Turkey charges dozens in foiled coup plot

Last Monday, 49 military officials were arrested in Turkey on suspicion of plotting a military coup. According to the Associated Press, 33 officers have now been formally charged with attempting to topple Turkey’s Islamist-based government.

The Guardian reports that among those arrested were 17 retired generals, four serving admirals and 27 lower-ranking officers, as well as a former deputy chief of the army, a retired air force chief and the chief of the navy.

The alleged plot dates back to 2003. Its purpose was to create instability within the country in order to substantiate the need for a military coup.

Behind the plot are secular ultranationalists who, according to the New York Times, planned to attack civilian targets to bring about a crisis with neighbouring Greece.

Last Tuesday, the country’s top generals and admirals had an impromptu meeting to assess the situation.

General Ilker Basbug, head of the military, met with both the Turkish prime minister and president in order to discuss the arrests and alleged coup.

According to the BBC, a statement from Abdullah Gull’s office sought to reassure the public after the meeting.

The statement read: “It was stressed that citizens can be sure that the problems on the agenda will be solved within the framework of the constitution and our laws.”

The arrests represent the largest operation against the armed forces in Turkish history and have only helped to increase the tension between the Justice and Development party and the military. The Turkish military, once deemed untouchable in its role as the guardian of Turkey’s secular state, has been responsible for ousting four civilian governments in the past 50 years.

The latest alleged plot, know as Sledgehammer, came to light last month via a Turkish newspaper. 5,000 pages of stolen army documents attest to military plans to attack civilian targets.

Furthermore, the documents outline plans to bomb two Istanbul mosques and provoke Greece into shooting down a Turkish plane over the Aegean Sea.

However, the army denies that these documents are plans of a coup but rather are a “scenario”.

Three of the most senior officers who served in the military during the time the alleged plot was developed have been released after four days of questioning.

Critics argue that the arrests are nothing more than the most recent stage of an ongoing power struggle between the government and the military.

They argue that the Sledgehammer investigation is an attempt to silence the governing party’s political and military rivals.

According to the BBC, “The AK Party has its roots in political Islam, and is accused by some nationalists of having secret plans to turn staunchly secular Turkey into an Islamic state.”

The government, however, argues that this is not the case. Instead, it claims that its aim is to modernize Turkey and bring it closer to EU membership.

Gareth Jenkins, a specialist on Turkish military affairs, claims that the arrests may provoke a major crisis.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Jenkins also said that “the way the Sledgehammer arrests were handled – in particular the dramatic dawn raids in which active and former generals and admirals were seized – has raised suspicions of political motivation.”