Monday, January 25, 2010

Making Sense of Sledgehammer

Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug / PHOTO from AFP

On Wednesday, yet another alleged coup plot was revealed by Taraf, this one centering on alleged plans by some military officers to create a level of chaos in Turkey conducive to a military coup. Code-named "Operation Sledgehammer" (Balyoz, in Turkish), the 2003 plan centers on creating a level of national chaos conducive to facilitating a military takeover. From Hürriyet:
. . . measures included bombing two major mosques in Istanbul, an assault on a military museum by people disguised as fundamentalists and the raising of tension with Greece through the usual dogfights between the fighter planes of the two countries over the Aegean Sea. The allegations even include shooting down a Turkish plane and blaming it on Greece.

Newspapers and talk shows on TV gave almost blanket coverage to the Sledgehammer affair, with the reporting and views generally split along the familiar lines of the pro-government media and mainstream media. The former saw the latest revelations as proof of a nefarious military while mainstream news outlets focused on the General Staff’s explanation that the reports were constructed entirely on "scenario exercises." Many also questioned the timing of the revelations, which coincided with a Constitutional Court ruling on civil vs. military judicial jurisdiction.

Taraf wrote that they have over 5,000 pages of printed documents, CDs and voice recordings as proof. They delivered copies of the mentioned documents to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office after a criminal complaint was filed on the allegations by a group of intellectuals from the platform of “70 million steps against a coup,” a coalition of various political parties and nongovernmental organizations. Taraf yesterday made a call to the General Staff, which said records of such “scenarios” are destroyed after four years, and told the General Staff the paper can send the documents to them also if requested.
The Hürriyet story goes on to explain the Turkish press' reaction to the story, including its polarization as evinced by the differences between newspapers' editorial lines. Indeed, it seems everyone either believes in the coup story or thinks it total hogwash. Joost Lagendijk takes a different position, writing in a Hürriyet op/ed that what matters is not so much whether the story is true or not, but that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) did not carry it out. Assuming the story is true, Lagendijk points out the fact it went nowhere points to "a split in the TSK between, on the one hand, generals who still believe it is their task to kick out democratically elected politicians when they feel they have to do so and, on the other hand, generals who think those days are over." Lagendijk proceeds by asking,
If that is true, why do the anti-coup officers not speak out clearly in public against their plotting colleagues? Because they don’t want to harm the public perception of the military? I am convinced that, by not doing so, they harm that same image much, much more.
Peer group exposure should be one part of the new, post Sledgehammer scenario for a democratic Turkey.
While the Turkish media and politicians obsess about the validity of Sledgehammer, the real pressure should be on the military to stop playing defensive and move forward. By doing so, they have the opportunity to eschew the chaotic, often lunatic discourse, and actually move Turkey in the right direction.

Lagendijk, making another critical point in his second recommendation, suggests
a government initiative for a total overhaul of the present, totally outdated National Security Strategy, which still focuses on internal threats such as Islamic fundamentalism and Kurdish separatism. The time has come for elected politicians, after having seriously considered the advice from the military, to spell out what according to them are the real dangers facing Turkey now and in the foreseeable future. That would include (possible) external threats such as al-Qaeda or a nuclear armed Iran, which should be dealt with by a modern, professional military.
If only these were the things Turkey was talking about. Sadly, they are not -- and, yes, for that, it seems the military plays a role by at least enabling the controversy over Sledgehammer to continue. If I am wrong, and the TSK is indeed still controlled by dark, sinister forces secretly plotting to blowup airliners, then Turkey is in seriously dire circumstances.

Sledgehammer comes on the heals of other alleged coup plots to be made public since the now defunct newspaper Nokta revealed Golden Maiden (Sarıkız, in Turkish) in 2007. In March 2009, the second indictment of the Ergenekon investigation revealed the details of three more coup plans in addition to the first (Moonlight, Ayışığı in Turkish; Sea Sparkle, Yakamoz in Turkish; and Glove, in Turkish Eldiven). In June 2009, Taraf reported on a plan to weaken Islamic reactionaries, allegedly drafted by Colonol Dursun Cicek in the Army's psychological warfare unit. The alleged plan targeted the AKP and the Gulen movement. This past November, Taraf reported on the Cage Operation Plan (Kafes, in Turkish), which the Naval Forces command allegedly designed to wreak havoc by targeting non-Muslim minorities.

For more on the Ergenekon investigation, which continues unabated, see this timeline from Liam Hardy at American Anatolian Viewpoint. For a critical, yet quite comprehesive view, see Gareth Jenkins' July 2009 report, "Between Fact and Fantasy: Turkey's Ergenekon Investigation."

UPDATE I (1/25) -- The TSK's Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug lambasted the accusations waved at it by Taraf, saying patience of the Armed Forces was limited. See also Today's Zaman's interview with Taraf's deputy editor-in-chief Yasemin Congar, in which she dismisses the military's claim that Sledgehammer was but a scenario taken out of context by Taraf.

UPDATE II (2/2) -- 27 of the 36 journalists laid out to be arrested in Balykoz have filed a criminal complaint.

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