Feb. 28 probe widens as more ex-generals summoned to testify

Former Air Forces Commander Gen. Ergin Celasin (Photo: AA)

February 15, 2013, Friday/ 09:00:00

 Several more retired Turkish generals, including former Air Forces Commander Gen. Ergin Celasin, were taken to the Ankara Courthouse to give testimony as part of an investigation into the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup, following the arrest of eight generals over the past few days in the same investigation.

The summoning of the generals, on top of dozens of other officers arrested, has widened the extensive judicial investigations into the once all-powerful military. Those called to testify on Friday were identified as Vice Adm. Aydan Erol, former Air Forces Commander Gen. Ergin Celasin, Rear Adm. Mustafa Özbey, Brig. Gen. İzzettin Gürdal, Rear Adm. İsmail Ruhsar Sümer and Lt. Gen. Ahmet Atalay Efeler. All the officers are now retired.

Celasin was released by prosecutors after he delivered his testimony. The retired general's lawyer said his client was asked 40 questions during the interrogation. “Mr. Celasin told the prosecutors that Feb. 28 was not a coup and that he was the Turkish Air Forces commander at the time and had no role in the stepping down of the then-government,” lawyer Erol Yılmaz Aras told media.

Celasin was promoted to the rank of general and appointed secretary-general of the National Security Council in 1997. In 1999 he was appointed as the commander of the Turkish Air Forces, and he retired in August 2001.

Two of the seven retired generals were in Ankara when the prosecutor ordered their testimony and they were immediately accompanied by police to the Ankara Courthouse. The remaining five were in İstanbul and İzmir. They were initially taken to state hospitals in their cities for a medical check-up and later brought to Ankara. They were then taken to the courthouse for their testimony to be heard by prosecutors involved in the Feb. 28 probe.

On Feb. 28, 1997, the Turkish military forced the coalition government led by the now-defunct conservative Welfare Party (RP) out of power, citing alleged rising religious fundamentalism in the country. The Feb. 28 coup brought a series of severe restrictions on religious life, including an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the use of headscarves by women at university campuses and in positions of public service.

It was not immediately clear if the remaining six retired generals were arrested or released by the time Today's Zaman went to print.

On Thursday, four senior members of the military, who testified to the prosecutors in the Feb. 28 investigation, along with four other officers earlier in the day, were arrested and sent to jail.

With this development, the number of ex-officers arrested over the past few days in the Feb. 28 probe rose to eight.

Early on Thursday, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office ordered the testimony of eight senior military members, all retired. After hearing their testimonies, the prosecutors decided to refer seven officers to court for arrest and released the other officer -- retired Lt. Gen. Abdullah Cahit Sarsılmaz. The court ruled to arrest retired brigadier generals Metin Yaşar Yükselen and Refik Zeytinci, retired Maj. Gen. Ayhan Cansevgisi and retired Col. Cengiz Koşal. The three officers, Maj. Gen. Fuat Büyükcivelek, Lt. Gen. Temel Batmaz Dandin and Col. Ziya Öztoprak -- all retired -- were released by the court. The released men have to inform the police department of the neighborhood they reside in about their whereabouts on a weekly basis.

The arrested officers were sent to Sincan Prison in Ankara.

The latest wave of arrests in the Feb. 28 investigation came after retired Gen. Çevik Bir, the deputy chief of General Staff at the time of the unarmed coup, sent a number of documents to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office that detail how the West Study Group (BÇG) was set up. The BÇG was a clandestine group formed within the military in order to contribute to the staging of the planned coup. The group, founded with the goal of fighting “reactionaryism” in Turkey, is alleged to have categorized politicians, intellectuals, soldiers and bureaucrats in accordance with their religious and ideological backgrounds.

According to news reports, the eight former officers put under arrest recently were members of the clandestine BÇG.

Bir's documents suggest the BÇG was established only a few days after a group of military generals convened to discuss how to overthrow the Feb. 28 government. According to the documents, the generals said the TSK should issue a memorandum against the then-government and then declare martial law if the government refused to step down. More than 30 senior military officers, mostly generals, attended the meeting.

The prosecutors involved in the Feb. 28 investigation asked the testifying officers about the BÇG and the documents, but the officers denied any knowledge of the clandestine group and the documents.

News sources reported on Friday that all four TSK members arrested the day before served in separate departments of the Turkish military that dealt with intelligence-related matters. The phone conversations of thousands of citizens, including politicians of the Feb. 28 coup period, were reportedly wiretapped by those departments.

As of this week, 72 people have been jailed as part of the Feb. 28 coup probe. The prosecutors have so far heard from 70 victims of the Feb. 28 coup. A parliamentary commission set up to investigate coups and memorandums also sent the documents relevant to the Feb. 28 coup to the prosecutors.

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