Turkish Chief of the General Staff Struggles to Pacify Military Coup Controversy

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 198

Chief of the General Staff General Ilker Basbug

On June 12, the liberal left Taraf daily published an unclassified document outlining an alleged action plan for the military to combat the “reactionary activities” against secularism. Allegedly the “Action Plan against Reactionaries (Irtica),” was prepared by senior staff Colonel Dursun Cicek and defined the ruling AKP and the Gulen movement as threats to the secular order in Turkey. The plan outlined various measures to undermine public support for the AKP and advocated a conspiracy against the Gulen movement to present it as an armed criminal group that could be construed as a terrorist organization. While the public debated whether the document was authentic, military prosecutors launched an investigation and declared that it was a forgery and was not prepared within the headquarters of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Nonetheless, the debate continued and the Chief of the General Staff General Ilker Basbug held a press conference in which he forcefully denied the existence of such a plan and stated that the so-called document was nothing but a “piece of paper” (Taraf, June 12; EDM, June 15, 23).

An anonymous military officer, who appears to be working with Colonel Cicek at the headquarters of the TSK has now written a letter of confession and attached the original document. Regarding the document, a report prepared by three experts at the Istanbul Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) showed that the signature on the original copy belonged to Colonel Cicek (Hurriyet, October 24).

En route to Pakistan, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that “the document is now in the hands of justice. We will do exactly what the courts ask of us. We will closely monitor developments. The armed forces cannot accept such a blemish [if the allegations prove to be true]” (Hurriyet Daily News, October 25). In response to the media coverage, General Basbug reacted harshly to the original document being leaked. In a written statement the TSK stressed that the tone of media coverage had varied widely. “It is very worrying that the developments over the letter and the document appear first in the media, in terms of the authority of the state,” Basbug commented (Hurriyet Daily News, October 25). Military prosecutors have launched yet another investigation into the issue and asked the civilian prosecutor to provide the original document and the ATK report (Hurriyet, October 27).

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc also commented on the issue saying that if there were claims that a similar document was prepared by a deputy, he would remove him from office and urged General Basbug to relieve those behind the plot of their duties (Today’s Zaman, October 28). The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary group Deputy Chairman Suat Kilic, said the controversy would not have escalated had it been properly investigated when it first emerged in June. “If this plot was prepared with the knowledge of the top commanders, this is grave. It is even worse if it was prepared without their knowledge. The TSK should immediately take action to address suspicions over its role,” he said (Today’s Zaman, October 28).

Turkish intellectuals are questioning General Basbug’s leadership, because he initially misled the public when he claimed that the document was not prepared at the TSK’s headquarters and described it as just a “piece of paper” (Sabah, October 27, Hurriyet, October 28). Even anti-AKP intellectuals are criticizing the military for its involvement in civilian politics and asking General Basbug to act decisively (Cumhuriyet, October 27). Some went as far as to suggest that he should resign, since either he was involved in the plot to overthrow the government or he was unaware of it (Sabah, October 27).

Erdogan, during his visit to Pakistan and Iran, stated that he will ask General Basbug to meet him to discuss this issue, and said that neither the state nor the TSK can accept the present situation. Public pressure is mounting on both the government and the TSK leadership to act. For the military leadership it is even more difficult, despite the evidence in the ATK report, since military officers are convinced that this is not a plot against the AKP government conducted by the armed forces but the reverse.