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Mystery of a killer elite fuels unrest in Turkey

Arrest of 47 people over alleged coup plot sparks fears of hidden ultra-right network

by Jason Burke


It has the elements of a thriller: a shadowy group of right-wing former soldiers, a mafia don, extremist lawyers and politicians; hand-grenades in a rucksack; plots to kill the Prime Minister and a Nobel-prize winning writer; allegedly planted evidence and falsified wire taps.

Even the name of the villains – the Ergenekon network – has an airport paperback flavour, and the stakes involved are high: the stability of one of the world’s most strategically important countries. This highly charged political reality is splitting Turkey.

In the coming days the Ergenekon investigation will reach its climax. According to newspaper reports, a long-awaited indictment will be issued by the state prosecutor. After successive waves of arrests, 47 people are in custody. They include senior figures in the ultra-right-wing Workers’ Party, a dozen retired senior army officers, journalists and a lawyer accused of launching legal attacks that drove Nobel award-winning writer Orhan Pamuk from his homeland.

Crimes being blamed on Ergenekon include a series of murderous bomb blasts, a grenade attack on a newspaper, the murder of an Italian bishop and the killing last year of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink – all aimed, investigators believe, at creating a climate of terror and chaos propitious to a military coup that would depose Turkey’s moderate Islamist government.

The coup attempt has revealed deep divisions in Turkey’s 73 million-strong population over the country’s identity: pro-European or anti-European, fiercely nationalist, ethnically homogeneous and militaristic, or globalised and pro-Western, more or less Islamic, more or less sunk in historical bitterness and dark conspiracy theories.

‘The cleavage is deep: every institution, every social class, everybody is divided,’ said Professor Murat Belge of Bigli University, Istanbul, an analyst. ‘I am deeply apprehensive about what is going on now and what might happen.’

But for Mehmet Demirlek, a lawyer defending a colleague accused of being a key member of Ergenekon, the allegations are ‘imaginary’. ‘There is not a shred of truth in them,’ he said. ‘This is 100 per cent political. It has all been cooked up by the government and by the imperialist powers, the CIA, Mossad and the Jewish lobby and the European Union to eliminate Turkish nationalism. There is no such thing as Ergenekon.’ His imprisoned client, Kemal Kerincsiz, told The Observer in an interview prior to his arrest he was a ‘patriot fighting the disintegration of the nation’.

For Fethiye Cetin, a lawyer representing Hrant Dink’s family, Ergenekon has ‘existed for years’. ‘A small part of what has been previously hidden is being exposed. Call it the “deep state”.’

An investigation was launched by state prosecutors after 27 hand-grenades, said to be the make used by the military, were found in a home in a rundown part of Istanbul last June. Investigators claim that they later uncovered an underground network dedicated to extremist nationalist agitation.

Wire taps led to further finds of explosives, weapons and documents listing security arrangements of senior political and military figures and death lists. The papers supposedly proving Ergenekon – the name of a mythic mountain in Asia where the ancestors of the Turkic peoples escaped the Mongols – was set up in 1999 as a clandestine and violent organisation aimed of maintaining a reactionary, purist vision of a strong, militaristic Turkey, the heritage, the extremists believed, of the founder of the nation, Kemal Ataturk.

The plotters tap ‘into a psyche that is based on a new and extreme nationalism’, said Cengiz Candar, one of Turkey’s most prominent journalists. ‘The idea is that to preserve Turkey it is necessary and legitimate to resist in any way. And anyone who is pro-European, liberal, who argues for increased rights for minorities and so on is a traitor.’

According to Candar, this new nationalism is the result of a coincidence of factors: the difficulties of Turkey’s accession to the European Union, soul-searching over nation identity generated by the debate on Europe, the emergence of a strong, semi-autonomous Kurdish state in post-Saddam Iraq with all the potential implications that has for Turkey’s large Kurdish population, and, perhaps most importantly, the continuing electoral success of the AKP, the Justice and Development party, the moderate Islamist party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan to power in 2002. ‘With no way of ousting them through democratic means, other means become attractive to the extremist nationalists. This country has a long tradition of such actions,’ said Candar.

