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Turkey’s Erdogan pardons elderly generals imprisoned over 1997 ‘postmodern coup’

Ismail Hakki Karadayi and other top commanders, from left, Hikmet Koksal, Guven Erkaya, Ahmet Corekci and Teoman Koman, who formed the military wing of the National Security Council, during a meeting on February 28 1997 (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)
Ismail Hakki Karadayi and other top commanders, from left, Hikmet Koksal, Guven Erkaya, Ahmet Corekci and Teoman Koman, who formed the military wing of the National Security Council, during a meeting on February 28 1997 (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday pardoned seven former top military officers who were sentenced to life terms in prison over the ousting of an Islamic-led government in 1997.

The former generals, who are in their late 70s and 80s, were pardoned because of health issues and old age, according to a decision published in the country’s Official Gazette overnight.

A court sentenced the generals to life in prison in 2018 for their role in a campaign that was led by Turkey’s pro-secular military and forced the resignation of the prime minister of the time, Necmettin Erbakan. Their sentences were confirmed by a court of appeals in 2021.

The ousting was later dubbed Turkey’s “postmodern coup” because unlike previous military takeovers in the country, no tanks or soldiers were used. Mr Erbakan’s government was replaced by a coalition that was nominated by the president.

Turkey Erdogan Generals
Turkish then-prime minister Necmettin Erbakan after laying a wreath at the mausoleum of Turkey’s founder Kemal Ataturk in Ankara in May 1997. General Ismail Hakki Karadayi is behind Mr Erbakan (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

Those released from prison on Friday following the decision included Cetin Dogan, 83, who was head of military operations at the time. Former general Cevik Bir, 85, who was deputy chief of military staff, was released along with other officers earlier because of ill-health. The main defendant, former chief of general staff Ismail Hakki Karadayi, died in 2020, while the appeals process was still continuing.

At the time of Mr Erbakan’s ousting, the army was concerned by his efforts to raise the profile of Islam in the predominantly Muslim but secular country.

On February 28, 1997, the military-dominated National Security Council threatened action if Mr Erbakan did not back down. He resigned four months later.

The trial was one of several held in the country against military officers as Mr Erdogan pressed ahead with efforts to make generals account for intervening in government affairs.

Turkey’s military, which had long regarded its role as protector of the country’s secular traditions, staged three coups between 1960 and 1980.

In July 2016, Turkey quashed a coup attempt that the government has blamed on supporters of a US-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen. The cleric denies involvement.

The pardon comes a week after Mr Erdogan met with main opposition party leader Ozgur Ozel, who raised the issue of clemency. Mr Ozel’s pro-secular Republican People’s Party swept local elections in March.