cyprus.” The plotters made frequent expressions of such ideas as: “There shouldn’t be a solution in Cyprus. We should support the opposition in Cyprus. We should prevent a referendum. The Cypriots might sell the country and say ‘Yes.’ We should organize rallies and marches on the island. We should support [Rauf] Denktaş.”

So they were in close contact with Denktaş?

At all times. What ties did they have to unions or students to organize rallies? So this is when you start to doubt, you say to yourself: “There is some experience they have here, some background. There is a mechanism they can put in motion whenever they want to.”

In Turkey, the military worked together with civil society organizations just like they did in Cyprus. Is Özden Örnek one of the architects of this transition?

One of the things Örnek was concerned most about was making sure that only the military was making such moves to gain influence. We can see that he really feared this. He wrote, “We should absolutely win over the media, unions and universities.” And of course the US. It is very clear that you shouldn’t try an intervention unless you have the support of these parties.

Isn’t it interesting that Örnek wrote, “We should have tanks roll through Sincan, just like in the Feb. 28, 1997 coup”?

At different times, his feelings of euphoria about staging a coup were even higher. According to Örnek’s journal, Gen. Can Teller told him on Feb. 27, 2003 that Doğan and Hurşit Tolon “were up to something.” He also wanted Örnek to meet with them and become part of the team. You point out that this meeting between the three took place exactly one week before the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plan was discussed at a seminar. In fact, that was one of the points that I found most exciting when I came across it. Because really, the meeting took place five or six days before the seminar they called the “Plan Seminar.” Teller is an important figure. He is obviously someone who is good at organizing people and tasks. He worked with Doğan and his friends. Örnek first wrote in his journal, “Interesting that someone of such a rank spoke this openly to me.” This is very strong proof that the plan they created between March 5 and March 7 was a plan for a coup d’état. A similar point comes up in the meeting between Aytaç Yalman and Özkök. Özkök told Yalman angrily, “I know what you are up to.” Yalman later told Örnek about this, and said to him: “I don’t understand why he was so angry with me. If I had cooperated with Doğan last year, he would have destroyed them completely.” And he said this in 2004.

One of the topics on which the diaries concentrate is Col. Begütay Varımlı, who was said to have committed suicide. Given the fact that he knew too much about a number of critical corruption cases such as the İlhami Erdil case and that he later went to Şamil Tayyar and asked him to arrange for him a meeting with prosecutor Zekeriya Öz and Erdoğan, what does the case of Varımlı tell you?

It is unimaginable that he paid a visit to a naval forces commander without having a case file in his hands. He was most likely telling the truth. He had already mentioned a voice recording to Örnek and then he handed it over. In the end, he committed suicide.

Do you believe he committed suicide?

There are many reasons to believe so. I think we will learn the truth about it in the future. One might argue that a pious person would not have committed suicide, but the reverse may be true as well. Still, it is very suspicious when such a person dies after explaining everything.

We also learn about the YAŞ meeting held on Aug. 1, 2003. Çetin Doğan says to Prime Minister Erdoğan, “You are challenging the TSK.” MGK Secretary-General Tuncer Kılınç says, “We are deeply saddened to learn that you employ in your municipalities the people we discharged from the army.” These sentences are interesting.

They thought that all civilians thought like them. For instance, the messages former President Süleyman Demirel had sent to them also boosted their self-confidence. He sent the following message via Mustafa Özkan: “You cannot go anywhere by scuffling with the military!” He accepted that the military was entitled to step in when civilians erred. But what strikes me about that meeting is Tuncer’s complaint about employment opportunities provided to the people discharged from the army. This was very cruel. A normal person would feel ashamed to utter such words. What a crooked sense of rightfulness. The progress Turkey has made since then should be appreciated.

During the dinner after that YAŞ meeting, an event that is reminiscent of the 2001 crisis occurs. Prime Minister Erdoğan extends his hand, but President Ahmet Necdet Sezer does not accept it. Örnek writes in his journal, “Is such a state summit acceptable?”

