“While everything is calm, there is a perception of a threat in the military because the government that has come to power is one they consider the enemy, reactionary in nature, and so what can be done to bring them down and create chaos?” she said, answering questions from Today's Zaman for Monday Talk.
“There is a war game that describes which doors to the mosque are to be used by the members of the military placing the bombs, details that even talk about which vehicles are to be used in all of this and explanations about how this sort of chaos and terror can be created,” she said, adding that this is a coup plan disguised in the garb of war games. Last Wednesday, the Taraf daily, which had already published numerous plans by the military to purge conservative Muslims from its ranks, manipulate the judiciary and create a military-friendly media, published yet another military plot dubbed “Sledgehammer,” a plot that shocked the entire nation. According to the daily, the coup plan was drafted in 2003, shortly after the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power.
‘There are no plans regarding how to prevent an attack on a mosque, or how to capture those who attack, or how to calm the public. To the contrary, there is a war game that describes which doors to the mosque are to be used by the members of the military placing the bombs, details that even talk about which vehicles are to be used in all of this and explanations about how this sort of chaos and terror can be created’
The masterminds behind the plan were former 1st Army Commander Gen. Çetin Doğan, former Air Forces Commander Gen. İbrahim Fırtına and retired Gen. Ergin Saygun. According to the plan, the military was to systematically foment chaos in society through violent acts, among which were planned bomb attacks on the Fatih and Beyazıt mosques in İstanbul. One other horrendous act that allegedly would have been orchestrated was the shooting down one of Turkey’s own F-16 fighters over the Aegean Sea with blame to be put on the Greeks in an effort to incite chaos.
The plotters envisioned a nation against minorities, Kurds, religious people, Islam, foreign investors, the West, the European Union and the United States.
Asked if there are clues as to just how many of these plans were actually realized, Çongar told us that the categorization of individual citizens has already been done. She added that the document said an atmosphere conducive to a coup would be created in large cities such as İstanbul through simultaneously planned attacks by groups such as al-Qaeda and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“About six months after this document was written, there were large-scale attacks by al-Qaeda in İstanbul. [Al-Qaeda was blamed for attacks carried out in November 2003 against two synagogues, the British Consulate General and an HSBC branch in İstanbul.] Either this is a terrible coincidence, or someone in the military was able to guess what al-Qaeda was going to do before it actually happened and could thus use this knowledge as a vehicle, or perhaps had the power to influence al-Qaeda,” she said.
An investigation was launched by the İstanbul Prosecutor’s Office into the alleged military plot after a group of 15 people from an anti-coup group named 70 Million Steps Against Coups filed a criminal complaint against the authors of the plot.
Çongar answered more of our questions regarding who the people passing on those documents to Taraf are, what they aim to achieve, the military’s reaction, Turkish society’s reaction, the government and the future of military-civilian relations.
When did these documents first reach you and when did you start reading them? And as you read them, what did you feel?
The documents reached us last week [the week of Jan.11]. We did not have weeks and weeks to read them. They are very long documents. The reason for this is there are pages and pages of lists categorizing a large number of civilian bureaucrats, detailing their personal lives. We made a decision to exclude the information on people’s private lives and focused on the various plans and scenarios. We worked together as a team at the writing branch of the newspaper. There was also a verification process. And to answer part of your question, we were horrified.
Yasemin Çongar, deputy editor-in-chief of the Taraf daily
She studied political science and economics. Her journalism career started after graduating from high school in 1984. After a short stint at the ANKA agency, she worked at the Cumhuriyet daily as a diplomacy reporter. She also worked for the BBC in London. She lived in Washington, D.C., for 13 years as a reporter for Milliyet and returned to Turkey to work for the Taraf daily since its founding about two years ago. She says they cannot do many of the things they would like to do to improve the newspaper because of financial difficulties. “We don’t want Taraf to be a paper which is critical of the military and that’s all it does. We want to have a good culture page, a good world news page and supplements, including magazine pages.” Asked about rumors regarding support from the Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, she laughed and said, “No,” and that she does not even know whether Gülen reads the paper or not. “All of our bank accounts are checked,” she added. “We are a small newspaper with little money.”
Looking at the sources that gave you these documents, do you see certain changes within the military? It appears that the military is not as homogeneous as people used to think it was.
Turkey is changing, and so is its military. The military, just as is the case with other institutions, is not homogenous. There is nowadays a presence within the ranks of the military that protests the military’s involvement in these sorts of activities. These military factions want to see the military remove its hands from politics and return to its real duties. There are now whistleblowers within the ranks of the military. They see rot and corruption within the institution for which they work. There are many ranking officers who are upset by the attempts to commit crime against their own society and violate the limits of the military.
What are the ranks of these members of the military who are upset by those developments?
