One of the most sensational public trials in Turkish history began amid chaos Monday as a court took up the case against 86 people charged in a plot to topple the government, with crimes including assassinations and bomb attacks.
After the defendants, among them retired army generals, journalists and common criminals, crowded into the courtroom, the proceeding was adjourned after some participants complained they could not hear. The trial resumed later with only the 46 jailed suspects and their lawyers. The other 40 suspects in the case are free pending trial.
The defendants are charged with seeking to destabilize Turkey with attacks ahead of a planned coup in 2009. But at the heart of the trial is a widening division between the country's growing Islamic class, with political and economic clout, and the backlash from secular foes, some of whom have turned to violence.
The main focus of the case is an illegal ultranationalist network known as Ergenekon, which takes its name from a legendary valley in Central Asia believed to be the ancestral homeland of Turks. Prosecutors claim that the organization's members used violence to try to manufacture chaos in society and weaken support for the government to pave the way for the fifth coup in the history of modern Turkey.
The charges against the group, unveiled this summer in a 2,455-page indictment, include the murders of a judge, a priest, a journalist, three workers of a Christian publishing house, and the bombing of a newspaper. The group is also charged with plotting to kill public figures, including Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish novelist who won the Nobel Prize.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of the ruling Justice and Development Party, has been accused of using the case to silence critics who say his party has an Islamist agenda that undermines the secularism enshrined in Turkey's founding as a democracy in 1923. The party, known by its Turkish abbreviation AKP, insists that it has moved past its Islamic roots and has a modernizing agenda that includes greater freedom of religious expression.
The case has shocked Turkish society. Criticism of the military, even of former officers, is extremely rare, and the fact that Turkey is holding the trial at all is seen by some as victory for open society.
A new hearing was set for Thursday.