Three Turkish military commanders were convicted of masterminding a coup against the civilian government 10 years ago. More than 300 other officers were sentenced in a trial that some observers believe was based on trumped up charges.
The sentences in the so-called Sledgehammer case — named after a 2003 military exercise — were handed down at a time when most observers agree that the civilian administration has emerged as Turkey’s dominant force and that the military’s power has been greatly diluted.
Military officers were accused of trying to trigger a coup in an intricate plot that involved bombing a pair of mosques in Istanbul and escalating tension with neighboring Greece, Turkey’s historic rival. The alleged coup scheme came to light years later.
The alleged motivation was to foment unrest in a bid to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The accused officers denied the charges and said the alleged conspiracy was no more than a military exercise. The defendants and their families called the evidence fabricated.
But the case underscored deep mistrust between the military — long a dominant force in Turkish governance — and the nation’s civilian leadership.
Turkey’s military chiefs have viewed themselves as custodians of the nation’s secular establishment. Many officers are wary of Erdogan’s government and what many view as its Islamist tendencies.
Sledgehammer is one of a number of high-profile cases that have triggered charges that the government is trying to muzzle critics and political opponents. Journalists, academics, lawyers and others have been detained. The government has denied any political motivation.
With the power of the military broken, and other secularists weak, dispirited, and disunited, the rule of Prime Minister Erdogan not only seems secure, but the Islamist now appears ready to initiate the final stage of Turkey’s transition to a full-blown Islamist state.
Can NATO and an extremist Muslim country co-exist? With Turkey making overtures to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Egypt, one wonders if NATO will allow Turkey to remain in the alliance. Turkey’s dream of joining the EU appears dead for now, and the alliance should be very wary of where Turkey’s allegiances really lie.
For now, it is useful for NATO to pretend that Turkey is still a valuable member of the alliance, despite its flirtations with Iran and Hamas.