They are in positions of responsibility, mostly officers. They are not people who, while serving as privates, see an interesting looking document and steal it. They are proud people who have respect for the career of being in the military.
What do you think about the response from Gen. Çetin Doğan?
I see some conflicting points in his statements. In his statements made on the T24 Web site, he accepted the scenarios set forth in the “Sledgehammer” plan and said these sorts of plans are worked out with the full knowledge of the General Staff headquarters, noting that there is a perception of an internal threat in Turkey and that thus this is normal. But in a later statement made on television, he put some distance between himself and the document, characterizing the “Oraj” [Thunderstorm], “Çarşaf” [Black Chador] and “Sakal” [Beard] type plans, on which there are signatures of some other commanders, not his, as definite treason and asserting that he had nothing to do with them.
‘Sick minds play sick games’
How do you interpret this?
As far as I have been able to see, he now understands that he will not be able to completely remove or distance himself from a scenario that bears his own signature and which was discussed at meetings he was leading and so now he thinks that these were plans made on a legitimate basis. But then this question comes to my mind: How could the Turkish military, on a legitimate basis, be playing with a scenario that makes as its first goal the overthrow of a government that was just elected to power by the people of the nation and, in order to carry this out, plans to create chaos and then impose martial law? Why would this be the duty of the Turkish military? It would be understandable if there were scenarios made to deal with what would happen if there were a serious financial crisis in Turkey and as a result of which there were uprisings, the people poured into the streets and city squares, banks were attacked and damaged or government buildings were attacked and then the military had to take over.
But this plan is a different sort of plan, right?
Yes, it’s a different game altogether. Because in truth, while everything is calm, there is a perception of a threat in the military because the government which has come to power is one which they consider the enemy, reactionary in nature, and so what can be done to bring them down and create chaos? But there are no plans regarding how to prevent an attack on a mosque, or how to capture those who attack, or how to calm the public. To the contrary, there is a war game that describes which doors to the mosque are to be used by the members of the military placing the bombs, details that even talk about which vehicles are to be used in all of this and explanations about how this sort of chaos and terror can be created.
When speaking to the media, Çetin Doğan said something along the lines of “sick minds created this news...”
Actually, what it appears to be is that some sick minds within the military are playing a bunch of sick games. But what we see from their statements and from the documents on hand is that these games are not just war games and that really what we see on the table before us is a coup plan in the garb of war games. Does a military war game plan, for example, really categorize real people and then indicate how that person is going to be used? Would it detail how the military would enter the offices of the Prime Ministry and indicate the names of diplomats to be arrested? Would it list the names of journalists to be arrested? Would it list the names of those provincial governors who should and should not remain in their positions? Would it list the names of the members of the judiciary who should be appointed the commanders of martial law? This war game contains detailed plans on how to renew the bureaucracy. It contains the program for the government that is to be formed after the coup. What aspect of this is a war game? This is a political document.
‘Six months after the plan, there were large-scale attacks by al-Qaeda in İstanbul’
Are there clues as to just how many of these plans were actually realized?
The categorization of individual citizens has already been done. And there have been the discoveries of some buried munitions -- the burial of munitions was mentioned in the documents. Thankfully, we do know that the attacks on the mosques did not occur. The document says that an atmosphere conducive to a coup will be created in large cities such as İstanbul through simultaneously planned attacks by groups such as al-Qaeda and the PKK. About six months after this document was written, there were large-scale attacks by al-Qaeda in İstanbul. Either this is a terrible coincidence or someone in the military was able to guess what al-Qaeda was going to do before it actually happened, and could thus use this knowledge as a vehicle, or perhaps had the power to influence al-Qaeda. I don’t want to say anything specific on this, but there is a statement contained in this document that raises great doubts. As I read in another newspaper, there are now doubts over the Turkish and Greek dogfights in the Aegean because they might have been based on these plans. Just imaging all of this as some sort of game is terrible to begin with. It’s hard to say what else a mentality sick enough to bring down its own jet would be capable of.
‘People are not ignoring what is happening, but…’
How do you see the reactions from society to all of this? It seems as though people are not reacting as negatively as they should to plans that were made against them.
The sense of citizenship in Turkey is not very mature. Turkey is a nation accustomed to being led by constitutions that put the state in an authoritarian role. We, as regular citizens of this nation, are paying the salaries of these soldiers. They are where they are due to the taxes we pay, and they are the state servants of the politicians whom we have elected. They cannot stray outside the boundaries of the duties assigned to them by the Constitution, and when they do, they are to be questioned about this. Carrying out a coup is a crime. But this idea is not deeply rooted in people’s minds. This is a nation that has hanged a prime minister who came to power by an election, a nation that has never demanded reckoning for the Sept. 12 coup, a nation that has never tried generals responsible for coups after the coups are over. And so now, perhaps for the first time ever here, an investigation into a coup plan will actually occur and will continue forward. There are years and years worth of material that has built up.
