Monday, May 16, 2011

What happened in the 1st Army in late 2002?

Truth has a nasty habit of coming out in the open, sooner or later. When the Taraf daily a year ago published stories on the coup plans prepared between 2002-2004 within the 1st Army Headquarters in İstanbul under the codename “Sledgehammer,” the country’s sickeningly militarist media was quick to launch a campaign to discredit the story.

Later on, the biased relatives of a commander, who now stands accused, joined the efforts to set a smokescreen by acting as amateur lawyers, declaring the evidence invalid and going as far as calling the “coup plans” a sheer lie.

The sad part was that many circles that could have remained patient and waited for more evidence to be presented to the court joined the chorus in pre-empting the verdict.

But the new findings come as a strong slap in the face. On late Tuesday, the court distributed new evidence to the lawyers of the accused 196 officers, and through them to the press. The DVDs contain material based on the search conducted at Gölcük Naval Command on Dec. 6 of last year. In that search the police found nine sacks of hidden documents, which later were investigated in the presence of military staff who served as “observers.”

The evidence, based on 43 folders, and eagerly anticipated by non-militarist press, is simply shocking. It contradicts the accounts of the accused and their defenders that there was no coup plotting. On the contrary, several crucial documents tell us that the “Sledgehammer” plan to topple the newly elected government and Parliament were being implemented already by the end of 2002. In this context, two documents are crucial.

The first, dated Dec. 17, 2002, bears the signature of Çetin Doğan, the then-commander of the 1st Army, and asks the military staff to observe and report “all reactionary activity” in the public domain to headquarters. It also asks for lists of “categorized military staff” to be prepared. This demand was circulated a week later among all the divisions within the 1st Army, and the text of the speech by Doğan to his top staff dated December 20, 2002, is also among the new evidence.

The material is extensive. It includes “death lists” that name both Hrant Dink and Etyen Mahcupyan as well as 17 other “dissidents.” It details plans to arrest certain navy and air forces commanders that must be detained during “action.”

It reveals plans intended to serve as provocations and orders to “act very discreetly.” It indicates a firm position on “exerting pressure on the chief of General Staff [Hilmi Özkök]” to increase flights over the Aegean -- and much more.

Let us not drown in the details. The most important findings are the hard disks. Until now, those arguing against the primary evidence questioned the authenticity of the CDs and DVDs. Hard disks were nowhere to be found.

Now, the investigation that has led to the discovery of hard disks, and if they prove to be the ones that “disappeared”, they will disperse all doubts for good.

The material also clarifies the timeframe and “roadmap” for the Sledgehammer plot. They also show that a flank of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had decided on taking action as soon as the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power.

That flank was hugely disappointed that the Feb. 28, 1997 action plan against what it saw as an Islamist threat did not produce the desired results. So, even if Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not elected in the November 2002 polls, it did not seem to matter. A military intervention seemed all the more inevitable.

If the government did not “obey,” it would have to be weakened step by step, and go, by force.

But things were not that easy. Other powerful flanks of the TSK were against any undemocratic action. Those officers were led by Özkök, who at an early stage was informed of subversive activity within the 1st Army. It was Özkök who was a steady stumbling block before Sledgehammer plans.

People wonder how nine sacks of such material remained hidden after all these years. It can be explained only by traditional arrogance of the commanders and blind belief that “the day of revenge will come.”

No wonder ex US Aambassador James Jeffrey voices fresh fear that a coup may still be a possibility as late as last year, as revealed in a cable dated February 23 2010, made public last week by WikiLeaks.

Who is behind the findings in Gölcük? Who helped the prosecutors trace the hidden material there?

Is it not clear? As much as constant coup plotting, the army was a beehive, a hub of power struggles and a center of intrigue until very recently. It was those officers who were on the verge of being dismissed by their “coup loving,” trigger-happy generals but were then protected vigorously by Özkök and his staff who stood firm in support for democracy.

In the diaries of journalist Mustafa Balbay, the head of the civilian intelligence National Intelligence Organization (MİT) is quoted in early 2003 as warning him during a private lunch, “Watch out for the 1st Army, they are preparing a coup there.”

The head of MİT has not denied those remarks to this day.

So, it will be the new evidence, as well as the testimonies of high-level officials, that define the course and final outcome of the Sledgehammer trials, not amateurish books by relatives acting as shadow lawyers or prosecutors; or manipulative articles by militarist pundits.

21 January 2011

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