It's a plot that, if accurate, has the potential to mark a turning point in Turkish history. The problem is, there are doubts about the authenticity of key evidence against the defendants.Nearly 200 members of the Turkish military, including high-ranking officers, are charged with hatching the spectacular plot to foment widespread unrest, and, ultimately, topple the governing Justice and Development (AKP) Party.When revealed by the Taraf newspaper in January, the plot shocked the country, led to the arrest of top officers, and heralded a new stage in the bitter power struggle between Turkey's secular military establishment and the AKP government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The trial was scheduled to resume December 28.A central piece of evidence is a suitcase purportedly handed to a Taraf representative by an unknown source that contained audiotape recordings. In those recorded, supposedly from March 2003, generals are heard discussing how they would take over the country in the event of an Islamist uprising. Along with it were CDs, one of which contained details of a plot codenamed 'Balyoz' (Sledgehammer).It described how the officers would shoot down a Turkish fighter jet to spark tension with Greece, kill religious minority leaders, and bomb mosques to prompt a social meltdown, before carrying out a coup.Doubts over the written plans emerged within days of Taraf's publication of extracts of the alleged tapes. The core document summarizing the plot, which bore the typed name of alleged mastermind Gen. Cetin Dogan, listed three militantly secular youth organizations that would collaborate with the plotters.One of those groups, the Turkey Youth Union, did not exist at the time of the alleged plot, but was founded in 2006, nearly three years after Gen. Dogan himself had resigned. Also, large sections of an economic program for the coup were virtually identical to a speech delivered at a conference in 2005.More doubts surfaced in July, when prosecutors released the indictment for the case, which confirmed the anachronisms published by Taraf.Since then, the daughter and son-in-law of Gen. Dogan claim to have found some two dozen more anachronisms in lists from a CD that contained much of the evidence relating to the plot.These included references to hospitals, civil society organizations, and a NATO base that either did not exist in 2003 when the CD was supposedly created, or else had different names.Gareth Jenkins, an expert on Turkey's military who has followed the case, believes the plot was back-engineered to fit the audiotapes, which defendants claim is a recording of a legitimate war-gaming seminar, but which prosecutors allege was the dress rehearsal for a coup."Someone got hold of the recordings, sat on them, then working backwards from what they had, they concocted a coup plan," he told Eurasianet.org.Other analysts fiercely contest Jenkins' conclusions. Emrullah Uslu, a terrorism professor at Istanbul's Yeditepe University who is also familiar with the case, did not dispute the apparent anachronisms in the case, but insisted the basic elements of the case are accurate.He suggested military officers hostile to Gen. Dogan may have added extra data to the plot before handing the dossier to Taraf. "I don't think there's really a fabrication in terms of the information on the CDs," Uslu said. "If the military allows prosecutors to investigate freely in their archives they will find enough evidence to show that [Cetin Dogan] was up to something."Henri Barkey, a Turkey specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, shared this conviction but speculated that the evidence itself may have been doctored by prosecutors before it ever came through the doors of Taraf."[The Turkish justice system] always manufacture evidence and even if there isn't evidence it's about who you are," he said. "I think Taraf got it because someone, somewhere in the Turkish justice system gave it to them."For Barkey, the Balyoz case has prompted a long-needed evaluation of Turkey's meddling military. "For the first time the military is being told that it's accountable. It has never been accountable for the way it interfered in politics," he said.He also believes the trial has for the first time prompted a public debate about the deep flaws that have always been inherent in Turkey's justice system. "Turkish justice is to justice what military music is to music," he said. "What I find good is that people are finally saying that the Turkish justice system doesn't work. When enemies of the state were prosecuted in the past, those people who would say 'Turkey is a country of law', are now suddenly realizing that you're guilty until you're proven innocent."
Alexander Christie-Miller is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul, where he writes for the Times.