An Ankara court ruled to arrest early on Tuesday six retired generals who were taken into custody on Monday as part of a deepening investigation into the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention, popularly known as the postmodern coup.
For many observers, the arrests came as a severe blow to the upper echelon of the clandestine West Study Group (BÇG) as those arrested are known to be top members of the group. Ankara public prosecutor Mustafa Bilgili and accompanying prosecutors referred retired Gen. Engin Alan, retired Gen. Çetin Doğan, retired Lt. Gen. Metin Yavuz Yalçın, Lt. Gen. Vural Avar, former Land forces logistics commander retired Lt. Gen. Kamuran Orhon, 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 National Security Council (MGK) Secretary-General İlhan Kılıç, former Land Forces commander retired Gen. Hikmet Köksal and retired Col. Hakan Cemal Pelit to the Ankara 12th High Criminal Court for arrest.
The 10 suspects were detained on Monday in a simultaneous operation launched by the police force in a number of provinces on suspicion that they played a major role in the Feb. 28 coup, in which the powerful military forced a coalition government led by the now-defunct conservative Welfare Party (RP) out of power.
The Ankara 12th High Criminal Court ruled in favor of the arrest of Köksal, Kılıç, Çörekçi, Doğan, Avar and Yalçın on charges of “attempting to destroy the government.” The court also decided to arrest Doğan and Yalçın, but the two men are already under arrest in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup 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 BÇG was formed within the Turkish Armed Forces (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. The actions of the BÇG are reportedly at the center of the Feb. 28 investigation.
The court, on the other hand, ruled to release Koman, citing his health problems as the reason. Alan, Orhon and Pelit were also released. But Alan continues to stay in prison because he is one of the prime suspects in the Balyoz coup case. The retired generals who were arrested were initially taken to Mustafa Kemal State Hospital for a health check-up and later transferred to Sincan Prison.
Around 60 people have already been imprisoned 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.
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.
Highlights from Monday's testimonies
Details have started to emerge about the retired generals' interrogation by prosecutors. According to initial reports, the prosecutors asked the suspects about military documents prepared ahead of the Feb. 28 coup for the overthrowing of the RP-led coalition government. The documents were mainly prepared by the clandestine BÇG. The BÇG believed the government was increasing religious fundamentalism in Turkey.
Doğan, who testified to prosecutors, reportedly argued that the BÇG and its activities were “lawful.” When the prosecutors showed the retired generals documents drafted by the clandestine group back in 1997, Doğan said he prepared the documents and undersigned them. According to Doğan, the BÇG was established in accordance with the decisions of the MGK, and that the group acted “within the boundaries of the law.”
In the meantime, several news reports suggested that the Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office is planning to summon retired Gen. İsmail Hakkı Karadayı, who served as the chief of General Staff at the time of the Feb. 28 coup, to testify as part of the coup probe. It was not immediately clear when the prosecutor's office is planning to summon the retired general. A number of suspects arrested in the Feb. 28 coup probe claimed that they had received an order for preparations for a military takeover from Karadayı.