ISTANBUL — The former head of Turkey’s armed forces, General Ilker Basbug, was in custody on Friday on charges of trying to overthrow the government, a stunning move by the country’s judiciary against a military that was once the ultimate power in the land. Basbug, who retired in 2010 as chief of NATO’s second-largest army, is the most senior officer to be caught up in the Ergenekon case, a long-running crackdown on the military and secularist establishment.
He was charged overnight and jailed, crowning a fall from grace for the once invicible military. The General Staff chief was effectively Turkey’s ultimate power until Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government gradually eroded army influence in the last decade.
Erdogan has managed to engineer the transformation thanks to overwhelming public support for his government, now in its third term.
Police first unearthed evidence five years ago of an ultra-nationalist network dubbed “Ergenkon,” said to be conspiring to create an atmosphere of chaos that could pave the way for military intervention to unseat the AK Party government because of the Islamist pedigree of its leaders. Erdogan denies that his socially conservative party harbours any religious agenda.