One of the last pending macro-trials on the attempted coup that shook Turkey in the summer of 2016 – in which 251 civilians and officials loyal to the elected government died and more than 2,000 people were injured – came to an end this Wednesday with the reading the sentences to the nearly 500 defendants. Of the defendants, 38 were sentenced to life imprisonment and another hundred to prison terms of between six and 16 years. The rest, minus a dozen who fled after the military coup, were declared innocent or exonerated of the acts charged because they were cadets or rank and file soldiers.
This process, one of the almost 300 separate pieces in which the actions of the soldiers who rebelled that summer were judged, was known as the Presidential Guard, since most of the accused were attached to this elite body in charge of security. of the Head of State, although they also serve within other bodies of the Armed Forces. The Presidential Guard was dissolved after the failed coup for having rebelled against the person it had the mission to protect, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the exception of a small detachment that performs ceremonial functions during visits by foreign dignitaries.
Among those sentenced to the maximum penalty, six received aggravated life sentences, which prevent the possibility of prison review. Among them are Colonel Muhammet Tanju Poshor, who ordered the occupation of the public radio and television building on the night of the coup, and Lieutenant Colonel Umit Gencer, who forced a presenter from the public channel TRT to read the statement of the coup plotters live. Among other senior military officials convicted are the person in charge of the security of the Presidential Palace and even the aide-de-camp of the president himself, who played an essential role in coordinating the coup plotters on the night of the car.
The Turkish Justice and Government accuse the political-religious organization of the preacher Fethullah Gülen of having devised the coup. For decades, the Gülenists infiltrated the public administration and the state security forces, controlling key positions such as intelligence or human resources units, which allowed them to open the way to the institutions to other disciples of the Islamist preacher. In his first decade of government, Erdogan and his party, the AKP, forged a close alliance with the Gülenists, who, thanks to their connections in the Judiciary, neutralized common enemies in the state bureaucracy and the Armed Forces. However, starting in 2013, these former allies became embroiled in a power struggle that culminated in the declaration of the Gulen guild as a terrorist organization and the subsequent coup attempt.
The coup changed the face of Turkish politics and the balance between different factions. Erdogan decreed an immense purge throughout the state apparatus and replaced the Gülenists with followers of his party and militants of the far-right MHP formation, with whom the AKP has forged a new political alliance. The Turkish president also relied on Eurasian-leaning military men who had previously been purged from the Armed Forces by the Gülenists through sham trials.
However, in the collaboration between Erdogan and this Eurasianist sector – of nationalist, anti-Western and secular ideas – cracks are also beginning to appear. Last weekend, a hundred notable retired military personnel, some of whom have served as strategists for Erdogan's new foreign policy, signed a manifesto criticizing some government projects and debates, after which 10 of them were arrested.
Erdogan has taken advantage of this incident to fan the ghost of the coup danger – at a time when the polls are not smiling on him – and has charged against the opposition, especially the center-left CHP formation, the second largest in Parliament, which he has accused of “ stand on the side of the coup plotters ”. In an appearance this Wednesday before the deputies of his party, Erdogan stressed the message that the opposition is an instrument of "coup plotters and terrorists", and showed a propaganda video that was broadcast by the main television channels in which it is linked to the CHP to all the successful coups (1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997) in Turkey's recent history, and some of the failed pronouncements (2007 and 2016).
The reality is that each of these riots was carried out by different military factions and their political victims were very different. For example, members of the CHP were repressed and imprisoned during the coups of 1971 and 1980, while that last coup, which brought a military junta to power for three years, greatly benefited the Islamist movement from which Erdogan came.