Cablegate: Turkey: Largest Wave of Military Detentions To
DE RUEHAK #0294/01 0541901
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 231901Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 000294
DEPT FOR EUR/SE; OSD FOR WADE POPOVICH
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/22/2020
TAGS: PGOV PREL MOPS TU
SUBJECT: TURKEY: LARGEST WAVE OF MILITARY DETENTIONS TO
DATE POSES QUESTIONS: WHAT NEXT IN AKP-MILITARY CLASH?
REF: A. ANKARA 150
B. ANKARA 53 AND PREVIOUS
C. ANKARA 107
Classified By: Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, Reasons 1.4 (b,d)
1. (C) Summary: On February 22 police detained 47 retired
and active-duty military officers, including 17 flag-grade
officers for -- according to press reports -- their alleged
involvement in coup plots dating back to 2003-2004. Although
coverage of the detentions blanketed the press, neither the
Turkish General Staff (TGS) nor the government appear
publicly outraged (in the case of TGS) or congratulatory (the
governing Justice and Development Party) by the actions.
There has been no official statement from the TGS, and PM
Ergodan took a back seat by stating that the police were
simply acting on order from the judiciary. (His attack dog
Deputy PM Arinc was more polemical.) CHOD GEN Basbug
announced that he has postponed imminent travel to Egypt, and
late on February 23 called an emergency meeting with his
four-star generals and admirals. Prosecutors have now
detained all of the force commanders from the 2003-2004
period with the exception of former CHOD Hilmi Ozkok and
former Turkish Land Forces Commander Aytac Yalman. End
2. (SBU) On February 22 nearly 50 retired and current
military officers (and one NCO) were detained, likely for
their alleged connections to the "Sledgehammer" (Balyoz)
investigations. The homes and offices of many retired flag
officers were also searched and police seized and removed
documents for further inspection. Among those detained were
four active duty admirals and 17 retired generals, including:
--Ergin Saygun: Former Deputy CHOD (2006-2008) and 1st Army
Commander (2008-2009). Saygun is very well-known to the
U.S.; he was our primary coordinator on anti-terrorism issues
for many years, and had accompanied PM Erdogan during his
November 2007 visit to Washington.
--Ibrahim Firtina: Former Air Force Chief from 2003-2005.
Firtina was questioned in December 2009 by the Ergenekon
prosecutors and has been implicated in the press for his role
in the Sledgehammer Operation.
--Cetin Dogan: Former 1st Army Commander (2002-2004).
--Ozden Ornek: Former Navy Chief (2003 - 2005). Ornek's
diary, which allegedly details discussions among senior
military officers to start a coup between 2003-2005, is being
used by prosecutors as their primary source of evidence.
Ornek was also questioned by Ergenekon prosecutors in
--Engin Alan: LtG (retired).
--Suha Tanyeli: BG (retired). Tanyeli was head of the TGS
Strategic Research Center (SAREM).
3. (C) The operation itself appears to have been well
coordinated, as detentions and searches took place
simultaneously in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, Diyarbakir,
Hatay, Kocaeli, and Bodrum. There have been no official
pronouncements regarding the reasons for the operation,
although the press widely suspects that the arrests are in
connection with the 2003 Sledgehammer plan (which allegedly
included a plan to overthrow the AKP government (ref B) and a
separate plot known as "Operation Cage" (ref A)). Press
reports state that many of the detained individuals'
signatures were found on "Sledgehammer" documents. The
majority of individuals, according to the press, are being
interrogated in Istanbul.
...But So What?
4. (C) Despite the press fury, reaction from TGS and the
government has been minimal. TGS has yet to make a official
statement. However, TGS CHOD General Ilker Basbug postponed
his official travel to Egypt -- an extraordinary and
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unprecedented step -- and late on February 23 called an
emergency meeting with his four-star generals and admirals.
