June 17, 2015

Former colonel admits Turkish army used websites to discredit gov’t, minorities

Former Col. Dursun Çiçek, who spent years in prison for allegedly masterminding a plan to defame the ruling party and Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, admitted that the army used websites to defame and discredit the government as well as Kurds, Armenians and the Gülen movement.

The websites, which date back to the early 2000s, were seen as part of an Internet campaign to discredit the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Islamist politicians before they came to power. The military intensified its campaign to defame the government led by late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, eventually forcing him to resign in 1997.

Most of the 42 websites were shut down in 2007, but the investigation into these propaganda sites was launched in 2011, when at least 22 army personnel, including generals, were taken into custody. Ret. Col. Çiçek was among the chief suspects. He is now a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

Çiçek told reporters on Tuesday that an official document regarding the propaganda was “authentic” and that military intelligence chief İsmail Hakkı Pekin, who earlier accused Çiçek of masterminding the plot, had approved the document.

The propaganda websites were mostly run by Çiçek until 2007 and the military allegedly spent a lot of time and effort running them. Most of them included content aimed at defaming the government, Gülen, Armenians and Kurds.

The AK Party government, which became a plaintiff in the investigation in 2011, later called it a "plot orchestrated by the parallel structure," a term used by government officials to refer to the Gülen movement. As the government's fight against the Gülen movement intensified last year, suspects standing trial in the propaganda website investigation were released to join the fight.

Çiçek's remarks on Tuesday came after Pekin allegedly criticized the colonel for the propaganda websites. Çiçek said Gen. Pekin could have not approved the document if he had reservations. Çiçek also added that it seems the general failed to fulfill his duty to fight against the Gülen movement during his tenure in the army, noting that the issue has now been recorded as a "threat to the state."

The Turkish military played a big role in past decades to change governments it didn't see fit to secular ideals of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. The AK Party government also took a hit in the past decade, particularly after the military intensified going after conservative segments of society and Islamist politicians following the so-called postmodern coup on Feb. 27, 1997.

The 2010 referendum on constitutional changes significantly eliminated the role of the military in politics, but court cases implicating active duty or former military personnel for coup attempts were mostly dropped in the past year.

Published on Today's Zaman, 17 June 2015, Wednesday