Feb. 28 operation reaches force commanders of coup era
Ret. Gen. Teoman Koman was detained and taken to the İstanbul Courthouse on Monday in the fifth wave of operations in a probe into the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention. (Photo: Today's Zaman)
The investigation into the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention, popularly known as the postmodern coup, has reached the former commanding echelon of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), with a number of retired force commanders and other generals being taken into custody in the fifth wave of operations on Monday.
Detention warrants were issued for several former senior members of the TSK during the early morning hours of Monday as part of the deepening probe into the Feb. 28 coup. The Turkish police immediately launched simultaneous operations in İstanbul, İzmir and Muğla and detained some of the suspects. Among those detained were retired Gen. Ahmet Çörekçi, who served as the air forces commander in the coup period, retired Gen. Teoman Koman, who served as the gendarmerie commander, former head of General Staff Plan and Principles, Lt. Gen. Vural Avar, former National Security Council (MGK) Secretary-General İlhan Kılıç, former Land Forces commander retired Gen. Hikmet Köksal and former Land Forces logistics commander retired Lt. Gen. Kamuran Orhon.
Those detained, initially underwent a health check-up in their respective provinces, and were then sent to Ankara for interrogation by a team of specially authorized prosecutors.
The detention warrants were issued for the suspects in accordance with the relevant article of the Turkish Penal Code over charges of attempting to topple the government of the Turkish republic, according to the Specially Authorized Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office. Detention warrants were also issued for retired Gen. Engin Alan, retired Gen. Çetin Doğan and retired Lt. Gen. Metin Yavuz Yalçın. The three men are, however, currently under arrest in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plan case. The Balyoz plan is believed to have been devised at a military gathering in 2003 and allegedly sought to undermine the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government in order to lay the groundwork for a military takeover.
The suspects are all accused of playing a major role in the coup, in which the powerful Turkish military forced a coalition government led by the now-defunct conservative Welfare Party (RP), out of power.
For many observers, Monday’s operation has come as a severe blow to the upper echelon of the clandestine West Study Group (BÇG) as those summoned to testify are known to be top members of the group. The BÇG was formed within the TSK in order to contribute to the staging of the Feb. 28 coup. The group reportedly categorized politicians, intellectuals, soldiers and bureaucrats in accordance with their religious and ideological backgrounds before and after the coup. Reportedly at the heart of the Feb. 28 investigation are the actions of the BÇG.
The Turkish police launched simultaneous operations at the residences of the suspects in İstanbul, İzmir and Muğla in the early morning hours of Monday. However, the police did not carry out searches at the addresses, sources said. Officers from the Muğla Police Department’s counterterrorism unit detained Avar at his house in the Datça district and took him to Ankara to be interrogated. Similarly, Çörekçi and Köksal were taken from their homes and accompanied by police officers to Ankara. In addition, Balyoz suspects Alan, Yalçın and Doğan were taken from İstanbul’s Silivri prison in a gendarmerie vehicle and transferred to the Special Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Over 50 people have already been jailed during the first four waves of arrests in the Feb. 28 investigation. Those sent to jail include Gen. Çevik Bir, who is known to have played a major role in the 1997 coup, and retired Gen. Erol Özkasnak, who was the secretary-general of the General Staff at the time. Özkasnak is also known to have played a major role in the coup generals’ communication with the media, which was used in order to put pressure on the government to resign.
Koman, most controversial name among detainees
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 also purged of members with suspected ties to religious groups as well as officers who were simply observant Muslims. In addition, a number of newspapers were closed down after the coup, based on an MGK decision that called for closer monitoring of media outlets.
Among all the suspects taken into custody on Monday, former gendarmerie commander retired Gen. Koman seems to be the most controversial due to his activities during the period he remained in office. He came to prominence shortly after the coalition government led by the RP was swept into power in the 1995 general elections. Speaking to the press around two months after the elections, Koman said, “Even a coup could be staged if they [the RP-led coalition government] continue their activities.” With the “activities”, the retired general was referring to the alleged acts of fundamentalism sponsored by the RP. On Feb. 28, 1997, the military forced the government to step down on the grounds that there was religious fundamentalism in the country.
Also recently, a secret witness in the Ergenekon coup case, referred to as Kıskaç (Pincer), testified to a prosecutor and claimed that the Gendarmerie Intelligence Group Command (JİTEM) -- an illegal unit established inside the gendarmerie to fight separatist terrorism -- was set up by Koman contrary to earlier claims that it was set up by a retired colonel, Arif Doğan. “Whoever says that JİTEM does not exist is a liar. JİTEM was not set up by Doğan. It was set up by Koman. It was an armed group, but was later abolished,” the witness reportedly told the prosecutor.
The JİTEM is believed to be responsible for the killing of thousands of people in eastern and southeastern parts of Turkey in the 1990s as part of the fight against terrorism. The Turkish military consistently denied the existence of JİTEM in the past despite a growing body of evidence suggesting its existence.
Koman served as the commander of the gendarmerie between 1995 and 1997 and undersecretary of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) from 1988 to 1992.