Turkey has arrested the former head of its armed forces in connection with the long-running ‘Ergenekon’ plot which is alleged to be a complex network of military officers, ultra-nationalists and even journalists and others conspiring to overthrow the government.
General Ilker Basbug, who retired two years ago, is now the highest-ranking officer to be ensnared by the investigation. Another four-hundred suspects are already on trial in connection with the alleged plot.
Basbug has denied accusations that he had anything to do with seeking to topple the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
According to Turkish broadcast network NTV, Basbug told prosecutors: We can say it is really tragicomic to accuse somebody who commands such an army of forming and directing a terrorist group. To hear such an allegation hurts my pride as a general who has done his duty to the country and state with honor. Accusing a chief of general staff of forming a terrorist group is the biggest punishment I could be given,
While being transported to the Silivri prison in Istanbul, Basbug told reporters: How could it be possible that I plotted against the government which appointed me? If they knew that I was involved in such a plot, why did they keep me in the post?
The military has staged three coups in modern Turkish history and is widely viewed as the country’s most dependable guarantor of a secular state and also glorifies the nationalist sympathies of the nation’s founder Kemal Ataturk. As such, the military is at odds with both Islamism and the leftists.
David O'Byrne, a BBC correspondent in Istanbul, wrote that Basbug’s detention comes at a particularly troublesome period in the ongoing tension between Turkey’s military and Erdogan’s civilian government.
“Turkey's military elite has made no secret of the fact that it disapproves of the moderate Islamism of… Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP),” he said
“The AKP's re-election in landslide victories in 2007 and 2010 did nothing to improve relations.”
Now, there are concerns that Erdogan is simply using rumors of the plot as an excuse to move against his own political opponents.
O’Byrne explained: “The government says the investigation is following due process of law. It is supported by many Turkish intellectuals and business people who normally have little sympathy for the AKP. But many more have openly expressed discomfort at the investigation.”
Indeed, some Turks are worried that Erdogan’s aggressive measures against alleged “plotters” may harm the very state of democracy which the Prime Minister has sworn to uphold.
Military affairs analyst Lale Kemal told Reuters: The fact that prosecutors are now touching senior generals is a turning point in the democratization process of Turkey. Many were skeptical that prosecutors would go this far. I would not be surprised if we see some commanders resign [if Ba?bu? is remanded in custody] but I do not expect this to bring serious instability to Turkey.”