Deep State Coup Averted in Turkey

Fe bruary 9, 2008
Deep State Coup Averted in Turkey
by Christopher Deliso

On 22 January, Turkish police arrested 33 individuals, some connected
with the military, in the largest concerted action against the "deep
state" – that shadowy underworld linking extremists and criminals from
the spheres of military, political, judicial and the academy. Some
were accused of belonging to an ultranationalist group, Ergenekon,
that was allegedly "preparing a series of bomb attacks aimed at
fomenting chaos ahead of a coup in 2009 against Turkey’s center-right
government, whose European Union-linked reforms are opposed by
ultranationalists." The ultranationalists (who also distrust the
Erdogan government for its alleged Islamist agenda) were plotting to
assassinate prominent cultural figures, such as Nobel-prize winning
novelist Orhan Pamuk, journalist Fehmi Koru, and possibly Kurdish
politicians. The deaths of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, two Italian
priests and three Protestant missionaries have already been blamed on
ultranationalists associated with the Ergenekon group.

The police had been investigating the group for the past few years,
compiling in the process a dossier of some 7,000 pages. The current
operation was sparked following a police raid in Istanbul this past
summer, which recovered weapons (and some low-ranking military men).
But the big fish, including two retired generals, were only caught in
the recent police operation. While it seems to have been a major
victory for the government and for Turkey in general, many have
expressed cynicism that a completely thorough investigation will ever
be accomplished. Because the case involves high-ranking officials from
the military – that self-appointed guarantor of Turkey’s secular,
constitutional order – "it remains to be seen whether the cases will
be brought to trial," states the Guardian.

But it is not so simple as just a matter of upholding army pride. The
activities of the gang, which apparently ranged from false-flag
terrorist attacks and assassinations to drug smuggling and espionage,
are closely intertwined with the fortunes and affairs of the ruling
class in Turkey. As editors and local commentators have been saying,
to really act against the deep state is almost unimaginable; no one
knows where the trail might ultimately lead.

Deep Background: The Cold War, NATO and the Rise of the Deep State

We do, however, know where it started – and why. Indeed, it is more
than a bit ironic that the major recurring threat to society and
political stability in Turkey over the past 60 years, the "Deep
State," was actually enabled by the country’s Western allies, and
first of all, America. After WWII and with the creation of NATO, the
military alliance created "secret armies" throughout Europe,
consisting of so-called "stay behind" forces, charged with waging
sabotage campaigns and resistance in the case of a Soviet invasion.
However, they became prone to corruption, interference with domestic
politics and society, and were in some cases involved with brutality
against Leftists and the citizenry in general. While the most famous
of NATO’s secret armies was the Gladio operation in Italy, it was
arguable in Turkey that this dangerous policy had the most serious
long-term consequences, with the creation of a stay-behind force known
as the Counter-Guerrillas.

The core of this covert paramilitary force was made up of right-wing
radicals and fascists who espoused a narrative of inherent Turkish
greatness and racial superiority, in the context of not only Turkey
itself but of the ethnically Turkic republics of Central Asia (then
under Soviet control); there were also the fond dreams of the bygone
Ottoman Empire which, in its heyday, spread across the Middle East,
North Africa and the Balkans.

The Counter-Guerrillas were officially a part of the Turkish Army’s
Special Warfare Department, and housed in the US Military Aid Mission
building in Ankara, according to a Los Angeles Times report from 1998.
This department received funding and training from U.S. advisors to
establish, as in other NATO states,"stay behind" squads of civilian
irregulars who would theoretically vex the invading Soviets. Stocking
the staff was accomplished partially through a nationwide "youth
group," the Grey Wolves, established in 1969 under the aegis of the
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and its leader, Alparslan Türkes.
This Counter-Guerrilla member and ultranationalist politician dreamed
of creating the mythical "Turan" – a pan-Turkic empire which would
stretch through the Central Asian republics, and include the Uighur
Turks of western China’s Xinjiang province.

