On Monday, Turkish prosecutors charged 47 suspects, most of whom were soldiers, with a range of crimes relating to a failed coup attempt last July. Among the charges levied were attempting to assassinate the president, breaching the constitution and belonging to an armed terrorist organization. Prosecutors have requested life in prison for 40 of the suspects.
The trial is being held in a Chamber of Commerce building adjacent to the courthouse in Mugla due to the large number of suspects on trial, and court proceedings are expected to continue throughout the year, with the president himself serving as co-plaintiff.
“They arrived at the scene with the intention of killing the president,” Huseyin Aydın, President Erdogan’s attorney, said. “For the first time in our history, it is discussed that a commander-in-chief, a president, was subject to an assassination attempt by Turkish Army members.”
Members of the accused have contested that statement, suggesting instead that their intent was to capture the president and relocate him to a nearby, rebel-held air force installation.
On July 15th of last year, Turkey’s democratically elected president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, escaped what he claims was an attempt on his life during the short-lived coup attempt led by members of Turkey’s military. Soldiers reportedly repelled from helicopters into the Mediterranean resort the president was vacationing in, killing two members of his security detail in the impending firefight. Although the president initially reported just barely escaping the ordeal, subsequent reports indicate that he had actually left hours prior to it occurring.
In the months since, Erdogan has gone on the offensive, taking charge of the narrative regarding the intentions behind the attempted coup that claimed the lives of over 240 Turks, and purging the government of anyone believed to have ties to the failed revolutionaries. In all, as many as 130,000 Turks have been fired from their government positions, and at least 45,000 have been arrested. Among those fired have been military officials, police officers and school teachers. Among those imprisoned are at least eighty-one journalists.
Critics have accused Erdogan of using the attempted coup as an opportunity to remove his opponents from positions of power throughout the country, such as the leaders of the country’s main pro-Kurdish party, who have all been jailed since the attack. Memorials and documentaries about the heroic efforts of Turks that stood against the rogue elements of Turkey’s military have sprung up across the nation and on the remaining media outlets, allowing Erdogan to establish his perception of the events as publicly accepted fact, with no permitted outlet to question it. He has even gone so far as to claim that those who do not vote to re-elect him in the next election are “by default” taking the side of those who participated in the failed coup attempt.
Erdogan has accused those tied to the coup of being affiliated with a terrorist organization headed by Fethullah Gulen, a Turk and Muslim cleric living in self-enforced exile in Pennsylvania. Gulen has denied any ties to the coup attempt, as well as the idea that he is involved in terrorist activities. According to a piece written for Al Jazeera by Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, the coup was the result of a thirty-year covert operation led by Gulan to infiltrate various elements of the Turkish military and government, in order to eventually overthrow it and seize power.
“Cloaking this sinister and heinous agenda, Gulen has formed a broad network of schools, NGOs and businesses, and covertly infiltrated into public offices to overthrow the democratically elected government in Turkey.” Cavusoglu wrote.
Turkey has requested the extradition of Gulen to stand trial for his alleged involvement in the coup attempt, but thus far their requests have not been heeded.
Erdogan came to power in 2002, when he was elected Prime Minister on a pro-Islamic platform. Until that point, Turkey had seen itself as a primarily secular nation, leaving many Muslims feeling oppressed by a government that did not share their ideals. Erdogan, who was elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994 as a part of pro-Islamist Welfare Party, was later jailed for “religious incitement” in 1999, for publicly reading a poem that said, “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”
The Turkish military, which had stepped in on four separate occasions to curb Islamic influence in Turkish politics in recent decades, found themselves under his control once Erdogan was elected Prime Minister. In 2013, he had a number of senior military officials arrested for another supposed attempt to overthrow him. The officials were convicted, but the convictions were later overturned.
Although the office of president is primarily ceremonial in Turkey, Erdogan has made public his desire to establish executive power for the office, removing some of the authority from the position he previously held, prime minister.
Image courtesy of Reuters