And this shows that Sezer did not learn any lesson from the incident in 2001 and he let his anger overcome his logic and he did something that could have triggered a new economic crisis. Erdoğan did something else. He was determined to preserve the mandate entrusted to him. He was elected to office and he did not leave it. He was also determined not to be in the same position Necmettin Erbakan had found himself in with respect to Demirel. He sought to refrain from harshness and become effective by being calm. He entered the MGK meeting, but no one stood up. All these things were horrible. Even Örnek could not accept it. If Erdoğan had disclosed this to the public, the whole of Turkey would have condemned these commanders. But he acted as if nothing had happened. It was not an easy task.

In the Taraf daily, you stressed that the interest of the military in Erbakan’s funeral was meaningful. In the journals, in a document drafted by retired Gen. Özden Örnek, there is a statement that reads, “We have to use the Felicity Party [SP].” What did you think after reading this?

When I wrote that column, I had not seen the note you just mentioned. I just found the attention to the funeral interesting. The command of the 1st Army attended; the General Staff sent flowers. My inference was as follows: I concluded that the military thought, “We made a mistake by contributing to the emergence of a figure like Erdoğan. It would have been better if we had kept Erbakan.” When I saw the note by Örnek, I realized I was right; I hold that the military made a distinction between the AK Party and the Felicity Party, that they realized Erdoğan would not be as easygoing as Erbakan and that they had taken action to deal with this situation.

Were you surprised when reading Özden Örnek’s self-criticisms, “Atatürk has been turned into an idol,” “It is meaningless for us to pay visits to Anıtkabir all the time” and “As military servicemen, we have been extremely detached from society”?

Well, of course this is interesting; on the one hand, he is harsh, but he is also opposed to some military practices. These are irrational and unreasonable practices. For instance, the ceremonies are like that. You do not see any logic. You make frequent visits to Anıtkabir and salute Atatürk’s statute. He has such an ideological orientation on the one hand, but he also opposes the practices of the military as a reflection of that ideological orientation. After the first MGK meeting, he said: “This is ridiculous; we should let Atatürk rest in peace.” But he does not make these criticisms publicly. Yet, I believe he is sincere.

What does it mean to you that many of the generals mentioned in this book, including Örnek, are now under arrest?

Like everybody else, when I published the journals in 2007, I did not think that these people would be brought to trial. I thought that the best we could do was to raise public awareness and that their actions would be condemned. But I did not think that a trial process would be started. Ten days after the journals were published, my daughter asked me, “Is it not a crime to draft coup plans?” I said, “Yes,” and she asked, “Will they be put in jail?” I recall that I became uncomfortable because of that question.

Why did you become uncomfortable? Did you think you were the reason they would be put in jail?

Yes, a little bit. Because I thought that Özden Örnek had been dragged into this, I remember I was uncomfortable given that I could cause this. I even said, “Well, that would not happen.” It was an instant feeling and reaction. My current opinion is this: Just like we do not forgive rapists, we should not forgive those who staged a coup either. They should be punished. The state of impunity has been the primary reason for the subsequent coups. They will not act relentlessly and comfortably anymore because they will realize that there will be a price for their actions. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to stage a coup now. Hilmi Özkök, former chief of General Staff, made a similar remark: “If there is a crime, punishment for that crime is good for a person.”


Former editor-in-chief (2006-2007) of the now-defunct Nokta newsweekly, Görmüş worked for the Aydınlık daily in 1977-1980. He also worked for Nokta from 1986 to 1990, and later was the editor-in-chief at the newsweekly Aktüel from 1991 to 1995. He taught at İstanbul Bilgi Univesity’s department of communications and did media criticism for the acclaimed Internet site Medyakronik.

He was acquitted of charges of libel in April 2008 for running a story that featured excerpts from a diary, allegedly penned by a former naval commander, revealing plans by some generals to stage a military intervention. Görmüş said he was not satisfied with the court’s decision, even though he was acquitted of all charges because he was not given a chance to prove his publication’s claims. Together with Israeli journalist Amira Haas, Görmüş became the first recipient of the International Hrant Dink Award in 2009, given in the name of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist who was murdered in 2007.  In his own words, Görmüş is living a “slow and simple life” in a village near the Mediterranean Sea in the south of Turkey. He writes columns for the Taraf daily and Aktüel.