Turkey’s political history has been marked by interventions by the army, each preceded by a period of violent instability and each justified by the need to preserve the constitution and the nation. The repeated electoral success of the AKP, its social and economic policies, its pro-European, pro-free market stance, the growth of newly wealthy, religiously conservative middle classes who vote for Erdogan and his colleagues and the party’s break with Turkey’s fiercely secular ideology – all threaten the nation’s powerful military and bureaucratic establishment.

A legal bid to ban the party – on the grounds that it wants to impose Sharia law on Turkey and thus overturn the constitution – is one tactic, AKP party loyalists say. Violence and the activities of Ergenekon is another. ‘How long are these people going to keep their power when it is incompatible with a European, fully democratic Turkey?’ asked Belge. ‘And how big is Ergenekon? Who are they? How high does it go?’

No official military spokesman would comment but General Haldu Somazturk, who retired three years ago, told The Observer ‘the Ergenekon group is trivial, barely worthy of attention’, saying that though ‘it was possible’ a few military officers might have become involved in the group, the vast majority of Turkish soldiers were ‘committed to maintaining democracy’.

Somazturk, who said that his own views ‘reflected those of most senior soldiers’, insisted ‘there are far more grave problems facing Turkey than a handful of right-wing crazies’. Instead, he said, it was the government that worried him. ‘The AKP are a concern. There is no such thing as moderate Islam. Either a government is influenced by religion or it isn’t. And if it is, then it is not secular and not democratic,’ he said. ‘We want to move democracy forward, they want to move it back and we are approaching a point of no return.’

In a rundown working-class suburb of Istanbul, far from the tourist sights of the historic centre, the deputy chairman of the Nationalist Action Party in the city, Nazmi Celenk, made an effort to show his party’s moderate side. ‘In Turkey we are on the front line of the clash of civilisations,’ he said. ‘We are the natural allies of America and Britain in this region. Our future is in Europe – but not necessarily in the European Union.’

Yet Celenk was critical of last week’s reform of Turkey’s strict rules on ‘insulting Turkishness’, pushed through parliament in the face of fierce resistance from the 70 deputies from his own party. If he was in power, Celenk said, the tight laws on freedom of expression would be maintained. And, if he had the power, he would invade Syria and split the state between Turkey and Iraq. The violent Kurdish activism in the south-east of his country would be solved ‘in 24 hours’.

A street away, a group of mechanics and local shopkeepers played backgammon. They said they were worried by rising crime, drug use and low wages,
but would not vote for the nationalists. ‘They try and cause fights between us to get votes,’ Hikmet, a bus owner, said.

Fethiye Cetin, the Dink family lawyer, is still optimistic despite the tensions. She discovered her own minority roots – an Armenian grandmother – at the age of 25. ‘This period is the peak of aggressive nationalism in Turkey, but there is still peace,’ she said in her small office on a hill above the blue waters of the Sea of Marmara. ‘But everyone always focuses on the negative side and never on the tens of millions who live together without any trouble at all.’
Victim of the plot?

Hrant Dink was a 52-year-old journalist, assassinated in January 2007. As co-founder of Agos, a newspaper published in both Turkish and Armenian, he became a prominent member of the Armenian minority in Turkey and pushed for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and human rights.

Dink was shot in Istanbul by Ogün Samast, a 17-year old Turkish nationalist. 100,000 mourners turned out to Dink’s funeral to chant: ‘We are all Armenians’.


2 comments for “Mystery of a killer elite fuels unrest in Turkey”

  1. This is an update on Turkish Taffy (FTR #739), and the Ergenekon Network’s trials.


    326 convicted in Turkey military coup plot

    By SUZAN FRASER, Associated Press – 2 days ago

    ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish court on Friday convicted 326 military officers, including the former air force and navy chiefs, of plotting to overthrow the nation’s Islamic-based government in 2003, in a case that has helped curtail the military’s hold on politics.

    A panel of three judges at the court on Istanbul’s outskirts initially sentenced former air force chief Ibrahim Firtina, former navy chief Ozden Ornek and former army commander Cetin Dogan to life imprisonment but later reduced the sentence to a 20-year jail term because the plot had been unsuccessful, state-run TRT television reported. The three were accused of masterminding the plot.

