DIYARBAKIR – Ilker Basbug was the last Turkish army leader who belonged to the ‘old guard’ of Turkish army leaders. He commanded the second biggest army in NATO from 2008 to 2010, and clashed several times with the AKP government of Prime Minister Erdogan.
Basbug (68) was detained on Friday as a suspect in a coup plot against the government. He allegedly approved the setting up of dozens of websites spreading propaganda against the government and groups related to the government. The sites were supposedly part of plans to overthrow the government. The ‘website case’ is part of the wider Ergenekon probe, an investigation that has been dragging on for years now, and which led to the arrest and imprisonment of dozens of army officers (some of them retired).
Ilker Basbug supported the investigation into Ergenekon, but criticized it too. For example he didn’t approve of accused military personnel being tried by civilian courts. He also claimed that the Ergenekon probe was a smear campaign against the army, and that he would never tolerate coup plans.
After Basbug there was a definite break with the strong political power of the army: his successor Kosaner stepped down last summer in a conflict with the government. Kosaner was replaced by a general who was fully approved of by the government.
Basbug, who was partly educated abroad and also served NATO, started his career in the early sixties, a time when the first of a series of coups was staged. The army took power in Turkey in 1960, 1971 and 1980, and forced a government to step down in 1997. In short, he made a career in the decades when the army was still considered the most powerful institution in the country. That shaped the general.
It is in Basbug’s military blood that he considers the army as protector of Turkish secularism, in which religious life is controlled by the state to prevent it from becoming too influential. Governing party AKP has its roots in the political-Islamic movement in Turkey, and for that reason is automatically distrusted by the army.
Basbug said in court that it is ‘tragi-comic’ that ‘somebody who has led one of the most powerful armies in the world is being accused of establishing and leading a terrorist organisation’. The charge hurts: ‘The accusations touch my honour as a general who always honourably served his country and state.’