Conflict & Justice

Top Turkish military charged in alleged coup plot

Tomorrow, nearly 200 high-ranking members of the Turkish military will appear in court. They're charged with plotting to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party. The case is widely seen as a battle for power between the Islamic party's new ruling elite � and the old secular order in the military. Julia Rooke reports.

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On Thursday 196 high ranking military personnel from the Army, Navy, and Air Force will appear in court charged with plotting to overthrow the ruling Truth and Justice Party.

The plot is known as �Sledgehammer.�

It's the most recent and the bloodiest act in a Turkish drama that has seen hundreds of people thrown in jail since 2007 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. It's widely seen as a battle for power between a new Islamic ruling elite and the old secular order.

It's a struggle for the very meaning of Democracy. But how credible is this latest coup plot?

In January a tiny Liberal newspaper called Taraf published the scoop of the year. It claimed to have uncovered a plot within the Turkish army to overthrow the Government by provoking war with Greece, murdering journalists � and bombing two mosques.

Taraf's deputy editor Yasemin Congar said the plans were shocking and detailed.

�Two mosques in Istanbul were to be bombed by groups of eight soldiers each,� Congar said. �There was very detailed planning of that including a �discovery' team and an �explosives' team, a recording team, a reporting team.�

Taraf said the source was a retired soldier � a whistle-blower. The news led to the arrest of nearly 200 officers. Turkey has already experienced three coups since 1960.

�Personally I believe these people wanted to make a coup,� security expert Sedat Laciner said. �Because when we look at their past, I am not surprised about their plans.

First they made military coops, I mean in 1960 in the beginning of 1970s and 1980s the last one is in the end of the 1990s. The �god-father' of this allegedly failed coup plot, is 70-year-old, retired four-star General, Cetin Dogan. I visited him at the War College in Istanbul. He insisted the evidence is fake.

�How can you imagine that a Turkish general can make a plan to destroy our holy places,� Dogan said. �That's incredible. That's very dirty thinking.�

JULIA: �All these allegations have been made about you. Are they true?�
DOGAN: �Never, ever. All the allegations are fake.�

The evidence against Dogan is based on a recording of the general leading an official military seminar in March 2003. He discusses plans to put down a possible Islamist uprising.

Many claim it was a dress-rehearsal for a coup. The real incriminating evidence � the bomb plots and the murders � are contained on three computer disks also dated 2003. These Dogan said were a bolt from the blue. Forgeries, he claims, planted by his enemies.

�It's all fake, really,� Dogan said.

The General's daughter Pinar Dogan lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She's a Harvard professor and she's been conducting her own investigation into the evidence.

�I'm just telling that this evidence suggests that he is innocent,� Pinar Dogan said.

The CDs were all �created' in 2003, and contained lists of institutions by name that the army would take control of in the event of a coup. And here's the thing: she says some of those names didn't exist in 2003.

She pointed to the Italian company Recordati. It bought a Turkish company in 2008. Five years after General Dogan is alleged to have plotted the coup. And there are other inconsistencies. Checks confirmed what she had told me.

�Somebody else manufactured those documents after 2008,� Pinar Dogan said. �It was not prepared for my father in 2003. No way. These documents are manufactured.�

Pinar Dogan wanted to know more. So she employed a licensed private investigator, former NYPD detective Yalkin Demirkaya. He runs a computer forensics laboratory in New York. She asked him whether the CD evidence could be trusted in a court of law?

�You cannot just look at a CD and say �ah okay it was created in 2003. Oh it must be authentic',� Demirkaya said. �That's nonsense. You can never take a CD without having the computer that created that CD to reach a conclusion. �In other words it cannot be accepted as evidence.�

Equally one cannot prove that the CD is a fake. But in Turkey the CD's have been accepted as evidence � and the trial is about to begin.

If the CDs are fake, what could be the motive?

Dogan is known as leader of a hard line anti-Islamist faction inside the army. In 1997 he set up an internal security structure within the military to monitor religious groups, schools and mosques. It informed on teachers who wore head scarves and triggered their dismissal. It even instigated annual purges of overly religious army officers.

�I think the primary difficulty with men like him is that they view Turkey and the politics of this country in such a 1920s � 30s from up to down way of shaping society that its just not in consonance with Turkish realities,� said Suat Kinikouglu, a Member of Parliament and head of the Foreign Relations Committee for the ruling AK Party.

�I think there are a lot of missionary elites within the armed forces, who feel they themselves as officers or generals have the sole privy and right to intervene and steer this country to the ideological framework in which they have been indoctrinated throughout their lives.�

And Kinikouglu said Turkish justice should be given a chance to prove itself. He insists that trying �coup plotters' is a sign that Turkey is moving closer to Democracy.

�I believe that in 50 years, when history text books write about this part of history � they will say that a government came into power in 2007 and transformed Turkey from a semi authoritarian state into a normal democracy,� Kinikouglu said.