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Turkish National Agenda
February 19th-25th, 2010:
‘Sledgehammer’ & Cage Investigations
Sledgehammer and Cage are alleged coup plots, devised by military members of Ergenekon, a clandestine gang charged with plotting to overthrow the government.
Info on Cage Plan: The Cage plan was exposed during a police raid on the office of retired Maj. Levent Bektaş as part of a probe launched after the discovery of a large arms cache in İstanbul’s Poyrazköy district in April within the framework of the investigation into Ergenekon. The Cage Operation Action Plan sought to intimidate Turkey’s non-Muslims and assassinate prominent non-Muslim figures to put domestic and international pressure on the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which would in turn lead to diminishing public support for the party.
Info on Sledgehammer Plan: The Sledgehammer plan claims, revealed in January by a Turkish newspaper (Taraf), was more than simply an outline of a plan to kill or injure various bureaucrats, journalists and the government. It included claims plot to bomb one of İstanbul’s largest mosques during Friday prayer and a subplot named Oraj (Thunderstorm) that called for the deliberate downing of a Turkish jet to trigger problems with Greece, which the conspirators hoped would give the army the upper hand in politics as the public would feel threatened by a foreign enemy. Police said the operation yesterday was launched when the National Police Department’s criminal investigations department examined and verified the authenticity of documents regarding the Sledgehammer and Cage plans. The original documents were handed to the Ergenekon prosecutors by the Taraf daily, which exposed both plans.
Eleven retired generals and several retired colonels were detained Monday as part of the investigation into the Sledgehammer and Cage alleged coup plots, devised by military members of Ergenekon, a clandestine gang charged with plotting to overthrow the government. At least 50 people were detained, a majority of them retired and active duty military officers.
Retired Air Forces Commander Gen. İbrahim Fırtına, who was interrogated earlier in January by prosecutors conducting the investigation into Ergenekon, was detained Monday in addition to former Naval Forces Adm. Özden Örnek, the writer of detailed journals kept between 2000-2004 on some of the force commanders' coup plans, former 1st Army Commander Ergin Saygun, Gen. Engin Alan and several retired colonels.
Fourteen members of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), including retired generals and colonels on active duty, were detained on Monday as part of an investigation into an alleged coup plot named the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) Security Operation Action Plan.
The detainees are being accused of having participated in devising the Sledgehammer and Cage plans. Retired Gen. Engin Alan, also detained yesterday in Ankara over alleged links to the Sledgehammer plan, last served as the General Staff’s special forces commander. He directed the operation to capture outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999 in cooperation with the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and special forces agents known as the Burgundy Berets. He also directed the Yarasa (Bat) operation in which the PKK’s second-in-command, Şemdin Sakık, was captured and brought to Turkey. Fifteen years ago, he also served as the military attaché in Baku, where he was implicated in a coup attempt against the Azerbaijani government. He is also mentioned as a “trusted partner” in a document that was part of the Cage plan found on the computer of retired Col. Levent Bektaş.
In the face of the developments, Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ delayed a planned visit to Egypt Monday morning. An announcement from the General Staff said Başbuğ would instead be flying to Egypt tonight.
Late Monday night, six of the retired military officers detained during the operation were taken to the Beşiktaş Courthouse in a police van. Those individuals were taken to the prosecutor’s floor; it was not clear whether they testified.
EU & US: Both the European Union and the United States have released statements backing adherence to the law in the investigation into the alleged Sledgehammer coup plotters, reiterating once again their support for Turkish democracy.
US: A spokesman with the US State Department has said Washington had no concerns over the recent arrests of senior former generals in Turkey in a suspected coup plot.
"These issues in the evolution of politics and society in Turkey are not new. I don't think we have any specific concerns. Obviously, any action taken should be in accord with Turkish law and should, you know, be transparent," Philip Crowley on Monday told a daily press briefing.
