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Ergenekon’s case a test of democracy for Turkish society Thursday, 14 August, 2008

Posted by Farbod in Features.
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Sun, 10 Aug 2008 14:21:40 GMT
By Yusuf Fernandez, Press TV, Madrid

On July 25, a Turkish High Criminal Court in Istanbul formally accepted to indict the underground ultranationalist and secularist terrorist network known in the Turkish media as Ergenekon.

The indictment accused 86 people – 47 of whom are currently in prison – of forming or belonging to a terrorist organization or of trying to provoke an armed rebellion to bring down the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The 2,455-page document also accuses the suspects of possessing arms, explosives and classified documents. The arrests took place after a yearlong investigation that began when the police discovered a house full of ammunition and guns in Istanbul’s Umraniye district in July 2007. According to liberal-left newspaper Taraf, the investigation may lead to new waves of arrests.
Among the defendants are some high-ranking ex-military officials, such as retired senior generals Hursit Tolon as well as Sener Eruygur, who heads the Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD). The objective of Eruygur’s association is to spread the thought of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the ultra-secularist founder of Turkey. The ADD helped organize “republican rallies” ahead of the July elections last year to protest against an Islamist becoming president of Turkey.

Other members of Ergenekon included civilians, state bureaucrats, journalists, academics, politicians and even members of organized crime groups. Members of the judicial system were recruited to give the network legal immunity. The chairman of the powerful Ankara Chamber of Trade, Sinan Aygün, and the controversial ultranationalist lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, who has filed countless suits against writers and intellectuals at odds with Turkey’s official policies, are among the people detained for links to Ergenekon. This is what the Turkish media has called the “deep state.”

The suspected leaders are now in prison on charges of having attempted a number of coups and using illegal methods to influence the political arena.

The founding charter of Ergenekon was propagated by Turkish media outlets as well. It contains criteria for recruiting agents from among the “trustworthy” members of the Armed Forces. “These agents have to be ruthless people with the ability to perform independently. They should take orders directly from the commander of Ergenekon and they should be unknown to higher-level administrators, the organization’s personnel and its agents.”

The document also claims that the only way to protect a country is to stop politicians that act counter to “ideologies that violate principles of a regime in place,” claiming that the most effective way to stop such politicians is to “assassinate” them.
The Turkish “deep state” has its origins in what is commonly known as “Gladio” operations. This network was set up during the 1950s and was made up by indigenous stay-behind forces in NATO countries, which were trained to conduct insurgent operations in the event of a communist invasion or takeover.

Turkish Gladio groups were involved in covert operations against leftist forces in the 1970s, when the clashes between leftist and rightist groups brought Turkey to the brink of a civil war. They gathered intelligence and were responsible for many political assassinations of members and sympathizers of some leftist and Kurdish organizations in the country.

In the late 1990s, the network changed its target to combat what it saw as “the anti-secularist policies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government” and the increasing erosion of Turkey’s sovereignty as a result of its application for EU membership.

Actually, some secularist forces refuse to accept the fact that the AKP is one of the most popular political parties both in Turkey and in the Muslim world. Its ideology combines both progressive and conservative elements and its economic and democratic achievements have played a key role in its popularity. In the eyes of the Turkish people and other people in the region, the AKP represents two very important things: Firstly, respect for the society’s traditional and Islamic values, and secondly, a strong desire for change, development and democracy.

Ultrasecularist parties have lost all the elections to the AKP since 2002 and have also lost their hopes for a short-term electoral defeat of this party. Therefore, hard-line secularists of Ergenekon have been seeking other ways to topple the AKP government, and break apart any Islamist force in the country, put an end to the EU accession process and set up an authoritarian state.

Several Turkish papers have reported that former General Sener Eruygur had held plans for an imminent military coup. According to these reports, the conspirators planned demonstrations in 40 cities. Snipers would be hired to shoot at demonstrators and murder well-known people in order to create an atmosphere of terror, thus giving the military a pretext to intervene and topple the AKP government. Sympathetic journalists were expected to support the operation.

This operation would have led to the isolation of the country or even to a civil war as the Turkish public would not have stood silent against the kind of coup Ergenekon would try to provoke and this could have led to the lynching of the secularist opposition. AK Party deputy Avni Dogan believes that if the Ergenekon organization was not discovered, Turkey would have fallen into anarchy and chaos. “This was the target of the organization. They planned to create a country of anarchy and chaos,” he told the Turkish daily Zaman.

The indictment document points out that Ergenekon cooperated with -and in many cases had both created and subsequently controlled- some of the main terrorist organizations in Turkey. The prosecutors accuse Ergenekon of having ties with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan. Some experts hope that the true nature of the Ergenekon-PKK relationship will come to light in the following months.

The investigation is likely to result in the reopening of cases that have long been closed. Prosecutors accused Ergenekon of being behind 2006 attacks on Turkey’s administrative court and the pro-secular Cumhuriyet newspaper allegedly carried out by “Islamists”.

These attacks infuriated secularists and led to demonstrations against the Erdogan government. Ergenekon was also reportedly behind the attack on former Human Rights Association (IHD) President Akin Birdal, who managed to survive. The founder of the ultranationalist Turkish Revenge Brigade (TIT), the organization that carried out the assassination attempt against Birdal, is currently in prison as an Ergenekon suspect.

Other crimes that could have been committed by Ergenekon would be the assassination of the head of a business conglomerate, Ozdemir Sabanci, who has reportedly been shot dead by militants of the extreme-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front; the assassination of the secularist journalist Ugur Mumcu; and that of academic Necip Hablemitoglu.

The indictment also says Veli Küçük, believed to be one of the leading members of Ergenekon, threatened Hrant Dink, the famous Turkish-Armenian journalist, before his murder in 2007, a sign that the network could also be behind his death.

There are also claims that the Ergenekon gang was planning to kill some leading members of the Kurdish nationalist Democratic Society Party (DTP) and even Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, who has been subjected to a hate campaign by right-wing media outlets.

The indictment against Ergenekon has produced mixed reactions from the Turkish political community. For some reformists who support the AKP, the indictment is a key step towards further democratizing the country. Former AKP Parliament Speaker Manisa deputy Bülent Arinç thinks that the ongoing Ergenekon investigation is also an opportunity for an in-depth analysis of the past 50 years in Turkey.

The indictment has been hailed by most Turkish media outlets as a historic event, which may finally reveal the criminal activities of a secret network with deep roots in the army and the security forces.

The newspaper Sabah, for example, has reported that the indictment is a turning point for democratization and demilitarization because it may put an end to military coups. The secularist paper Milliyet is one of the few newspapers openly critical of the arrests. It has accused the Erdogan government of trying to achieve political benefits with their operation.

Most Turks also back the government’s campaign against Ergenekon. They think that the ongoing investigation has managed to remove the threat of the “untouchable deep state” working against Turkish democracy and stability. According to a poll published by Zaman, 65% of the Turkish public consider the indictment a necessary measure to save the country and its political system.

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