Former military chief confirms existence of coup plans during his term
Former Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök is seen watching a military parade in this June 4, 2011 photo. (Photo: AA)
Former Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök, who on Thursday testified as a witness in the ongoing Ergenekon trial, has acknowledged the existence of coup plots nicknamed “Ayışığı” (Moonlight) and “Yakamoz” (Sea Sparkle) during his term of leadership, but said he did not take any legal action concerning them because he was unsure of their authenticity.
“In the spring of 2004, I was given a CD that included the presentations of [alleged coup plans] ‘Ayışığı' and ‘Yakamoz. ' They could have been disinformation or they could have been true. I did not share this issue even with my seniors. As the chief of General Staff, I had to be cautious. … Since Ayışığı and Yakamoz were not legitimate documents, I did not take any [legal] action,” he said.
The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which is hearing the Ergenekon case, announced last week that Özkök would be testifying, and the former military chief arrived at the Silivri Prison Complex early on Thursday to attend the 213th hearing of the trial.
Ergenekon is a shadowy criminal network with alleged links to the state, suspected of plotting to topple the government.
Ayışığı and Yakamoz are two of the coup plots mentioned in the diary of former Naval Forces Commander Adm. Özden Örnek. In April 2007, weekly news magazine Nokta published excerpts from a journal it claimed belonged to Örnek, which contained details of coup attempts dating back to 2004. An investigation was launched following the allegation -- not into Örnek and his coup plans, but into Nokta Editor-in-Chief Alper Görmüş. The weekly news magazine was shut down several weeks after a police raid on its offices. However, the journal was included in the second indictment in the Ergenekon trial in 2009, after a technical examination of the excerpts published by Nokta confirmed that they were authentic.
Calling the allegations in the plans serious, Özkök said he considered taking legal action against those behind the plans, but relented so as not to shake the confidence between him and his seniors.
“The posts we occupy are very important posts. For instance, there are 300,000 people under the command of the land forces commander. Lack of confidence in the people under your command could lead to great problems. It was not possible for me to take any legal action on a document about of whose legitimacy and authenticity I was unsure. This would mean distrust of me on the part of those under my command,” he said.
Özkök, who retired in 2006 and settled in the western province of İzmir to lead a life out of the public eye, frequently makes national headlines in connection with coup plans allegedly devised during his term as chief of General Staff.
There have been claims that a planned military coup would have been staged in 2003 if then-Chief of General Staff Gen. Özkök had supported it. Özkök was also allegedly the target of a planned assassination due to his opposition to a military coup.
The force commanders at the time were former Land Forces Commander Gen. Aytaç Yalman, former Air Forces Commander Gen. İbrahim Fırtına and former Naval Forces Commander Adm. Örnek, all of whom retired in 2004.
The three men currently accused of having devised the coup plans Ayışığı, Sarıkız (Blonde Girl) and Yakamoz are all mentioned in Örnek’s journal.
Thursday’s hearing in Silivri was attended by 49 jailed suspects, including former chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ, retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon, retired Gen. Hasan Iğsız and journalist Tuncay Özkan.
It was the first time Başbuğ had attended a hearing of the Ergenekon trial since all indictments relevant to Ergenekon were joined in May, on the basis of the many links and parallels between the separate trials and suspects.
Başbuğ was incarcerated in January over coup charges. Özkök also confirmed that former force commanders had raised the idea of issuing a memorandum against the government during a military meeting in 2003, but added that it was not an “official” suggestion.
In his testimony, Özkök said that force commanders at the time had mentioned issuing a memorandum against the government during a brainstorming session in a military meeting, but added that this was “not an official proposal.”
The former army chief also noted that the coming to power of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in 2002 led to anxiety among some Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) members, including him, as people were concerned about the country going backward.
When the AK Party came to power, some circles in society, including the military, were suspicious about the party’s secular credentials, and claimed that the party had a secret agenda to bring sharia rule to the country.
At Thursday’s hearing, the presiding judge of the court, Hasan Hüseyin Özese, asked Özkök about the Ergenekon chart sent to the Prime Ministry and the General Staff in 2003 by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).
Showing Özkök the Ergenekon chart and other documents that form part of the Ergenekon case, Özese asked him whether they were the same documents and chart presented to him on July 3, 2003.
Examining the documents, Özkök said, “If you take the years that have passed and my age into consideration, the chart given to me and this chart are the same with a certainty of 90 percent.”
He said that as there had been no name, signature or title on the document sent by MİT, he had not considered taking any legal action based on the information contained in the document.
Asked by prosecutor Mehmet Ali Pekgüzel whether he had any information about Ergenekon, Özkök said he had first encountered the name of Ergenekon in the documents sent by MİT in 2003.
“I have no information other than this [document], which I perceived as inconsistent back then,” he said. Özkök noted that he thought the chart sent by MİT was inconsistent because high-ranking officers were below the low-ranking officers in the chart.
The investigation into Ergenekon was first launched on June 12, 2007, when 27 hand grenades were seized from a house in İstanbul’s Ümraniye district belonging to Oktay Yıldırım, a retired noncommissioned army officer currently under arrest in relation to the case. However, the name “Ergenekon” came to light after retired Brig. Gen. Veli Küçük was detained in January 2008. Some documents regarding the structure of the organization were seized from Küçük’s house during police raids.
The initial hearing in the first Ergenekon case was held at the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court on Oct. 28, 2008. The first probe was then followed by second and third investigations into the organization in 2009, when the court merged three cases into one main trial. Apart from the three main Ergenekon cases, there were also 16 other Ergenekon-related cases conducted separately, such as those of the 2006 murder of a Council of State judge, the Action Plan Against Reactionaryism and an anti-government Internet campaign. The court had ruled out merging these individual cases within the main Ergenekon case on various occasions since 2009.
The main suspects in the second Ergenekon case were retired Gen. Şener Eruygur and retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon, who face charges of being senior members of Ergenekon, encouraging military personnel to disobey orders, acquiring sensitive and classified information concerning state security, damaging military documents, possession of firearms and ammunition, attempting to destroy Parliament and attempting to prevent it from performing its duties, inciting revolt against the government of the Republic of Turkey, attempting to destroy the government of the Republic of Turkey and attempting to prevent it from performing its duties, as well as violating the privacy of individuals.