Skip to main content

The considerable evidence of the moderation of the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is disturbingly offset by the criminal prosecution of about 250 military officers, which has led to the resignation of the country's four highest military commanders.

The notion of a coup plot among factions within the military, as alleged by the prosecutors, is not an obviously fanciful or paranoid allegation. Many Turks vividly remember the armed forces' coups of 1960, 1971 and 1980, as well as the explicit threat of another as recently as 1997 – the so-called postmodern coup in the form of published memorandum that induced the resignation of a government of the AKP's predecessor party. The military long regarded itself as the supreme guardian of the secularist and nationalist principles of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic.

But there are signs of deep flaws in the prosecutors' evidence. One key document consists of voice recordings of a war-game workshop that did indeed take place in March, 2003, codenamed "Sledgehammer," of which the premise was a hypothetical rise in military tensions with Greece that would lead to an internal uprising by Turkish fundamentalists. It does not mention any proposed coup. Other documents that go much further apparently contain anachronisms that suggest they are fakes.

Moreover, some journalists who have criticized the prosecutions have been charged and held in prison themselves.

At the very least, Mr. Erdogan and his colleagues should stop asserting the guilt of the accused in these cases, any trials should be expedited and the charges against reporters should simply be dropped.

The new leaders of the armed forces, replacing those who resigned, are by no means puppets of the AKP. For example, the new commander of the army not long ago refused to greet President Abdullah Gul, expressing his distaste for the AKP. Some compromise has been achieved. Turkey's constitutional democracy is not dead, but Mr. Erdogan and the AKP leadership should exercise self-restraint – and review the prosecutions of the 250 officers with skeptical eyes.