    The court also convicted 323 other active or retired officers, including a former general elected to Parliament a year ago— of involvement in the conspiracy, sentencing some to as much as 18 years in prison. Thirty-six were acquitted, while the case against three other defendants was postponed.

    The officers were all expected to appeal the verdicts.

    The trial of the high-ranking officers — inconceivable in Turkey a decade ago — has helped significantly to tip the balance of power in the country in favor of civilian authorities.

    Turkey’s generals have staged three coups since the 1960s and forced an Islamist government to quit in 1997.

    But the current government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has grown ever more confident with each of its three electoral successes since 2002, and has been limiting the powers of the armed forces which have long seen themselves as the guardians of Turkey’s secular traditions.

    Erdogan’s government has hailed the trial, which began in December 2010, and other similar ones as a break with a tradition of impunity and a move toward greater democracy.

    However, the officers’ case — dubbed “Sledgehammer” after the alleged conspiracy — has been marred by the suspects’ long confinement without a verdict and some judicial flaws, including allegations of fabricated evidence. The government’s secular critics have denounced the coup plot trials as a ploy to intimidate opponents.

    Some defense lawyers have refused to appear in court for the past five months, saying the authenticity of some of the evidence was not investigated.

    Erdogan said he hoped Friday’s verdict was a “just” one but refused to comment further, saying he had not seen the reasoning behind the verdicts and the proceedings against the military officers were not over yet.

    “We have to see the appeals phase,” Erdogan said. “The final dot has not been placed yet. The process is continuing.”

    Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim said: “We all hope that no anti-democratic initiative ever occurs in our country again.”

    Prosecutors accused the 365 defendants in the trial of plotting to depose Erdogan by triggering turmoil in the country that would have paved the way for a military takeover. They claimed the plotters, taking part in an army seminar in 2003, drew up plans for a coup which included bombings of mosques, the downing of a Turkish fighter plane and other acts of violence that would have allowed the military to intervene on the pretext of restoring order.

    The military has said officers taking part in the seminar discussed a fictitious scenario involving internal conflict, but that there were no plans for a military coup.

    Protests broke out soon after Friday’s verdicts were announced, Hurriyet newspaper reported, with some of the officers’ supporters booing the decision inside the courthouse and others waving Turkish flags and shouting “Turkey is secular and will remain secular” outside.

    Celal Ulgen, the lawyer defending Dogan — accused of being the main ringleader — called the court’s decision unjust and unlawful. “Their rights to defend themselves were violated,” Ulgen told NTV television. “There is no independent judiciary.”

    Dogan said in his final defense statement Thursday that the trial was a political one designed to undermine the military. “It is a case assembled to make soldiers, be they active-duty or retired soldiers, pay the penance for their loyalty to the republic and its (secular) principles,” he said.

    More than 400 other people — including journalists, academics, politicians and soldiers — are also on trial on charges of involvement in a conspiracy by an alleged gang of secular nationalists called “Ergenekon.”

    The former head of the Turkish armed forces, Gen. Ilker Basbug, and other military officers are, meanwhile, awaiting trial in a separate case.

    Two elderly leaders of Turkey’s 1980 military coup, Kenan Evren and Tahsin Sahinkaya, are being prosecuted for the military takeover that saw many cases of torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killings.

    Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


    Turkish court finds 330 military staff guilty of attempted coup

    Sentences to range between 15-20 years for officers as civilian government flexes muscles against once-supreme army

    Friday 21 September 2012

    A Turkish court has convicted 330 former and current military officers of plotting a coup to overthrow prime minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

    The court earlier sentenced three former generals to life in prison, which was reduced to 20 years each because the coup plot was unsuccessful, and two serving and one former general to 18 years.

    Sentencing is still to come for the remaining 324 defendants convicted of a role in the plot.

    The court earlier acquitted 34 officers in the case, which has underlined civilian dominance over the once all-powerful military in Turkey.

    The “Sledgehammer” conspiracy is alleged to have included plans to bomb historic mosques in Istanbul and trigger conflict with Greece to pave the way for an army takeover.

