Former chief of general staff confirms coup diary plot

April 29, 2009, Wednesday/ 17:24:00
A former chief of general staff who testified secretly to prosecutors conducting an investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine group charged with plotting to overthrow the government, has confirmed the veracity of information in diaries allegedly kept by a former navy admiral recounting plots of some army generals to overthrow the government.

Media reports on Monday said Ergenekon prosecutors Zekeriya Öz and Fikret Seçen secretly traveled to İzmir, where former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. Hilmi Özkök resides, to take his testimony on alleged coup plots devised by generals who served in the army between the years 2002 and 2004. Gen. Özkök confirmed this on Monday afternoon, but he said little about the content of his testimony. He was at the helm of the military when some retired generals who are currently jailed as Ergenekon suspects were also serving.

A senior official who asked not to be identified shared with Today's Zaman yesterday detailed information on the content of the testimony. According to this source, Özkök's statement confirms allegations put forward last year by a newsweekly accusing former military commanders of plotting a coup d'état.

The allegations leveled in the summer of 2007 by the Nokta newsweekly -- which claimed that in 2004 now-retired Adm. Özden Örnek and the four force commanders at the time had made plans to stage military coups to be named Ayışığı (Moonlight) and Sarıkız (Blonde Girl) -- were based on diaries allegedly kept by Adm. Örnek. The admiral has denied that the diaries belonged to him.

The same senior official said Özkök admitted to having information that some individuals who were jailed as suspects in the Ergenekon investigation had close contacts with certain individuals in the military. However, he said he was not aware of the activities of former Gendarmerie General Commander retired Gen. Şener Eruygur and retired General Hurşit Tolon after their retirement. The two former generals are facing trial as administrators of the Ergenekon terrorist organization. The official also said that some of the developments mentioned in the Örnek diaries coincide with the archived records of the General Staff.

According to this account, Özkök also told the prosecutors that the chief of general staff after him, Yaşar Büyükanıt, could have more information about the two generals' post-retirement activities.

The former army chief answered all the questions directed to him by the prosecutors in his eight-hour testimony this weekend. Özkök told the prosecutors that the Prime Ministry and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had submitted to him an organizational chart of Ergenekon before the start of the investigation. He said he tried to monitor the activities of the individuals shown in the chart.

'Some of the incidents mentioned in coup diaries have transpired'

In response to the prosecution's question, "Have there been any coup plans during your term?" Özkök said, "Most of what has been detailed in the coup diaries is true. However, there are also sections I do not agree with. For example, Örnek has denied that the diaries belonged to him. If a commander is saying that these don't belong to him, I would respect his statement. However, some of the incidents mentioned there have transpired. I have observed myself that some of our friends in the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] felt great distrust and worry regarding the government. There was discord over how to express this unease some commanders felt."

The former army chief also told the prosecution that it was understandable that some generals were uneasy about the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), saying that some commanders viewed the AK Party as the Welfare Party (RP), which was shut down by the Constitutional Court on charges of Islamist activity.

He said despite suspicions held by some generals, others, including him, were expressing the opinion that the government had to be afforded some credit, given that the AK Party had turned its face to the West and was actively pursuing Turkey's EU process. Özkök also said that he had a very difficult time during the time he served as military chief due to the activities of the commanders who were at odds in terms of how they saw the government. In response to a question on reports that Özkök brought lunch from home for some time during his tenure, he said: "Those stories are a little bit exaggerated. I like homemade food. But it was a period of serious distrust between me and some of my colleagues."

He said the difference in viewpoints reached a peak when Bülent Arınç, whose wife wears the Islamic headscarf, was voted in as parliament speaker. Özkök told the prosecutors that he had been given intelligence that some generals came together frequently in secret meetings after Arınç's election.

Özkök also said he had planned to write a letter and send it to the government, stating his opinion that the government should withdraw a proposal that would remove a special coefficient used to calculate the university admission scores of graduates of the religious imam-hatip high schools. At the time, some commanders were dissatisfied, saying the government did not need a letter but a harsh warning.

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