When asked about the arrests PM Erdogan, in Spain for a state
visit, told reporters that the police were acting on the
order of the judiciary. Although a few "usual suspects"
inflammatory statements from the opposition -- such as
Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) Chairman Deniz Baykal's
statement that the arrests made it feel was "as if Turkey was
under occupation" -- made it into the press initially,
overall press reactions were overshadowed the following day
by other news stories. Markets opened up this morning, and
business continues as usual.
Bad for TGS? Good for AKP?
5. (C) This is the largest "round-up" of military officers to
date; the lack of an immediate reaction from TGS may suggest
that the (current) military leadership is either fully
willing to allow this investigation and the democratic
process to continue unimpeded, or is waiting for AKP to hang
itself on unfounded allegations. The military remains deeply
unhappy about AKP's governance and is enraged at the steady
campaign to erode the military's standing in Turkish society.
To date, prosecutors have now detained all of the senior
military commanders from the 2003-2004 period with the
exception of former CHOD Hilmi Ozkok and former Land Forces
Commander Aytac Yalman. And although the TGS seemed to be
caught off balance and therefore was unwilling to speak up
yesterday in strong opposition to these ongoing
investigations, it seems unlikely that it will remain silent.
6. (C) AKP appears to have concluded that it gains
politically from the arrest of military officers. Having
perhaps nevertheless learned from past experiences, PM
Erdogan was shielded from what could have been outraged
criticism by secularists by conveniently being outside of the
country. His absence also did not allow for any publicized
"urgent" meeting with CHOD Basbug, as has happened in the
past. Deputy PM Bulent Arinc's statements appeared designed
to spin these developments as yet another example of how
"times have changed" in Turkey and how the country is merely
going through a "normalization" period.
7. (C) The next few days will prove interesting and possibly
pivotal. The judiciary has four days to either turn the
detentions into formal arrests or release the individuals.
If formal charges are brought, TGS will be forced to respond.
Likewise, a lack of substantive evidence will rebound on the
Government, and will give credence to accusations that the
long-running Ergenekon investigation has a deeper and more
insidious design: to undermine AKP's secular opposition.
8. (C) Some knowledgeable embassy officers see this latest
step as a more serious provocation that could trigger some
type of unpredictable military reaction. We will see.
9. (C) To repeat the facts on this whole "Ergenekon" set of
a. There is some "fire" behind the smoke. The military
obviously has plans to intervene if necessary in political
affairs and can cite the 1982 constitution, endorsed by the
population per referendum, which gives the military a key
role in "overseeing" democratic governments' adherence to
Ataturkist principles -- largely defined as by the military
and its friends in the bureaucracy and judiciary.
b. PM Erdogan (supported by the EU and even many
anti-Erdogan Turkes who want to see the military out of
politics) legitimately wants to rein in this "droit de
c. But PM Erdogan realizes that elections are coming up, and
that he did relatively poorly in last year's elections (38%)
but brilliantly in 2007 (47% AKP win) when he played off the
military's counter-productive threats.
d. Thus much of this is electoral poiltics, albeit of a
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"below the belt" contact sport variety.
e. All this is exacerbated by the thuggish authoritarian
behavior of the police and judiciary (reflecting prevailing
tendencies in this society, including in the military). In
the U.S. a prosecutor or detective would simply have visited
the generals in question to post questions. "Invites" to the
precinct, reading of rights, indictments, arrests, and
detentions follow only after the amassing of evidence and
clear indications of a case winnable in court. Not here.
Anyone even suspected of "having information" is hauled
before the police (armed with automatic weapons), and
humiliated before the press. It's always been that way; now
it's happening also to the top brass and their friends.
f. Up to now, however, most of those so publicly humiliated
are eventually released due to patent innocence,a lack of
evidence (as in the recent "Special Forces officers planning
Arinc's assassination" caper -- ref A) or because the
judiciary throws the whole process out (i.e. the law making
military officers subject to civilian courts -- ref C).
g. But every day is a new one here, and no one can be
certain where this whole choreography will fall out of whack.
Then, look out.
"Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at http://www.intelink.s