The 5th Ankara Heavy Penal Court held its 78th hearing of Turkey’s “post-modern” coup trial which has tried a total of 103 army officers over their alleged role to depose the Welfare Party (RP)-led Turkish government with the decisions issued by the military leadership following a National Security Council (MGK) meeting on Feb. 28, 1997.
The court has decided to hear Tansu Ciller, then-leader of the True Path Party (DYP) and former deputy prime minister who was the coalition partner of Necmettin Erbakan, then-prime minister and the head of the RP.
In 2003, the Turkish parliament dominated by the newly elected government of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) passed the "seventh reform package," which aimed at limiting the role of the military and altered the MGK into a consultative body with a civilian majority.
Turkish parliament established a commission to investigate military coups with beginning Feb. 28 “post-modern” coup in 2012. In April 2012, Cevik Bir, a leading figure of the Feb. 28, and other 30 suspected officers were detained.
In September 2013, a total of 103 officers, mostly serving and retired generals including Ismail Hakki Karadayi, the chief of the general staff during the Feb. 28, began testifying in the court. They were accused of “participating in the attempt of overthrowing the government” in a 1,300-page indictment which calls life sentences for the suspects.
Back then, Ciller should have been appointed to form the next government following Erbakan’s resignation according to the deal agreed by the two leaders and also as a requirement of political precedents. However, then-Turkish President Suleyman Demirel appointed then-Motherland Party (ANAP) leader Mesut Yilmaz to form the next government on June 19.
He formed the new government with Bulent Ecevit, then-leader of the Democratic Left Party (DSP), and Husamettin Cindoruk, then-leader of the Democratic Turkey Party (DTP) on June 30.
The forming of the government by Yilmaz was considered as the direct result of the decisions made by the MGK at its meeting on Feb. 28 when the military leadership issued a military memorandum against the governing coalition led by Erbakan. The MGK meeting duration at the time was about nine hours, above the usual meeting hours.
The MGK was established following the military coup of 1960 and its role in the Turkish politics was strengthened with the 1982 constitution which came in effect after the army overthrew the elected government on Sept. 12, 1980.
The memorandum emphasised that the MGK is the safeguard of Turkey’s secularism, democracy and legal system, using a harsh language. It urged the government to close religious schools (and religious sects), accept an eight-year compulsory primary education, check Quranic courses, obey dress code, and punish actions against Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the secular founder of the Republic of Turkey.
Erbakan first denied to sign the memorandum, but later he signed it on March 4 under allegedly heavy pressure of the military. Chief Prosecutor of Supreme Court Vural Savas opened a case in the Constitution Court against the RP on May 21 with a charge that, “They have dragged the country into a civil war,” violating the rule of secularism and asked it to be closed.
On June 10, the heads and members of the constitution court, supreme court, and council of state were called to the headquarters of the general staff and given a briefing on activities against secularism. Eight days later Erbakan resigned from prime ministership.
The Constitutional Court decided to close the RP in 1998 on the grounds that it violated the constitutional rule of separation of religion and state. Erbakan was banned from politics for five years.
Current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also given a 10-month sentence in 1998 and banned from politics for five years after he read a poem in the eastern province of Siirt where his wife is originally from. At the time, he was the mayor of Istanbul.
The ban and imprisonment eventually led to the emergence of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) which was founded by Erdogan and former RP members in 2001. The party overwhelmingly won the 2002 election which was regarded as a strong indicator of Turkish public’s fatigue with military interventions primarily on Feb. 28.
At the time, Erbakan had said, “They wanted to depose us by media,” according to the documents. The documents also stated Ciller mentioned the negative role of the media, its collaborators and their aim to spoil public environment.
During “the post modern coup,” the Dogan media group had reportedly played a particular role in order to turn Turkish public against Erbakan government.
Erdogan spoke in May 2015 about a visit he received from Turkish media mogul Aydin Dogan, the owner of Dogan media group, who allegedly threatened him into collaborating with the group.
Aydın Dogan has strong connections with Turkey’s ancien regime which has been dominated by military leaders.
Today, the court has also decided to accept Erdogan’s two daughters’ requisition to be intervening parties in the case at its 78th hearing.