    Prosecutors had demanded 15-20 year jail sentences for the 365 defendants, 364 of them serving and retired officers.

    The Turkish army has traditionally played a dominant role in politics, staging three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pushing the country’s first Islamist-led government from office in 1997.

    Its authority has been reined in sharply since Erdogan first came to power nearly a decade ago and the trial has been seen as a show of strength by a government that has emerged from its shadow.

    Posted by R. Wilson | September 23, 2012, 12:17 pm
  2. This article is from Today’s Zaman, which is a Gulen rag, so it must be taken with some salt.


    One arrested as plot to assasinate Patriarch Bartholomew uncovered

    10 May 2013 /BAYRAM KAYA, ANKARA
    The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation into an alleged plot to assassinate Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I on the 560th anniversary of the conquest of İstanbul by the Ottomans, with police arresting one suspect and still seeking two others.

    The probe was launched on an anonymous letter sent to the Kayseri Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office that informed officials about the plot. According to the letter, Serdar A., who was later detained by police, and two other suspects, who have not yet been identified, were planning to assassinate Bartholomew on May 29, the anniversary of İstanbul’s conquest. The letter said the suspect traveled to İstanbul between April 15 and 20 as part of their plan. He later went back to Kayseri to inform his two friends about the details of the plot to assassinate the patriarch.

    Kayseri police learned about the plot after an anonymous person recently sent a note to a police department, asking authorities to be watchful against a possible attack against Bartholomew.

    Police detained Serdar A. in the Melikgazi district of Kayseri as part of the investigation and are reportedly searching for the two other suspects. During a police interrogation, the suspect denied accusations that he was planning to kill the patriarch. He said he visited his relatives during his İstanbul visit and looked for a job there. “I do not know even where Bartholomew is living. I do not know what his title or job is. I just saw him in the media. I have no plans or intentions to kill him,” he reportedly told the police. Police officers later sent the suspect to the Kayseri Courthouse to be interrogated by prosecutors. Serdar A. was arrested and sent to jail pending trial after the prosecutor’s questioning.

    Police sources said the suspect was detained six times before for being involved in different crimes, including threatening and racketeering individuals.

    This is the second time Turkish authorities have discovered a plot to assassinate Bartholomew.

    A separate case filed regarding another plot to assassinate the İstanbul-based leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians was earlier merged with the ongoing investigation into Ergenekon, a suspected criminal network charged with plotting to overthrow the Turkish government.

    The plot to kill Bartholomew is thought to be part of the Cage Operation Action Plan, a subversive plot allegedly devised by military officers that sought to undermine the government through the assassination of non-Muslims and other acts of terror. The Cage plan was allegedly drawn up on the orders of Ergenekon. The Cage plan documents specifically refer to the killings of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, Catholic priest Father Andrea Santoro and three Christians in Malatya as an “operation.”

    During an interview in 2009, Bartholomew said that “dark forces planned to use minorities to overthrow the government,” as revealed in the investigation into Ergenekon.

    Based in İstanbul, the spiritual leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians was referring to the revelations of the Cage plan. “When the Cage plan was revealed, we thought the raid could be part of that plan,” he said. “At the time we thought that they were just trying to scare us.” Patriarch Bartholomew said he is grateful to the security forces who uncovered the “dark plans.” “It is a very satisfactory development that the police and prosecutors have been revealing those dark plans so those responsible can be captured and tried.”

    Bartholomew’s name is also on the Sledgehammer coup plot’s “to be assassinated” list. The plot, which was allegedly prepared by a pro-junta group nested within the armed forces, was revealed by the Taraf daily in early 2010. Non-Muslims such as Armenian Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan and former Vatican representative George Marovic were also on the Sledgehammer death list.

    Sledgehammer is a suspected coup plot allegedly devised in 2003 at a military gathering. According to the plan, the military was to systematically foment chaos in society through violent acts, among which were planned bomb attacks on the Fatih and Beyazıt mosques in İstanbul. The plot allegedly sought to undermine the government and lay the groundwork for a military takeover.

    Posted by Vanfield | May 12, 2013, 6:02 pm

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