Wednesday: A Turkish court on Wednesday remanded five more military officers in custody after they were charged of involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the ruling AKP government, news agencies have reported. Seven senior officers had already been charged at the start of the day in the Sledgehammer investigation. Two of those arrested were admirals on active duty.
Wednesday: An İstanbul court also ordered on Wednesday that six of the detainees be released. It was not, however, clear whether they were freed pending trial. Prosecutors were still questioning dozens of other high-ranking officers, including former commanders of the navy, air force and special forces.
Wednesday: A court on Wednesday arrested and put behind bars 20 senior military officers including five admirals and three generals for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. In total, eight out of 20 were on active duty and two of those were admirals.
Thursday: Thirteen more military officers, including seven officers on active duty, were arrested in an investigation into an alleged coup plot dubbed Balyoz (Sledgehammer). This brings the total number of retired and active duty military officers arrested in the case so far to 20, 15 of them on active duty.
Thursday: Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül began a meeting with armed forces chief General İlker Başbuğ at 11 am (0900 GMT) with room for compromise to prevent the crisis from spinning out of control seen as limited. The meeting is taking place as prosecutors get set to question and possibly charge former commanders of the air force and navy at a courthouse in İstanbul, threatening to aggravate the showdown between the ruling AKP and military.
"Everyone will act responsibly to ensure that institutions are not worn down," the President's Office said in a statement after the three-hour meeting. "Citizens should feel sure that problems will be solved within the framework of our Constitution and our laws," the statement said.
Turkish Armed Forces
Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who has been at the center of fierce criticism over his stance regarding the recently exposed military plots aimed to overthrow the government, was the leading figure denying the plot after it was revealed.
“How on earth could the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] plan to bomb mosques? This is unjust. The TSK has limits to its patience. I denounce these claims. … We order our soldiers to attack [enemies] exclaiming, ‘Allah, Allah!' How on earth would the TSK bomb mosques? Such claims are unjust,” the military chief stated shortly after the exposure of the plot.
Records of prosecutors carrying out an investigation into Ergenekon, have revealed the difficulties prosecutors encountered while searching military premises for evidence on suspected military officers. The military has continuously attempted to block civilian efforts to investigate allegations regarding its officers.
There was also a search of the Turkish Armed Forces Mehmetçik Foundation’s İstanbul representative office, in İstanbul’s Caddebostan neighborhood. Police teams and prosecutors arrived at the Mehmetçik Foundation at 8 a.m. The search continued throughout the day. The police reportedly made copies of files found on the foundation’s computers.
At the same time, in İzmir police launched another operation to apprehend suspects believed to be part of the Cage operation plan, yet another alleged military plot to create chaos in the country. Several suspects were detained, including a former navy colonel, in the operation conducted by the İzmir Police Department; however, no exact number was provided by officials.
Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) announced in a written statement that all top generals and admirals met at the military headquarters on Tuesday in Ankara.
Tuesday's meeting was attended by 15 generals on active duty. A statement posted on the General Staff Web site read that the meeting intended to evaluate the “serious situation” that had erupted as part of an investigation being conducted by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office.
It was learned that all generals who attended Tuesday’s meeting denied involvement in the alleged plans and some even offered to submit their resignations rather than be faced with such accusations. The generals, however, did not discuss whether to issue a harsh statement against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government over the detentions.
Generals also discussed the lack of leaders at the Naval Forces Command after the detention of four admirals as part of the investigation at yesterday’s General Staff meeting. Two of the admirals were arrested early Wednesday. The Cage plan is believed to be the product of naval officers, and there are claims that a pro-coup wing is very active at the Naval Forces Command. The generals discussed how the TSK would be impacted if the detentions are to continue.
The generals also discussed a recent Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) decision to strip the authorization of four prosecutors in Erzurum. The decision came last week after specially authorized Erzurum prosecutor Osman Şanal ordered the arrest of Erzincan Chief Public Prosecutor İlhan Cihaner on charges of membership in a terrorist organization and falsification of documents. The arrest spurred the HSYK into action, and the board stripped Şanal and three other Erzurum prosecutors of their powers.
