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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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