Turkish generals look to life beyond prison bars

As Egypt’s military rulers consider how or if they manage a transition to civilian rule, they will no doubt be clearly mindful of the fate of their counterparts in Turkey.

Reuters reports: They once bestrode Turkey the masters of all they surveyed. Governments were swept aside, a prime minister dispatched to the gallows. Even in quiet times, from their staff headquarters opposite parliament, they commanded obedience.

Now around 20 percent of serving generals are in prison accused of plots against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, imaginatively codenamed Sledgehammer, Ergenekon, Blonde Girl, Moonlight.

So sudden has been this reversal the generals appear robbed of their voice. Erdogan has for now succeeded in his aim of taming the “Pashas”, officers, who disdain his Islamist roots. But as coup trials stutter over technical appeals, his position ranging over a demoralized military has its perils.

Turkey’s military guards the front line in the West’s campaign against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and may yet be called upon to fight. Last Friday saw a Turkish warplane shot down by Syrian air defenses. Public sympathy may grow as fears of a war spread. An officer in jail is one less in the barracks

“We spend our time writing letters and books,” said one senior officer held at a military prison in the Hadimkoy neighborhood of Istanbul.

“To explain how the future of our country has been darkened, putting the screams of our souls down on paper,” he added in comments relayed to Reuters through his lawyer.

The resort to literature finds an ironic echo in the past.

Bulent Ecevit, a prime minister arrested and interned by the generals in a 1980 army coup, wrote poetry during his captivity, his verse mostly an avowal of love to his wife, Rahsan.

Erdogan himself fell foul of the military in the years before his election and served a jail term for publicly reciting a verse declaring “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets” – words considered by a court to be incitement to religious militancy.

Now the Pashas take their turn in court. Even the 94-year-old leader of the 1980 putsch, general Kenan Evren, is on trial over hangings, torture and disappearances.

“I never really thought that one day I would see this,” wrote Mehmet Ali Birand, author of books on Turkey’s military.

The main military prison at Hasdal in Istanbul is now so overcrowded that many serving officers were transferred to the smaller Hadimkoy, while retired officers are held at Silivri jail outside the city, where the biggest trials are being held. [Continue reading…]

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