ANKARA - Spurred into action by the latest round of arrests in the Ergenekon saga, the army brass are looking to get involved in a show of support for their detained comrades. As the chief of staff meets with the prime minister, the wives of other top officers mobilize.
In reaction to the detention of top retired generals in relation to the prosecution of the alleged Ergenekon gang, a top military official held a surprise meeting with the prime minister yesterday, reportedly expressing his discomfort with the developments.
Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ unexpectedly visited Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday just before the general’s weekly meeting with President Abdullah Gül. The meeting lasted for more than an hour, which caused a slight delay in his meeting with Gül.
In a brief statement released by the office of the Prime Ministry, the meeting was held upon the request of Gen. Başbuğ and the two officials discussed current issues. The office of the Chief of General Staff announced that Başbuğ conveyed his opinions on the latest developments to the prime minister and to the president.
Television news channels said the main agenda of both meetings was the detention of the generals and Gen. Başbuğ expressed the uneasiness of the Turkish Armed Forces over the implication that the military was behind any unlawful activity.
President Gül was briefed by Interior Minister Beşir Atalay over the developments just before his meeting with Başbuğ. Ruşen Çakır, a political analyst, said the country was passing into a very critical period and Gen. Başbuğ’s meetings were crucial. Speaking to private NTV television, Çakır said he hoped this latest process would not result in the Army issuing the government with another memorandum.
"It’s obvious that the military was shaken with the recent detentions," he said. Nazlı Ilıcak, a columnist for the pro-government daily Sabah, said Başbuğ could request that Erdoğan release the generals, in an interview with the NTV. Ilıcak described the meeting as "the military’s overall reaction to the Ergenekon prosecution."
In 2007, the military sent the government a severe message over the presidential elections, which caused a delay to the election of Abdullah Gül to the post. The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, increased its votes to 47 percent in the general elections only a few months after the memo was issued. The staunchly secularist establishment and pro-Islamic government have come up against each other from time-to-time, escalating the already tense political climate in the country. The Erdoğan-Başbuğ meeting came after Wednesday’s detention of two retired four-star generals who were key military personnel during the Feb. 28, 1996, event when the then pro-Islamic government was ousted by the military.
Tuncer Kılınç, former general-secretary of the National Security Council, or MGK, Kemal Yavuz, former commander of the Second Corps, Erdal Şenel, retired major general, and nine regular officers were taken into custody and sent to Istanbul, where the Eregenkon hearings are being held. The Ergenekon prosecutor has claimed that the members of the alleged Ergenekon gang were trying to plot a coup to overthrow the government in 2003 and 2004.
After the arrests, the military top brass met in an emergency meeting with commanders of the land, air, navy and gendarmerie forces and other top generals and Başbuğ,. No statement was made after the six-hour meeting. The wives of the officials visited the spouses of the detained generals in a show of support.
Gen. Işık’s trip canceled
As proof of severity to the military side, Gen. Atilla Işık, the gendarmerie forces commander canceled his planned trip to Trabzon and Giresun. Another cancellation came from the military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Metin Gürak who revoked his weekly press briefing Friday. The cancellation of the press briefing is seen as a move to avoid making the military’s discomfort public.What is the Feb. 28 process?
The National Security Council took a series of decisions on Feb. 28, 1997, to urge the government to curb what was perceived as a rise of radical Islam, supported by the REFAH-YOL coalition, whose bigger partner was the Islam-oriented Welfare Party, or RP, of Necmettin Erbakan.
Among disturbances for secular state figures were invitations sent by the Prime Ministry to sheiks and leaders of religious communities and their Islamic clothes, discussions to build two large mosques in the centers of Istanbul and Ankara and appointments of Islam-oriented people in the state administration.
On Feb. 4, the military ordered tanks to pass through Ankara’s Sincan district as a warning to the government, a few days after the Sincan municipality staged the "Jerusalem Night" play, with a message from the mayor to turn to an Islamic regime.
Second Chief of Staff Çevik Bir said the tanks were in Sincan for "wheel balancing." Thousands of people were detained under suspicion of conducting reactionary activities in two years, and some leaders of radical Islamic groups were arrested.
Erbakan yielded to the intense pressure and finally resigned from his office in 1997. The Constitutional Court shut down the RP the following year.