A Turkish former four-star general, who was jailed for his role in an alleged coup plot by secularists in the Turkish military, has alleged in an interview that the United States may have advised the coup plotters. Bilgin Balanli was the only active-duty four-star general to be charged in connection with the so-called Balyoz Harekâti (Operation SLEDGEHAMMER) coup-plot case. The alleged plot became widely known in early 2010, when Taraf, a liberal Turkish daily, published documents from 2003 that outlined the plotters’ plans for a military takeover of government. According to Taraf, the conspirators were secularists within the ranks of Turkey’s military and intelligence agencies, who were opposed to the rule of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), headed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The documents outlined plans to bomb two mosques in Istanbul and bring down a Turkish fighter jet over the Aegean Sea, which would be blamed on Greece. The plotters hoped that the ensuing crisis would permit the military to assume power in the country. The AKP-led government reacted swiftly: on February 21, 2010, police operations took place in nearly a dozen Turkish provinces, leading to the arrests of over 40 leading coup plotters. Another 325 were charged in the following days. The alleged plotters argued that Operation SLEDGEHAMMER was simply an exercise that had been conceived as a scenario-based simulation for a military seminar. But the courts rejected their argument and sentenced nearly 300 of the accused to prison terms ranging from a few months to several years. More recently, however, most of those sentenced were released pending retrials. Many were acquitted last month on grounds that their civil rights had been violated during their initial trial.
Among those acquitted was General Balanli, who was about to be promoted to Chief of Staff for the Turkish Air Force when he was arrested in connection to SLEDGEHAMMER in 2010. His conviction meant that he had to resign from his post and relinquish his state pension. In his first lengthy interview since his acquittal, Balanli said he believes many of the coup planning documents had been authored by a non-Turkish intelligence agency, probably the US Central Intelligence Agency. Balanli was referring to allegations, made by many of the accused during the SLEDGEHAMMER trials, that an American senator had provided some of the coup planning documents, with the help of a retired Turkish military officer based in Istanbul. According to Balanli, much of the terminology and phraseology found in the plot documents was clearly not written by Turkish-language speakers. For example, said Balanli, the Turkish-language documents used the term “ocean” to refer to the Aegean Sea. “We do not use the word ‘ocean’ to refer to our seas”, said the Turkish general. “The term ‘ocean’ is only used by the US to refer to the sea”, he argued. “I believe that these documents were translated from the English, from the original American plan”, said Balanli.
The former general’s claim, though unsubstantiated, is bound to be refuted by Washington. It will, however, reinforce Turkish President Erdoğan’s claim that his pro-Islamist government has been the subject of plots and machinations from the West, and especially from Washington.