Do you think Turkish society has been horrified by these developments?
Yes, in the end there is great horror and dismay. People are not just ignoring these things. But the idea among ordinary citizens that no general, no gendarmerie commander has the right to do these things to us is just not yet deeply rooted. In Turkey, the elected administrations still don’t have the power. Elected governments still don’t wield full authority when it comes to certain topics in their areas of responsibility, and they are sometimes fearful of wielding full authority, they are still afraid of coups and military interventions. And as long as these fears are not completely overcome -- although they are being overcome -- we will continue to see before us a civilian mass which goes completely silent in the face of a force that has tanks and weapons. This is, of course, a very damaging fact, but the existence of newspapers that challenge this, and of intellectuals who question this more and more, and thanks to certain politicians, some things have begun [to change]. After all, a civilian prosecutor and judge were able to enter the “cosmic chambers” of the STK [Tactical Mobilization Group of the Special Forces Command] and do their own research. This was a first in its own right. That is why I also place so much importance on the Ergenekon case.
Some of the names mentioned in the plot that you published, such as Şener Eruygur and Özden Örnek, are also actors in other coup plans which are under investigation.
There are traces of work done by Çetin Doğan in the Özden Örnek records that expose the coup plan, and in the diaries kept by Mustafa Balbay; there are also conversations that indicate that Çetin is involved in coup plotting. For example, the conversation that took place with the then-MİT [National Intelligence Organization] undersecretary. Another example is that there is a plan referred to as “Suga,” and a large percentage of the people mentioned in this plan are also mentioned in the “Kafes” [Cage] plan. It is a plan signed off on by Özden Örnek, but many of the names who were assigned duties in this plan -- such as Feyyaz Öğütçü, Kadir Sağdıç and so many more -- make one think that actually, there were a variety of different coup plans made throughout different periods of time. And though many of these plans remain unrealized, they are rewritten, reassembled, played out all over again, and perhaps people try to bring them to fruition all over again. There is a sense of continuity in all of this.
How is that?
Here is what we know about the Cage plan: When you are reading it, you know that the priest Santoro murder, the Hrant Dink murder and the Malatya Zirve publishing house massacre have already occurred. So a new plan was written in 2009 regarding the threats and murders of non-Muslim citizens, and this plan refers to the Santoro murder and the Hrant Dink murder as “operations.” So really, the suspicions about the dark roles played by the state in many of Turkey’s unsolved murders and assassinations, as well as incidents of sabotage and bombings, were always there, and now it will really start to emerge within the framework of some cases and investigations. These plans are ones which, at the very least, work to strengthen the suspicions that already existed. We now need to question why it is that the top-ranked generals whose names are mentioned in the Cage plan still haven’t testified.
Have there been threats made to your newspaper and even to you personally?
From time to time we have received threats that we need to take seriously. Most of these threats we have passed on to the prosecutors through our lawyers. Other than that, we have the normal security precautions in place here that you would have at any newspaper. After all, we are a newspaper, and we are doing our jobs. We get up in the morning and come to work and then go home in the evening. We don’t hold illegal meetings or spy on people; we don’t enter buildings and steal papers we find there. There is nothing we need to hide. We do know this, though: Our phones are tapped without any legal basis, and likewise, our e-mails are read. We are not afraid of this, though we also know that Turkey is a country where journalists are murdered. In Turkey, you cannot be a journalist, or you can be a scared journalist who doesn’t stray into any dangerous arenas, or you can do as you wish and just pray that nothing bad happens to you.
How many court cases have been filed against Taraf and you?
More than 100. I think there have been seven or eight about me personally. One of these was a case in which I was accused of insulting the justice system, when I criticized the closure case against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). But I was acquitted in this case. In the others, I was tried for a number of crimes, including insulting the state, insulting the justice system or praising the guilty. Ahmet Altan also has around that many cases against him. Many of my reporter colleagues have ongoing cases against them in court, and most of these cases derive from criticism of the state or the military or the general course of the Kurdish situation or criticism of general policies. In other words, these are not cases based on accusations of personal insults, or slander.
We have not come across an example of solidarity amongst journalism groups on this front, but do you get support from international circles?
International press organizations see these things happening in Turkey and make noise about them. We do get lots of expressions of solidarity from many of our colleagues working at other newspapers and other groups. Even if there is no concrete action taken, there is friendship expressed. And then there is the wider faction which says nothing about legal cases against journalists based on criticism of the justice system, the military or the state, but which turns the freedom of the press issue into a front-page story after a tax punishment is meted out. This just makes me laugh, to tell you the truth. At least they are able to allege that there is incredible pressure on the press, because of this fine, though they don’t get targeted the way we do in court cases.
