Feb. 28 victims ponder costly compensation suits against coup generals
On Feb. 4, 1997, military tanks rolled through Sincan in a show of power, an “open warning” to the government.
Military officers who were expelled from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) after the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention are reportedly planning to file compensation suits against then-higher-ups of the military in which lawyers say their clients may demand up to TL 1 million in compensation.
On Feb. 28 the TSK forced a coalition government led by a now-defunct conservative party, the Welfare Party (RP), to step down on the grounds that there was religious fundamentalism in the country. The unarmed coup introduced a series of harsh restrictions on religious life. Hundreds of officers were expelled from the military on the grounds that they were engaged in reactionary activities. Many of them have recently filed criminal complaints en masse against the perpetrators of the coup, arguing that they suffered financially and spiritually after the coup.
Currently an investigation is under way into the Feb. 28 coup, with some of its suspected actors -- all retired and active duty members of the military -- being taken into custody for their role in the staging of the coup.
According to the Association of Justice Defenders (ASDER), members of the military who were dismissed after Feb. 28 were mostly left jobless and officers suffered from financial losses as high as TL 1 million in total. Retired military judge Yusuf Çağlayan, who is an ASDER member, told Today's Zaman that some officers are planning to file compensation suits against then-generals to recover their losses. “Members of the military who were expelled from the TSK suffered from financial losses besides spiritual damages. If judicial bodies [which will try Feb. 28 actors] find the suspects guilty, then [dismissed] officers will file compensation suits against them,” Çağlayan stated.
ASDER says around 1,500 TSK officers known to be practicing Muslims were dismissed en masse by Supreme Military Court (YAŞ) decisions after the Feb. 28 coup. Many military members who regularly prayed or had wives who wore a headscarf were expelled from the military. Most officers were dismissed on the grounds of ambiguous accusations such as “lack of discipline,” which was a pretext in most cases. The TSK traditionally considered religious or conservative individuals and movements a threat both to its existence and the existence of secular Turkey.
Last year parliament passed a bill seeking to reinstate the rights of former members of the military who were expelled by the YAŞ. Unlike in the past, dismissed officers are now allowed to appeal YAŞ decisions at the Military High Administrative Court (AYİM). The bill also allows ex-members of the military to be officially retired with the highest military rank that they could have acquired had they not been dismissed. Those who were expelled from the armed forces as noncommissioned officers will be given the rank of master sergeant in their retirement, while those who were expelled while serving as an officer will be given the rank of staff colonel. The victims will be provided with a retirement salary and have access to social security services.
According to the criminal complaint filed against suspected perpetrators of the Feb. 28 coup, coup actors “targeted religious lives of TSK members.” “Feb. 28 coup actors targeted the Islam religion which we are followers of and attacked our liberty of conscience and belief. As a result of the attack, we were subjected to spiritual losses which are hard to be made up for. The Feb. 28 coup was not a crime committed solely against the public and democratic will but also resulted in heavy damages of individuals' fundamental rights and freedoms,” the complaint read.
The complaint further asserted that coup actors expelled many officers from the military in order to “get rid of members who are against coups.” “Some of them [dismissed officers] were either forced to resign or retire through the use of psychological war tactics and pressure. In this way, the West Study Group [BÇG] gained control of the Turkish military,” said the document.
The BÇG, which categorized politicians, intellectuals, soldiers and bureaucrats according to their religious and ideological backgrounds, was formed within the military during the Feb. 28 coup. The group continued its existence as a civilian body after the collapse of the coalition government of the coup period. There are claims that the BÇG kept tabs on around 6 million people in the run-up to the Feb. 28 process. A number of written directives sent to military commands in the past, which have made their way into the press recently, have shown the TSK kept tabs on civilians, too. For example, the BÇG developed a plan in 2004 to categorize all people in schools, mosques, Quran courses, press organs, civil society groups, universities and many other institutions in line with their opinions on political and religious issues. The categorizations would later be used to “take a stance” against those individuals after the military staged a coup d'état.