This is the first time civilian figures have been targeted in a Feb. 28 operation. The specially authorized Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office announced that detention warrants had been issued for former head of the Higher Education Board (YÖK) Kemal Gürüz and three former board members of the YÖK, identified as Sedat Arıtürk, Erdoğan Öznal and Maj. Gen. Kenan Deniz. Both Öznal and Deniz are retired major generals. The suspects are all accused of playing a major role in the Feb. 28 coup, in which the military forced a coalition government led by the now-defunct conservative Welfare Party (RP) out of power.
The detention warrants were issued for the suspects in accordance with the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) on charges of attempting to topple the government of the Turkish Republic, according to the prosecutor's office. İstanbul police raided the houses of Deniz and Arıtürk, taking the two men into custody, on Friday afternoon. Police officers in Ankara also raided the houses of Gürüz and Özmal, but failed to locate them. News sources suggest that Gürüz was on vacation.
After being taken into custody, Deniz and Arıtürk underwent a health check, and were then taken to the İstanbul Courthouse in the Çağlayan neighborhood to be interrogated by prosecutors. The two men will be sent to Ankara for a more detailed interrogation, according to news reports.
Deniz and Arıtürk refused to answer reporters' questions about their detention as they were taken inside the courthouse. Arıtürk served as a military advisor to former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan before his government was overthrown by the powerful military on Feb. 28.
The Feb. 28 coup introduced a series of severe restrictions on religious life, with an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the use of the Islamic headscarf. The military was also purged of members with suspected ties to religious groups, or officers who were observant Muslims. In addition, a number of newspapers were closed down following the coup based on a National Security Council (MGK) decision calling for closer monitoring of media outlets.
Around 60 people have already been imprisoned during the first five waves of arrests in the Feb. 28 investigation. Those in custody include Gen. Çevik Bir, who is known to have played a major role in the 1997 coup, and retired Gen. Erol Özkasnak, who was the secretary-general of the General Staff at the time. Özkasnak is also known to have played a major role in the coup generals’ communication with the media, which was used to put pressure on the government to resign.
Earlier this year, prosecutors involved in the Feb. 28 investigation seized documents and correspondence between Bir and Gürüz, strengthening suspicions that the former YÖK head played a major role in the 1997 coup. The documents were relayed to the West Study Group (BÇG), which was established by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to carry on the fight against religious fundamentalism and kept records of the ideological and religious backgrounds of academics and university students. A document signed by Bir on July 14, 1998, and sent to Gürüz, demands that a new education system should be adopted to discourage students from attending religious imam hatip high schools. The correspondence is believed to suggest the application of a lower coefficient to calculate the university admission examination scores of graduates of vocational high schools, including imam hatip high schools. The YÖK General Council held a meeting on Aug. 30, almost 45 days after Gürüz received Bir’s letter, in which such a coefficient system was discussed. It was subsequently put into practice in 1999. The new system made it virtually impossible for graduates of vocational high schools to attend universities.
Furthermore, Gürüz was a very ardent supporter of the headscarf ban at universities. In one of his speeches, he said that headscarved students should not even be allowed to walk on the streets and that they should leave the country and move to Saudi Arabia.
Gürüz was detained in 2009 as part of the investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal network accused of being nested within the state bureaucracy and working to overthrow democratically elected governments, but was later released pending trial. An indictment in the Ergenekon case asserted that Gürüz was working to “shape university administrations” both during his term in office at YÖK and after he retired. According to the indictment, Gürüz tried to influence appointments of rectors to universities even after his retirement.