World Bulletin / News Desk
Statements of former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. Hilmi Özkök, who testified to an İstanbul court as a witness in early August, have reached the İstanbul 10th High Criminal Court, which is hearing the case against the Balyoz -- or Sledgehammer -- coup plot.
The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court heard the testimony of Özkök on Aug. 2 and 3 as part of the case against Ergenekon, a shadowy criminal network with alleged links to the state that is suspected of plotting to topple the government. The former military chief told the court about his recollections of to the Balyoz coup plot, saying he had warned military officers that a 2003 seminar at which participants allegedly drafted a coup plot targeting the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government “went beyond its aim.”
The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court recently sent a folder including Özkök's statements to the İstanbul 10th High Criminal Court, and the latter received the folder on Thursday. Presiding Judge Ömer Diken read out Özkök's statements during Thursday's hearing.
In his testimony, Özkök said, “The seminar went beyond its intended purpose and I warned my officers about it.” He was referring to a controversial meeting that was held at the General Staff's Selimiye barracks in March 2003. A coup plot, named Sledgehammer, was drafted during the seminar.
Özkök told judges that he did not attend the seminar due to his busy schedule, and added: “This [Sledgehammer] seminar imagined a worst-case scenario that went beyond its intended aim. It was carried out as though political persons or political events were real. I asked the land forces commander to examine it [documents from the seminar].”
Sledgehammer is a suspected coup plot believed to have been devised in 2003 with the aim of unseating the AK Party government through violent acts. According to the plan, the military was going to systematically foment chaos in society through violent acts, including bomb attacks on the Fatih and Beyazıt mosques in İstanbul. The plot allegedly sought to undermine the government to lay the groundwork for a coup d'état. The military, which has overthrown three governments since 1960 and pressured a conservative government into stepping down in 1997, has denied such a plan.
Suspects given last word against accusations
The İstanbul 10th High Criminal Court told suspects in the Sledgehammer case on Thursday that they had the right to make a final statement regarding the accusations against them.
There are 365 suspects, all retired and active duty members of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), in the Sledgehammer coup case. A total of 250 of the suspects are under arrest pending trial. They are accused of attempting to destroy a democratically elected government.
In Thursday's hearing, retired Gen. Ergin Saygun was the first to defend himself against the accusations. Saygun's lawyer told the court that his client had health problems and asked the court to allow him to be the first to speak. The court consented. The content of Saygun's testimony was not immediately available to the press.