World Bulletin/News Desk
Turkey's generals broke their silence on political issues on Friday, a day after the trial began of nearly 200 officers accused of planning a coup seven years ago.
In a statement issued on the armed forces Website, the military's top brass vented its anger over the use of the Kurdish language in parliament this week. But the timing and tone of its comments on "constitutional duty" will add to a sense of tension between the military and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government.
"The Turkish General Staff has always been and will continue to be party to the protection of the nation state, the unity and secularism of the state," the statement said.
Turkey's generals have ousted four governments since 1960, most recently in 1998.
But most Turks believe the time for coups has passed as the country's democracy gathers strength and people become more empowered, thanks to an unprecedented phase of economic growth that the AK Party has overseen.
With the trial of 197 serving and retired officers underway in the town of Silivri, west of Istanbul, anything new armed forces chief General Isik Kosaner says will be scrutinised.
Appointed in August and seen as a staunch secularist, Kosaner did not make any comments on political issues, which is seen a positive development by many for democracy in Turkey.
The "Operation Sledgehammer" case revolves around a military seminar in 2003 in which plans were discussed to bomb historic mosques and provoke conflict with Greece in order to create conditions for a military takeover. The officers involved deny any conspiracy, and say it was merely a "war game scenario".
The trial comes a little over six months before a parliamentary election that is expected to result in the AK Party winning a third consecutive term.
President warns parliamentarians
President Abdullah Gul made a warning to the parliamentarians of the Peace & Democracy Party (BDP) who made a call for "bilingual life" and spoke in Kurdish in the Parliament and implored them to act with "reason and common sense."
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Saturday that Turkish was the formal language of Turkey and would continue so.
"Nevertheless, there are different languages spoken in different places of Turkey. All of them are our languages. We will protect all of them. However, if we try to make this with political and ideological reasons, then we will disrupt our own peace and order and begin to give damage to our own citizens," President Gul said while addressing the Regular General Assembly of a Turkish Labor Union Tes-Is.
Gul said Turkey was going through an indispensable and rooted change and everybody experienced this, noting it was important to go through this change in a healthy way. He said everything should be done hand in hand.
"Every segment of Turkey should be satisfied. Thus, Turkey will become stronger. Those issues should be discussed carefully and calmly. The target is to raise Turkey to the level of contemporary civilizations. In order to achieve this, our laws and political understanding will change. As it happened in the past ,we should not consider our differences as fears. Limits of freedoms will develop. Everybody will say 'this is my hometown'," he said.
"Everybody has to be very careful in his language and actions. Every segment of Turkey has to join hands to make citizens of this country powerful," he said. "Turkey can not bear another loss of time. This happened in the past and had a heavy cost for Turkey."
Gul said, "people in Turkey started to understand each other more. Although differences were considered as something to be afraid of in the past, they are now seen as riches."
Debate on Kurdish
An initiative by Erdogan to enhance Kurdish rights as part of a strategy to solve the Kurdish problem has run into opposition from nationalists and ordinary Turks whose attitudes have hardened over the years.
Having waged a counter-insurgency campaign against Kurdish separatists in the southeast since the 1980s, the military is wary of moves to allow greater autonomy.
Some 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The generals claims that any acceptance of Kurdish in parliament would undermine the fabric of the republic founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1923 out of ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
"We are concerned that debates over 'our language' are being rapidly taken to a point where it will radically change the basic founding principle of our Republic," the General Staff said in a statement posted on the military's website.
Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party leader Selahattin Demirtas criticised the government's reaction and issued a sharp rejoinder to the military statement.
"Anti-democratic evaluations like this will not be accepted by us," Demirtas told journalists in Ankara.Last Mod: 18 Aralık 2010, 15:41