Istanbul. Turkish ex–army chief Ilker Basbug on Tuesday rejected terrorism charges against him and refused to mount a defense in his trial for seeking to overthrow the Islamist-rooted government, the Anatolia news agency said.
“I am astounded at being accused of leading a terrorist organization,” the retired general told a court in Silivri, outside Istanbul, where his trial opened Monday.
“This accusation is not directed against me but against the armed forces,” he added.
Basbug said the court did not have the jurisdiction to try him, and said he would not present a defense or answer any questions.
“To try and accuse a head of the armed forces of crimes of this nature is the result of a comedy of incompetence,” the 68-year-old career soldier said in his first statement to the court.
“The charge sheet has no credibility from my point of view.”
Basbug went on trial Monday on charges of leading a terrorist group accused of plotting to overthrow the Islamist-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Basbug, who was chief of staff from 2008 to 2010, has been in custody since January and risks life in prison if convicted in a case that has inflamed tensions between the government and the powerful military.
“On my life I have never tolerated illegality. My loyalty to democracy is known,” Basbug, wearing a dark suit, told the court.
“Those who accuse me, do they know that I ordered without hesitation an investigation if I noticed any offense” against the government, he said of his tenure as army chief.
He also took issue with claiming he ran a “terrorist organization” saying he had fought “relentlessly” against the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered a terror group by Turkey and much of the international community.
The military, which considers itself the guardian of secularism in modern-day Turkey and is the second-largest force in NATO after the United States, has carried out three coups — in 1960, 1971 and 1980.
It also forced the removal of a coalition government led by an Islamist prime minister in 1997 and tensions have been building for years between the army and the Erdogan administration, which has been in power since 2002.
The army has lost power following various AKP-implemented reforms and dozens of active and retired military officers including generals, as well as academics, journalists and lawyers have been detained in the so–called Ergenekon investigation.
Critics accuse Erdogan’s government of launching the far–reaching probe as a tool to silence its opponents and impose authoritarianism, charges it denies.
A statement issued by relatives of the detained officers has called for the charges to be dropped, accusing the Turkish judiciary of “falsifying evidence”.
The US State Department in January urged the Turkish government to ensure that the Ergenekon probe and any prosecutions were conducted in a “transparent manner” and in accordance with international standards.