Ex-military chief fought with Erdoğan’s AKP, not with Gülen - columnist

One of Turkey’s leading columnists has accused the former army chief of staff, İlker Başbuğ, of working for years to destroy the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) after a war of words broke out between the retired general and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Başbuğ was one of hundreds of secularist military officers jailed as part of the Ergenekon investigations, a series of trials purported at the time to have exposed a clandestine criminal organisation that sought to overthrow the AKP.

The trials kicked off in 2008, and Başbuğ and others were sentenced in 2013, but a year later their convictions were overturned by the Constitutional Court and the AKP later blamed the investigations on its erstwhile allies in a religious movement led by Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen.

But Başbuğ has spent his career fighting the AKP government and not the Gülen movement, which has been targeted in extensive purges since being blamed for a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, said Hürriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi.

The latest blows traded by the ex-military chief and the ruling party came last week, when Başbuğ said 2009 legal amendments that allowed civilian courts to try military personnel had been devised by Gülenists in parliament.

Erdoğan condemned Başbuğ for his statement and demanded his party’s lawmakers file lawsuits against the former general. Six lawmakers from the ruling party filed complaints against Başbuğ last Thursday, accusing him of insulting public officials and slander.

The AKP’s statement announcing the complaints accused Başbuğ of causing damage to officials who were fighting against Gülen’s followers. Selvi echoed this charge in his column, accusing Başbuğ of consistently targeting the ruling party, but not members of the religious movement.

The columnist said Başbuğ had been at the centre of a series of disputes between secularist cliques in Turkish state institutions and the Islamist-rooted AKP, particularly after Abdullah Gül was elected president in 2007 and his wife broke the secular traditions of the time by attending state functions wearing an Islamic-style headscarf.

Selvi noted that Başbuğ had been in a powerful position commanding Turkey’s land forces when the Constitutional Court oversaw a case to close the AKP in 2008 over accusations it had violated the principle separating religion and state.

“If Başbuğ had intervened against FETÖ’s military wing instead of accusing AKP lawmakers of being FETÖ’s political wing, they never would have had the strength for the July 15 coup attempt,” Selvi said, using the Turkish government’s acronym for the Gülen movement.

Turkey’s opposition says members of the Gülen movement embedded in the judiciary and security forces were for years able to act with impunity against secularists because at the time this was also in the AKP’s interests.

In January, AKP lawmakers rejected a motion filed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party demanding an investigation into the Gülen movement’s political wing.