Naturally, the Counter-Guerrillas and Grey Wolves also operated
closely with Turkey’s intelligence service, the MIT, and were used by
right-wing governments to suppress civil liberties. Military coups in
1971 and 1980, and chronic massacres of civilian demonstrators
throughout the 1970s, were all led by Counter-Guerrilla/Grey Wolves
elements. The American intelligence services at times appear to have
been supportive, regardless of the ominous implications for democracy.
Immediately after the 1980 military coup that brought General Kenan
Evren to power, American CIA Ankara station chief Paul Henze
reportedly cabled Washington exulting, "our boys have done it." At
that time, the Grey Wolves had 200,000 registered members and one
million sympathizers nationwide, though the Turkish Deep State was
still in embryonic form compared to the decade that was to come.

When domestic political fortunes changed, important figures such as
Colonel Türkes, and other Grey Wolves were arrested. However, those
who volunteered to fight against Kurdish and Armenian groups were
often released. With the outbreak of war against the Kurdish PKK
(Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, or Kurdistan Workers Party) in the 1980s,
the covert force turned to "black ops" such as torturing and killing
Kurds while disguised in PKK uniforms. Further, an Islamic terrorist
organization, Turkish Hizbollah (not related to Hizbollah in Lebanon)
was reportedly created by the Turkish military and the MIT in the
1980s, to divide the rebelling Kurds in the southeast. In all, up to
20,000 Islamic fighters, most of them Kurds, were indoctrinated and
organized into proxy terrorist and assassination squads. Throughout
the 1990s, Turkish Hizbollah murdered over 3,000 businessmen and
ordinary civilians in assassinations and bombings. This monstrous
creation was modeled on America’s apparent success in Afghanistan,
where it had created bin Laden’s mujahedin to fight the Soviets.

The state’s role with Turkish Hizbollah was confirmed in February
2000, when former Prime Minister Tansu Çiller admitted publicly that
she had ordered the military to arm the group six years earlier.
Çiller justified the jihadis as a necessary part of Turkey’s own war
on terror. In his book Crescent and Star: Turkey between Two Worlds,
the former New York Times bureau chief in Istanbul, Stephen Kinzer,
recounted Ms Çiller’s scandalous statements. "Yes, it was my signature
on the order to deliver those weapons," she said. "We met and made a
decision. We decided that terror was the main issue and that whatever
was necessary to stop it would be done… The military chief of staff,
the governors, the police – everyone worked together on it."

The deep state also played a major role in heroin smuggling from
Afghanistan through Turkey, a route which now accounts for around 90
percent of heroin smuggled into Europe. Like everything else, there
were no clear-cut lines of control between political parties,
ethnicities, or services. By 1998, for example, at least 15 MIT
officers had been killed in the vicious internal battle between the
intelligence service and the police over control of the drug trade.
"Only criminal networks working in close cooperation with the police
and the army could possibly organize trafficking on such a scale,"
concluded Le Monde Diplomatique. The celebrated former FBI translator
and whistleblower Sibel Edmonds writes that "the Turkish government,
MIT and the Turkish military, not only sanctions, but also actively
participates in and oversees the narcotics activities and networks."

One such network was discovered in 1998, when Turkish police were
accused of using their European embassies to aid smuggling. Huseyin
Baybasin, known as "Europe’s Pablo Escobar," masterminded the drug
flow to Britain. According to the Guardian, the Kurdish kingpin was
granted asylum there in 1995, in exchange for informing the British
Customs & Excise service about Turkish officials involved in heroin
trafficking. After his arrest in Holland soon thereafter, Baybasin
disclosed that he had received "the assistance of Turkish embassies
and consulates while moving huge shipments of drugs around Europe, and
that Turkish army officers serving with NATO in Belgium were also
involved. "The government kept all doors open for us," he said for the
Guardian. "We could do as we pleased." A senior UK Customs officer
stated that the drug barons evaded arrest, as they were "protected" at
a high level.

The one single incident that encapsulates what the Turkish deep state
is all about for many Turks occurred on November 3, 1996 near the town
of Susurluk, on the Izmir-Istanbul road. A car crash there killed what
would seem an unusual group of friends: the counterterrorism police
chief, a Turkish beauty queen, and her lover, the former Grey Wolves
leader and drug smuggler Abdullah Catli. Pistols with silencers and
machine guns, plus false diplomatic passports, were found in the
mangled car’s trunk. The only survivor, Kurdish parliamentarian Sedat
Bucak, was a tribal chief who administered a swathe of land in the
Kurdish southeast as a liegeman of the government. He guarded it with
his private army, and "thus acquired the power of life and death over
the area’s inhabitants," reported the French newspaper. For his part,
Catli "was a heroin trafficker on Interpol’s wanted list [and] was
carrying a diplomatic passport signed by none other than the Turkish
Interior Minister himself."

