World Bulletin/News Desk
The first of more than 100 senior Turkish army officers began testifying in court on Monday over their alleged role in ousting Turkey's first Islamist-led government 16 years ago, a trial that could see them facing life imprisonment.
The trial has started at 13th Ankara Criminal Court, retired and serving officers are among the 103 mostly generals, charged in the 1,300-page indictment completed by Prosecutor Mustafa Bilgili.
A total of 103 officers, mostly serving and retired generals including a former chief of staff, have been named in a 1,300-page indictment accusing them of "overthrowing by force, and participating in the overthrow" of a government.
Around one third of the defendants are currently in pre-trial detention.
The indictment calls for life sentences for the accused, which includes General Ismail Hakki Karadayi, chief of general staff between 1994 and 1998, and former land forces commander General Erdal Ceylanoglu, believed to have sent tanks onto the streets near Ankara before the military intervention.
The complex trial is expected to last several years.
In August, a Turkish court jailed former military chief General Ilker Basbug for life and imprisoned scores of other senior figures for their role in a conspiracy to overthrow Erdogan's government.
Last September, more than 300 active and retired army officers, including three former generals, received prison sentences of up to 20 years over a 2003 military exercise alleged to have been an undercover coup plot.
The events of 1997 were dubbed the "post-modern coup" as the generals used pressure behind the scenes to force Erbakan from power, in contrast to the direct intervention of three outright military coups in Turkey in 1960, 1971 and 1980.The coup introduced a series of bans for pious people.
The parliamentary Coup and Memorandum Investigation Commission has indicated that the US State Department sent a cable to the US Embassy in Ankara in 1996 telling embassy officials to convince the Turkish military to take action against the government of the time.
The parliamentary commission prepared a report about the Feb. 28, 1997 military coup, which contained the cable, which was labeled confidential and urgent and sent to the US Embassy in Ankara.
This message, which bears the signature of then-US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, said: “We are deeply concerned about the prime ministry of Necmettin Erbakan. The Turkish military should be convinced to take action.”
The cable also stated that the US I was very much concerned about Erbakan having close relations with Arab and Muslim countries. The encrypted message was also reportedly sent to the US missions in Athens, Beirut, Moscow, Sofia and Geneva. The message says Turkey's aim to strengthen relations with Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Sudan ran contrary to US national interests.
The cable also accused the True Path Party (DYP), Erbakan's coalition partner, of failing to moderate Erbakan's pro-Islamic discourse that having a coalition government with RP seemed unfruitful.
“We believe that [True Path Party (DYP) leader] Tansu Çiller's withdrawal from the coalition government will lead to the fall of the Erbakan government, paving the way for early elections in the country. Although this is not certain, the RP will return to power stronger than before,” the cable said.
Before his death, Erbakan talked about the controversial US cable and said the Feb. 28 intervention took place after orders from the United States.
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