In Turkey, soldiers imprisoned for a coup d’etat … in 1997

LETTER FROM ISTANBUL

Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, the followers of Turkish political Islam know a thing or two about it. Found guilty of having “Overthrown by force the government of the Republic of Turkey” almost twenty-five years ago, fourteen retired generals were imprisoned on Thursday, August 19. A month earlier, the Court of Cassation had confirmed their life sentences for their involvement in the drafting of the memorandum published by the Turkish army on February 28, 1997.

This day remained in the annals like that of the “Postmodern coup”. Unlike the other putches (1960, 1971, 1980, 2016), this one did not claim any victims, resulting in the dissolution of the government led at the time by the champion of Turkish political Islam Necmettin Erbakan, the former mentor of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The fourteen convicts, old men suffering from multiple pathologies, were therefore imprisoned. Among them are Generals Cevik Bir, 82, and Cetin Dogan, 81, both former commanders of the 1re army. The autonomy of Cetin Dogan, diabetic and cardiac, is limited. The same goes for Cevik Bir, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and cannot fend for himself. Their lawyers believe that they should have been released for health reasons, but the Court of Cassation decided otherwise.

Four months in prison for Erdogan

We can see there a revenge of the Islamo-conservative camp, engaged in interminable settling of scores with the army since its accession to power in 2002. President Erdogan himself is not neutral in this trial of the generals since his daughter, Sümeyye, and his son Bilal are among the complainants. The “soft” putsch of 1997 is a personal injury, a trauma that he and his relatives never miss an opportunity to recall.

When the military-dominated National Security Council shut down the Prosperity Party (Refah Partisi, Islamist) – the formation of Necmettin Erbakan, of which Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a member and thanks to which he was elected mayor of Istanbul four years earlier – the city councilor can reasonably think that his career is off to a bad start. A few months later, he was sentenced to 120 days in prison for having read in public a religious poem deemed subversive.

In 1997, the Turkish army was all-powerful. Very invested in its role of guardian of the principles – including secularism – prescribed by Mustafa Kemal, known as “Atatürk”, the founder of the Republic in 1923, it imposes its political decisions on the civil government, which is forced to apply them. This is what happened on February 28 when Necmettin Erbakan, then prime minister, was forced to sign an eighteen point memorandum drafted by the military. Before that, he must have listened in silence to the warning shot from the generals, outraged by his projection of Islam into the heart of the public sphere. Judged «Antilaïques», the construction of new mosques, the opening of religious schools and foundations close to Islamic brotherhoods must stop.

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