Do you possess any other important plans or documents waiting to be published?
We do not hold onto documents; if they contain good information, we use them; otherwise, we toss them out. I have been a journalist for 25 years now, and I have seen journalists who don’t write about the notes they have taken at interesting meetings which later become the focus of court cases, or journalists who gain access to files on corrupt politicians but don’t write on them. Some of our journalist colleagues even tell us sometimes that the documents we have just published also arrived at their offices but that their newspaper never used them. This is not what we do. We publish documents the veracity of which we can confirm and if we believe it is something the public needs to know.
When Taraf first began to publish these documents, the other media outlets didn’t really appear to see what was happening, though now they seem to be noticing what Taraf writes. Is the view taken by the press changing?
Hürriyet placed this news on a very small part of its front page, though it was really to deny it. Nearly all the other newspapers made it their headlines. It was a large headline in Milliyet, and the same for Star, Sabah and Zaman, yes, it’s in every paper. It was Taraf that published the first document linked with Ergenekon, before the official list of allegations in that case had even emerged. At the time, a whole variety of reactions were published in other newspapers, reactions such as “It’s a fairy tale, they are wandering around in an imaginary land, they are just sitting at their desks and turning this stuff out.” But then Ergenekon became an actual court case and suddenly began to be referred to as the case of the century. Today people can criticize it all they want, but still everyone knows that Ergenekon is one of the most pressing topics in the nation. The fact is, though, a journalist working at Taraf or any other newspaper would have to be crazy to make these things up. These documents have in some ways started to emerge into the daylight as the result of some changes within the state. All sorts of secrets that had remained deeply buried are finally emerging. And now we see that certain generals in the military have even been detained on the basis of what they were calling a “fairy tale.”
‘Military needs to be smaller’
What do you think about the debates over whether the military needs to be revitalized? Should Turkey have a professional army? Is there a need for a parliamentary commission on this?
Actually, we need commissions in our Parliament on all these matters if we want to see our Parliament be a real parliament. Thankfully, we had a commission on Hrant Dink, but we also need a commission on Ergenekon. There needs to be a commission formed on the Cage plan, and responsible deputies need to follow this up. This is not the first coup plan to emerge from the ranks of the military. We are talking about a military which has made all sorts of coup plans, which has perceived internal threats, which has turned an elected government into a part of this perceived internal threat, which has also made various religious sects part of this threat and which has brought plans against all these factions to the forefront. Let’s say that all these had really only been war game planning. But the fact is that the number of hours spent on these war games, the incredible number of personnel involved, the energy and months devoted to this all, the pages of text written about this all are too much for war games. This also makes me think that the military doesn’t have enough work to do and has too much time on its hands. I think the Turkish military does need to shrink. This could be done by reducing the time of required military service. It could be a much shorter period of service or based on the idea of voluntary service.
‘Gov’t needs to speak out more clearly’
Is the government standing as tall and strong as it needs to on the subject of government-military relations?
Not as tall and strong as it needs to, but it is trying. The administration faces a parliamentary opposition that is against democratization and civilianization in Turkey, as well as an atmosphere in which some people passing themselves off as intellectuals begin to shout about “civilian authority” the moment the public begins to stand strong and the moment the military arena begins to narrow. So there is an effort by the government, but not enough courage. I suppose not every member of this administration is resolute in the same way. And then this mistake is being made: The government needs to speak out more clearly against military interventions in politics and the justice system. No matter what statements are made by the military, if they indicate such interventionist tendencies, the government must respond. If, for example, Gen. Başbuğ stands on a frigate and makes statements that could influence an ongoing case, the government must absolutely speak against this; when they don’t, something is really wrong.
It’s a known fact that the United States was behind some military coups in Turkey in the past. Do you make any connection in that regard when you review the current documents?
As I also reviewed the coup plans called “Sarıkız” and “Ayışığı” -- and I can say the same for “Balyoz” -- they don’t seem to be in parallel with the United States or NATO. On the contrary, the operation aims at isolating Turkey from the world. In the government that they plan to implement after the coup, they cut Turkey’s ties with Iran. Even though this is a country with which the United States is not so friendly, we see, on the other hand, that the plan cuts Turkey’s international ties altogether and that a statist, neo-nationalist, isolationist approach comes to into force. It is against religion, anti-Islam, anti-Kurdish, anti-Arab and at the same time anti-West and isolationist. We already know that coups plans “Sarıkız” and “Ayışığı” were primarily made to prevent an opening on the Cyprus issues of the time, and an opening in that regard was supported by the United States and Europe. Neither Europe nor the United States believes that Turkey can be governed by the mentality of Sept. 12, but the military seems far from understanding that.