What started as a routine answer to a police call in 2007, turned into perhaps the most important case relating to the civilian-military relationship in Turkey.
The alleged network of secularist ultra-nationalists, Ergenekon, draws its name from a mythical Central Asian valley where Turks are said to have been saved from annihilation by a wolf that led them past their enemies to freedom.
The network was said to have been linked to the “deep state“, hardliner secularists in key areas of the Turkish establishment who are believed to have wielded considerable influence in political life in recent decades.
Just before the final verdict, there were 275 defendants, 66 of whom were in custody, and the case has included 23 indictments.
Former Armed Forces Chief General Ilker Basbug was among those accused of involvement in Ergenekon.
Opposition members of parliament, academics, politicians and journalists were also among those on trial.
Prosecutors charged that the network planned assassinations and bomb attacks to stir up unrest and pave the way for a military coup.
The military has denied any link to such a group. The arrests of retired generals and serving officers was unprecedented in Turkey, where the army has long enjoyed an untouchable status because of its popular support.
Al Jazeera looks closer at the events that led to the trials and announcement of the verdicts on August 5.
|1997 – 2007|
1997: The name “Ergenekon” was first used in reference to the “deep state”.
2001: The first official document related to Ergenekon was found.
Tuncay Guney, an eccentric character of dubious credentials, was brought in on ordinary fraud charges, and told Istanbul police about Ergenekon. His questioning formed the basis of the first Ergenekon indictment.
January 18, 2007: Armenian human rights journalist Hrant Dink was shot dead in front of the offices of his newspaper Agos.
March 25, 2007: Nokta, a political magazine, published the Coup Diaries chronicling plans to stage a military takeover. The magazine was shut down almost a month later. The diaries formed the basis of the second Ergenekon indictment.
April 18, 2007: Three Christians were killed in an attack at a publishing house in Malatya. The case was later merged with Ergenekon on November 21, 2008.
June 12, 2007: After a report, police discovered and confiscated 27 hand grenades and TNT moulds in a shantytown of Istanbul’s Umraniye district. The subsequent investigations led the prosecutors to unfold a series of coup plots against the government.
January 21: Thirty-one people were arrested following the first Ergenekon indictment including a retired general and columnist.
March 21: More generals and columnists were detained.
July 7: Some previously detained retired generals were arrested.
July 23: A new wave of arrests in the investigation led to 26 people being detained around the country, including senior members of the Workers’ Party, and staff members of a nationalist magazine.
July 25: After the submission of the indictment to the court, the trial period has officially begun.
August 14: In another round of arrests, police found large amounts of explosives and weapons (two Kalashnikovs, 1,000 bullets, 1,000 empty bullets and 280 hand grenades).
September 23: Sixteen more people were detained including a former police chief, a former mayor and journalists.
October 20: The first Ergenekon trial begins.
January 7, 8: More people were detained, including academics and generals, and more arms caches were unearthed at various places.
January 22: More than 20 police officers were detained in connection to Ergenekon.
March 10: The second Ergenekon indictment was submitted. It was accepted by the court on March 22.
June 4: Army officers were arrested as part of an investigation into the ammunition found in Poyrazkoy, Istanbul. Twenty people, including 16 army officers on active duty, were detained in simultaneous operations conducted in five Turkish provinces.
July 20: The Istanbul Criminal Court began trying 56 suspects under the second indictment of the Ergenekon probe. The 1,909-page indictment consisted of accusations against 56 suspects including retired generals.
The third indictment was submitted to the court. The 1,454 page document indicted 52 people – 37 of whom were under arrest. The suspects were arrested between January 10, 2009 and April 17, 2009.
November 19: Cage, or Kafes, coup plan was revealed by daily newspaper Taraf.
January 20: The Sledgehammer, or Balyoz, coup plan was revealed to the public through Taraf.
February 22: About 50 retired and active duty military officials were detained because of their alleged involvement with the Sledgehammer plan.
March 4: Police detained 10 people, mostly journalists, as part of an investigation into Ergenekon.
May 5: A case filed against a plot to assassinate the Istanbul-based leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians has been merged with the ongoing Ergenekon case.
July 30: Turkey’s top military leaders quit. The mass retirement notices came hours after a court charged 22 suspects, including several generals and officers, with carrying out an internet campaign to undermine the government.
September 19: A Turkish prosecutor conducting the investigation into the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink said that the murder was committed by Ergenekon’s cell in the Black Sea province of Trabzon.
January 5: Turkey’s former Chief of Army Staff Ilker Basbug, is called to court for questioning over allegations of his involvement in the creation of websites to discredit Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, and the governing Justice and Development Party.
January 6: Court ordered Ilker Basbug to be remanded in custody over charges of bidding to overthrow the government.
March 26: Ilker Basbug goes on trial on charges of “leading a terrorist group” accused of plotting to overthrow the government of Erdogan.
August 5: A Turkish court announced verdicts on nearly 300 defendants in the Ergenekon case. Ilker Basbug was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government. The judges also sentenced three serving parliamentarians from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to between 12 and 35 years in prison. 21 defendants were acquitted.
Protests erupted as the judgement were handed down.