ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pardoned seven generals imprisoned for their role in the military coup that overthrew an Islamist government in 1997, according to decrees published in the official gazette.

The decision cited the age and medical conditions of the generals, who were sentenced in 2018 after a trial full of twists and turns.

The decrees were signed as a court in Ankara sentenced charismatic Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas to 42 years in prison for offences including undermining state unity.

The main opposition CHP party, which made strong gains in municipal elections in late March, has long asked for the generals to be freed. Party leader Ozgur Ozel said on X, formerly Twitter, the decision was “late but just”.

One of the pardoned generals, Cevik Bir, considered the ringleader of the putsch, had already been released for health reasons.

In 1997, the first head of a Turkish Islamist government, Necmettin Erbakan, Erdogan’s mentor, was forced to resign by the general staff in the name of defending secularism. This putsch, which took place without any shots fired, was nicknamed the “postmodern coup d’etat”.

The Turkish army had already overthrown civilian governments in 1960, 1971 and 1980. A military faction attempted to overthrow Erdogan in July 2016.

Since his AKP party was elected in 2002, Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted conservative governments have sought to reduce the role of the military in Turkish politics.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2024

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