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Turkey : speculations over an expected military coup

Monday 4 December 2006, by Emre Uslu, Onder Aytaç

Zeyno Baran’s controversial commentary in Newsweek’s current issue brought up again the possibility of a military coup. She states that there is a 50-50 chance of a military coup in Turkey next year.

We were trying to uncover Baran. During our investigation, we received very interesting information as to whom Ms. Baran talked to last week. Our sources in Washington told us that during his visit, Turkish Deputy Chief of General Staff Ergin Saygun delivered a speech at a meeting closed to the media, organized by the Hudson Institute, where Baran works as a senior fellow. Our sources told us that Baran was the person who organized the meeting. Baran confirmed that such a meeting took place at the Hudson Institute, but she told us that it was related to Turkey’s foreign policy initiatives. According to Baran, Gen. Saygun did not comment on Turkey’s domestic politics, but criticized the EU’s policies toward Turkey.

Although Baran told us that Gen. Saygun was not one of her sources, Baran, according to Fehmi Koru, had not visited Turkey for months. So it is not possible for her to talk with her sources face to face. If she contacted her sources via telephone, then the question is why this rush right after Gen. Saygun’s visit? Our own sources in Washington have doubts about her explanations about her sources. They told us that the fact that Baran wrote a controversial commentary for Newsweek right after the meeting at the Hudson Institute cannot be a coincidence. In her commentary, she said: “In recent weeks I have spoken with Turkey’s most senior officers. All made clear that, while they would not want to see an interruption in democracy, the military may soon have to step in to protect secularism, without which there cannot be democracy in a majority Muslim country. These are no-nonsense people who mean what they say.” When we asked Baran for more clarification on these statements, she said, “Officials did not tell me that they are thinking a military coup,” but her explanation of the statement was not convincing.

Moreover, in her commentary, Baran answers the question of why this is happening, as follows: “Chiefly because of the European Union. Never mind Cyprus, or the new human rights laws Turkey has willingly passed under European pressure. The real problem is the EU’s core demand: more civilian control over the military. That, senior officers say, would inevitably produce an Islamic Turkey. As they see it, the nation simply cannot afford to follow the EU on issues that would theoretically ensure, but in reality endanger, its future as a secular democracy — that is, a country in which state and mosque are separated and in which freedom of (as well as freedom from) religion is guaranteed for all.” We do not know whether similar discussions took place during the Hudson Institute meeting, but at least Baran told us that Gen. Saygun criticized the EU over the Cyprus issue and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-related problems. The similarity of the topics that were discussed at the Hudson Institute meeting and in Baran’s article may of course be only coincidental.

Another interesting aspect of Baran’s article and Gen. Saygun’s meeting at the Hudson institute is that in the article Baran argues that Erdogan is an Islamist, implying that the current government is an “Islamist experiment.” Previously, Frank J. Gaffney of the same institute labeled the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government “Islamofascist.” We asked Baran why Gen. Saygun chose to speak at the Hudson Institute. Was there any symbolic meaning in choosing the Hudson Institute given that it is known as a neocon institution, bringing together people who oppose the AKP government and accuse it of being “Islamofascist”? Could it be interpreted as a sign to show the military’s opposition to the AKP government? She responded, “I don’t know the reason behind Gen. Saygun’s decision to come to Hudson. Like other think-tanks in the states, we invited him and he chose to speak at Hudson.” As far as we know, the Turkish General Staff pays attention to even the smallest detail of its programs. Thus it was interesting for Saygun to speak at Hudson, one of the bastions of opposition to the AKP in Washington. These developments reminded us of the Feb. 28, 1997 military coup leaders’ contacts in Washington. At the time, Gen. Cevik Bir had a good relationship with the Washington Institute and other like-minded think-tanks.

In the Newsweek article, Baran states that “one senior Turkish official recently put it: ’If there were a coup, what would the U.S. do — enact sanctions against Turkey?’” When we asked for clarification on this statement during our conversation, surprisingly, she said that this “official” was a civilian, not a military official. However, nowhere in her article in Newsweek had she mentioned that she had spoken with civilian officials. She said she added this passage to develop a counter-argument against people who might claim that the U.S. would not allow a military coup in Turkey. She further argued that what she meant is that if such a coup was to take place, America would have its limits, too. It seemed to us that she avoided disclosing her sources in order to protect them against possible criticisms, which may come from the American side.

One more interesting thing to note is what Baran told us: The Hudson Institute is close to the Pentagon and Vice President Cheney’s office. This information helped us connect the dots. According to a Hurriyet story on Nov. 20, Gen. Saygun’s visit was intended to make an early preparation for Gen. Buyukanit’s planned visit in February 2007. Another part of the picture is hidden in Ertugrul Ozkok’s Oct. 3, 2006 column. In that article, Ozkok gives us behind the scenes information when he states that “during his visit, Gen. Buyukanit will meet with Vice President Dick Cheney.” If Gen. Saygun, who according to Professor Aydin Ayaydin is the closest colleague of Gen. Buyukanit, traveled to Washington to organize Gen. Buyukanit’s visit, the speech delivered at the Hudson Institute and Baran’s article become very important milestones to keep in mind for the coming days. We wonder if the Hudson Institute is the organizer of the Cheney-Buyukanit meeting.

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