On Feb. 22, Cetin Dogan, a retired four-star Turkish Army general, was detained and subsequently imprisoned by Turkish prosecutors, accused of masterminding an elaborate plot in 2002 and 2003 to topple the country's newly elected conservative Islamist government.
He and the scores of other military officers who were also arrested -- both retired and on active duty -- face horrifying charges. Among other deeds, the officers stand accused of planning to shoot down a Turkish fighter jet and blow up two mosques during Friday prayers, so as to incite parliament to declare martial law. And this is just the latest in a wave of arrests targeting hundreds of retired military officers and their alleged civilian accomplices since early 2008, on charges ranging from murder to coup attempts.
For us, however, this particular arrest comes very close to home: We are Çetin Dogan's daughter and son-in-law. We have observed intimately the development of the case against him, and the closer one looks at the details of this case, the more untenable the government's argument becomes. Rather, his arrest, coupled with the rash of recent anti-military arrests, suggest that the future prospects of Turkish democracy are more ominous than most people think.
The military has long set the ground rules of Turkish politics. Its hard line defending secularism has resulted in frequent clashes with political movements it views as "soft" on Islam, such as the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has governed the country since November 2002. Periodically, the military has intervened, bringing down governments and, on occasion, establishing periods of military rule, most recently from 1980 to 1983.
The narrative that has captured the headlines in Turkey and the Western media is that the recent arrests, signifying the end of an era of military tutelage, are good news for Turkish democracy. Provided the AKP and its leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, do not abuse their power, the story line goes, Turkey will ultimately emerge stronger -- perhaps more pious and conservative, but also more democratic.
Until very recently, we too bought into this story. Even though the charges against some of the individuals in the earlier waves of arrests seemed far-fetched and the indictments poorly prepared, we thought these shortcomings were the product of excessive prosecutorial zeal rather than deliberate attempts to frame innocent individuals. But the way in which the case against Dogan has unfolded suggests that we were wrong.
The charges originate from a trove of documents delivered to and published by the Turkish daily Taraf. The documents include authentic voice recordings from a war simulation workshop held at the headquarters of the 1st Army, then headed by Dogan, in March 2003. These recordings make no reference to a coup or any illegal activities.
But taking a major leap of faith, the newspaper alleges that the March 2003 workshop was a dress rehearsal for the planned coup. This accusation strains credulity, considering that the workshop was recorded on Dogan's orders and attended by scores of top brass, including observers from the high command.
The documents also include other material that has clearly been manufactured, detailing preparations for a coup. The only thing that directly implicates Dogan in this material is an 11-page document dated Dec. 2, 2002, barely two weeks after the AKP government was formed. The document has Dogan's name printed underneath, but it is not signed. The excerpts published by Taraf contain several pointers to its fraudulent nature. There are obvious anachronisms, such as criticism of government activities that did not take place until many years later, including its push for constitutional amendments and financial pressure on the opposition press. There are verbatim extracts from a speech that was actually delivered in 2005. And there is wording that doesn't conform to military usage.
None of the material published by Taraf and subsequently used by the prosecutors provide evidence that would stand in a U.S. court of law. No self-respecting editorial office in the United States or Western Europe would have even considered publishing the documents. The prosecutors have refused to release any of their evidence to Dogan's lawyers -- nor have they provided it to the military prosecutors, who are conducting their own independent investigation and have found nothing to corroborate the charges. Far from being presumed innocent, Dogan is forced to prove his innocence, and to do so without access to the material that is said to implicate him.
The significance of these developments goes beyond the injustice done to a man who has served his country with great honor and distinction. The facts suggest that the conflict in Turkey is not a simple power struggle between ultrasecular militarists and pro-democracy conservatives, as it is commonly portrayed. A shadowy third group is manipulating both the media and the judiciary with great success, using manufactured evidence to deliberately stir conflict. Dogan, a retired officer well known for his strong stance against Islamists, is an obvious target for such a group.
We do not know who is behind the attempt to frame Dogan and the other retired officers involved in the case. Some point to Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish religious leader based in the United States with a vast network of supporters, whom they suspect of fomenting anti-secular activities. Others, in the Turkish press, implicate a conspiracy by clandestine paramilitary groups aimed at muddying the waters and covering their own tracks. Some, implausibly, even see the finger of the CIA.
The Taraf reporter who was provided with the forged material has written that his source is a retired Army officer who served with Dogan. That is highly implausible, because the material includes documents not only from the 1st Army, which Dogan headed from 2002 to 2003, but also from the Air Force, Navy, and National Gendarmerie. A single individual could not have had access to the top-secret repositories of so many different services. Nor does it make sense that he would have waited seven years before making his cache public. Instead, it is possible that the voice recordings and other original documents, which were subsequently doctored, were leaked following an internal military inquiry that apparently took place after Dogan retired. Dogan has appealed to the military high command and the government to reveal information about this inquiry and its aftermath.