Only justice will pave the way for new beginningsby Markar Esayan*

January 04, 2013, Friday/ 17:30:00

One of the noteworthy developments during the last week is closely related to a topic of great importance to me: the deep state and democratization. Under the probe into the coup of Feb. 28, 1997 -- the last successful coup of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) -- then Chief of General Staff Gen. İsmail Hakkı Karadayı was detained on Thursday.

And in the evening hours of the same day, after prosecutors asked him a total of 83 questions, he was released pending trial due to his old age. As you may remember, then Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Çevik Bir, when arrested on April 16, 2012 under the same investigation, said: "Without an order or approval from our superiors, we cannot act on our own. There was obviously no coup attempt. The prosecutors said that if there was a claim that there was a coup attempt, then Karadayı should be incriminated as well; as such they filed a criminal complaint against Karadayı for his involvement in the efforts to overthrow the government.

Tansu Çiller, who was part of the coalition government which the TSK overthrew in 1997, broke her silence after 15 years and testified in the investigation into the coup. She said she had warned Karadayı, saying: "You're doing it wrong. Such interventions are not acceptable in a democracy." When prosecutors revealed to her that at that time, soldiers had wiretapped her prime ministerial residence and home, eavesdropping on her private conversations with her husband, Çiller was surprised and remarked, "I had no idea I was under such a siege."

Adding to this, then Gendarmerie General Commander Gen. Teoman Kaman said in his testimony to prosecutors that he had attended National Security Council (MGK) meetings, but that activities of the West Study Group (BÇG), the body which masterminded the coup, had been planned at the General Staff headquarters independently of MGK decisions and without his involvement.

‘Coup preparations impossible without Karadayı's knowledge'

Sources close to the prosecutors carrying out the investigation into the coup refute the view that Karadayı was detained purely in connection with Bir's complaint. Although Bir apparently led the BÇG, held responsible for engineering the coup, prosecutors are certain that coup preparations could not have been conducted without the knowledge of Karadayı. But this is not a pure conjecture. The sources close to the prosecutors note that all of the documents produced by the BÇG had been signed by Karadayı. This means Karadayı, as the superior to all the commanders arrested in the current investigation, cannot feign ignorance of the coup preparations. "Karadayı was not arrested solely in connection with Bir's complaint. He was arrested during the natural progress of the investigation," said a source close to prosecutors of the case.

In the wake of Karadayı's arrest, prosecutor Mustafa Bilgili will submit the indictment of the coup investigation's 90 suspects to the 13th High Criminal Court in Ankara. It should also be noted that the prosecutors are conducting the investigation under two categories: military and civilian.

The Feb. 28 coup is the most disgraceful of all such interventions in Turkey. This is because it was backed by many politicians, businesses, universities, judiciary, bureaucrats, trade unions, civil society organizations and, as the most influential accomplice, the media. At that time, everyone knew it was clearly a coup proper. But the whole process had been so internalized and legitimized by the coup supporters mentioned above that they could advertise it as a democratic festival. Actually, it consisted mainly of economic plunder. The purpose was to ensure that elite financial capital could block the economic growth of enterprises run by religious citizens and prevent them from getting their share of public resources. Funds worth billions of dollars were siphoned in this way. After the coup, retired members of the military were recruited to the executive boards of many corporations -- proof of the economic aspect of the coup.

Former President Süleyman Demirel was one of the main figures who orchestrated the coup. Despite the fact that he was a civilian administrator who had previously been victimized by coups and military interventions on a number of cases, he collaborated with the military to contrive traps for the democratically elected government and effectively steered the coup. When asked why he took such actions, he has replied that he only wanted to avert a coup proper. For him, forcing the government to step down through pressure, threats and deception is a democratic achievement so long as tanks don't roll down the streets. The tens of thousands of people victimized for wearing headscarves, the military officers who were discharged from the army and the people who lost their jobs in many sectors are but a minor detail for him.

Ironically enough, Demirel has emerged into the picture at the same time. This occurred just as the investigation into the Feb. 28 coup was at the point of turning into a criminal case and as we inched closer to the end of the trial of the members of Ergenekon -- a clandestine organization nested within the state trying to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government. Discrediting these trials is of prior importance to those groups who strive to maintain the status quo in Turkey and who want to prevent the country's democratization and settling of accounts with its dark past. This was how they acted systematically before and after the criminal case against the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plan. They will do it in connection with the Ergenekon case, particularly during the appeal stage of the court's decision at the Court of Cessation (Yargıtay). As the litigation process concerning the Feb. 28 coup is of concern to broad groups, the contention will be tougher.

Speaking to Işın Çelebi for the third edition of his book, "Türkiye'nin Dönüşüm Yılları" (Turkey's Years in Transition), Demirel called on people to forgive each other. "Everyone should forgive each other. The country needs a torrent of love. And this is something politicians should do. Let us make the country's future."

Burying the hatchet

From time to time, you hear such proposals. People talk about burying the hatchet and making a fresh start. They accuse those who demand justice of lynching, being guided by revengeful sentiments and adding fuel to polarization.

This is a perfect deception. Indeed, to refrain from trying the perpetrators of the 1997  coup in spite of grave offenses they committed and strong evidence against them would mean, in the least, giving consent to the continuation of those crimes and to discredit the whole judicial system, let alone to do injustice to the victims. The lack of penalization of coup perpetrators has been a main facilitator of past coups and it is for this reason that hundreds of people, including a prime minister and several ministers, were executed in these coups. Without shedding light on these crimes and without making sure the perpetrators are properly punished, it is nothing but an open insult to the human conscience to wish for a new beginning and love for one other.

Of course, the processes involved are more complicated with respect to the Feb. 28 coup, as it was engineered out of common collaborative efforts of the military and the media. So we should make a distinction between the people who sympathized with the coup and those who had an active part in it. People shouldn't be victimized in proceedings without first securing strong evidence to convict them of an act. Doing so would cause the greatest damage to the proceedings, leading to rights violations and enabling certain groups to create ambiguity over the process. Therefore, prosecutors and courts have a great responsibility in this regard. The victimization of even a single person would pose an obstacle to making a fresh start. In other words, the judicial authorities would face a double-edged sword in doing so.

In no civilized country are fresh starts possible without punishing criminals who have committed abuses in the first place. Demirel's "indecent proposal" is in this sense a portent of a dangerous mindset and certain preparations. Demirel is the one who once said, "Every state is a deep one." This mindset is the rationale behind 20th century totalitarian regimes and it should be abandoned at once. And this is possible only through a true, fair and swift administration of justice.

*Markar Esayan is a columnist at Today's Zaman daily.

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