Top Turkish generals say knew of no coup plot as retrial begins

Turkey’s former chief of General Staff, Hilmi Ozkok, and former Land Forces commander, Aytac Yalman, appear as witnesses in the hearing Monday.

Top Turkish generals say knew of no coup plot as retrial begins

World Bulletin/News Desk

Two retired generals who led Turkey's armed forces at the time of an alleged 2003 coup plot told a retrial of hundreds of officers on Monday that they knew of no plans to topple then-Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

The officers were convicted in 2012 for plotting a coup against Erdogan, now president. The constitutional court quashed their convictions in June, ruling the case against them flawed.

General Hilmi Ozkok, head of the armed forces in 2002-2006, told the courtroom he had heard coup plot rumours during his term in office from the media and anonymous letters, but these were not substantiated.

"I did not receive information that a coup plan was made. There were some rumours but they were not serious enough for a case to be opened or investigation launched against anyone," said Ozkok, 74, wearing a dark suit and glasses.

The two retired generals were giving evidence for the first time. The failure of the initial trial to hear their testimonies was among the reasons cited for overturning the convictions.

Aytac Yalman, ground forces commander at the time of a 2003 military seminar which was central to the prosecution case, told the court:

"I have neither heard of nor tried to prevent, as claimed, such a coup plan. The seminar was held under my orders, but I could not attend," said Yalman, also 74.

Yalman said he and most other high-ranking commanders at the time were busy dealing with plans regarding involvement in the war in Iraq in 2003, when Turkey's parliament ultimately rejected a U.S. request to use Turkish territory to invade Iraq.

Among the 236 defendants at the hearing were chief suspect Cetin Dogan, former head of the prestigious First Army, two retired force commanders and a former general who is now a member of parliament with a nationalist party.

Families of the accused and their lawyers were packed into the 500-seat capacity courthouse with the defendants on the Asian side of Istanbul, Turkey's largest city.

In an earlier verdict, the high court had sentenced the defendants to between six and 20 years imprisonment in September 2012 for allegedly being involved in the coup plot.

Later, however, Turkey’s Constitutional Court had unanimously overruled the verdict on June 18, 2014 on the grounds that the rights of the defendants were violated, especially through the "digital data" collection and wiretapping that was carried out against them.

The "Sledgehammer" (or the "Balyoz" in Turkish) is the name of the plot allegedly cooked up by a junta in the Turkish Armed Forces.

The plan is said to date back to 2003, one year after the ruling Justice and Development Party came to power. It allegedly aimed at undermining the ruling government to lay the groundwork for a military takeover.

According to the alleged plan, the military was to systematically foment chaos in society through violence, including bombing of mosques in Istanbul and downing of a Turkish war plane over the Aegean.

 

Last Mod: 03 Kasım 2014, 16:45
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