The General Staff meeting ended at around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday. In the meantime, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Gen. Başbuğ are expected to hold their weekly meeting at the Prime Ministry today, Thursday. The two are expected to discuss the alleged coup plans and detentions of senior military officers.
Also on Monday night, retired Gen. Engin Alan, who currently heads the Association to Strengthen the Turkish Armed Forces, was taken to the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) for a physical examination for a second time at 4 a.m. on Monday night. Police did not make any statements as to why a second physical examination was necessary.
Ankara appeared hopeful and unwavering last Thursday in its efforts aimed at salvaging a UN-brokered uranium swap deal as calls grow for new sanctions against Iran, with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu saying the process is continuing based on concrete proposals.
When asked which court the ball was in concerning the nuclear controversy, he replied, “It’s in Ankara’s court.”
On the same day the UN’s nuclear watchdog said it feared Tehran may develop a nuclear-armed missile, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu reiterated Ankara’s stance in favor of a resolution of the ongoing dispute over Iran’s controversial nuclear program through diplomatic means, during talks with a senior visiting US official.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has firmly denied news reports suggesting that an offer by Turkey detailing a proposed fuel swap between Western powers and Iran was recently rejected by the US side.
The US is stepping up pressure on Turkey to back new sanctions against Iran, highlighting the difficulties Washington is facing in forging a consensus on Tehran’s nuclear program and raising the US administration’s concerns over Turkey’s reluctance toward sanctions, Britain’s Financial Times reported on Monday.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has warned that an Israeli strike on Iran would lead to a “disaster in the entire region,” while also expressing hope that Iran’s controversial nuclear program is not aimed at eventually possessing nuclear weapons.
Despite expressing the conviction that Turkey’s stance of insisting on exhausting diplomatic means to resolve the dispute over neighboring Iran’s controversial nuclear program is sincere, a senior US diplomat does not appear willing to sing the same tune when the issue comes to Ankara’s current optimism that it will find a diplomatic solution to the dispute.
The US ambassador in the Iraqi capital said that the tripartite mechanism between Turkey, the United States and Iraq not only helped reduce the threat of terrorism against Turkey, but also improved cooperation between Turkey and Iraq on security matters.
Robert Wexler, a former US congressman from Florida and co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on US-Turkish Relations who recently resigned from Congress to accept an offer to head the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace has proposed that Turkey adopt a policy concerning its relations with Armenia that is similar to its policy of “being one step ahead” on the Cyprus issue.
The Armenian National Assembly’s external relations committee held a debate last Friday regarding two protocols signed with Turkey which aim to bury a century of hostility between the two countries.
The National Assembly of Armenia has passed amendments to the Armenian Law on International Agreements that allow Armenia to rescind its signature before the enforcement of a treaty, the Panarmenian news portal reported on Wednesday.
In a move likely to infuriate Ankara, a European Union advisory body is preparing to call on Turkey to withdraw its forces from northern Cyprus, setting a deadline of the end of this year for such a withdrawal.
Questions over the impartiality of Turkey’s judicial system are likely top the agenda of a two-day meeting of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee which started in Brussels on Monday.
Reacting to last week's decision by Turkey's Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) in which a specially authorized prosecutor was stripped of his authority due to his probe into a now-jailed prosecutor, Dutch Christian Democrat Ria Oomen-Ruijten, the European Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey, has called on Turkish authorities to take action at once to ensure the board's objectivity and transparency.
Spanish Senate President Javier Rojo said on Monday that Spain was supporting Turkey's full membership to the EU.
A US Department of State official has said the United States continues to strongly support Turkey’s accession to the European Union and urges Turkey to continue its progress on the democratic and political reforms necessary for membership.
US company Tengizchevroil halted oil pumping from Kazakhstan's Atrau region to Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. US Tengizchevroil, operating oil activities in Atrau region in Kazakhstan, halted pumping of oil to BTC pipeline on charges that Azerbaijan assumed an intransigent stance on taxation.