Catli’s team of hired assassins were alleged to have worked from a
"list" kept by Prime Minister Çiller. According to Le Monde
Diplomatique, she hailed him as a "great patriot" at his ignominious
funeral. Catli was known for racketeering people by warning them that
they were on "Çiller’s list"; if they paid up, he could get their
names removed. However, "having pocketed the money, he then went on to
have them kidnapped and killed, and sometimes tortured beforehand."

Signs of Continuity: Activities, Ideology and Personnel

The dramatic recent arrests of the Ergenekon gang show that the
descendents of NATO’s secret army in Turkey remain serious threats to
internal stability – the extent to which seems to have surprised many
Turks, judging from the tone of recent media reactions. Yet it also
seems that there is now a popular will to oppose them, stronger
perhaps than in years past. This week, across the Turkish media, the
cry has gone out to slay the beast once and for all. While the
American media seems content to not follow the story through to its
logical conclusion, the Turks know better. Respected Turkish columnist
Ali Bayramoglu sums it all up:

"…one looking for Ergenekon need not go too far. This is the story of
Ergenekon – the Turkish Gladio – from the assassination of
[journalist] Abdi I.pekçi [in 1979] to ‘the massacre of March 16’ [in
1978, when seven students at an Istanbul university were killed in a
bomb attack], then peaking in Susurluk and possibly involved in the
Council of State shooting [of a senior judge in 2006]."

Indeed, the similarities are striking, and not only in the use of
strategic and deceptive organized violence for political ends. The
very name of today’s troublemakers, Ergenekon, is rhetorically loaded:
as the Turkish Daily News reminds,

"…the name ‘Ergenekon’ implies an ideological link to the Turkish
far-right, as in Turkic genesis mythology, it is believed that a gray
wolf showed the Turks the way out of their legendary homeland, [the
valley of] ‘Ergenekon.’ Turkish ultranationalists have used the name
‘Grey Wolf’ for decades."

Recent reports have also attested to a continued reliance on heroin
smuggling for funding false-flag terrorism within Turkey. Turkish
newspaper Zaman reports:

"…Germany’s Niedersachsen State’s anti-drug department, the LKA, which
tapped the phones of some of the Ergenekon members as part of a
narcotics investigation, proved that Ergenekon members were indeed in
the drug business as well. The records of a Nov. 20, 2003 phone
conversation between retired Capt. Muzaffer Tekin, arrested in June of
last year as the owner of the munitions depot found in an Istanbul
shantytown that started the Ergenekon operation, and Yilmaz
Tavukçuoglu, an alleged drug trafficker, shows that Ergenekon used
drug money to fund its activities."

Together with the continuity of violent activities intended, as in
years past, to presage a military takeover, the Deep State’s rumblings
continue to be fuelled by drug profits and enlivened by the old
fascistic brand of nationalism. An example is the professor and
intellectual figurehead of the movement, Ümit Sayin, who in November
urged followers to stage a coup d’état, describing himself "as being
anti-Semitic, saying that Jewish people were fanatical, racist and in
favor of religious law. ‘Hitler was right about certain things,’ he

In addition, the same cast of characters, some with direct connections
to events of years past such as the Susurluk scandal, have been
targets of the latest police action. The ringleader of the Ergenekon
group, according to the Turkish media, is Veli Küçük, "a retired
general who is also the alleged founder of a secret intelligence unit
in the gendarmerie," a man who had hovered on the periphery of
previous Deep State investigations; though Küçük’s surreptitious
squad, the JITEM, allegedly "carried out bombings and killings for
which other groups were widely blamed," he somehow always managed to
not be implicated (a Kurdish former informant quoted by Zaman charges
that the general is covering for figures even higher-up sympathetic to
the coup attempt).

Another former military man, retired army colonel Fikret Karadag,
"also heads the Association for the Union of Patriotic Forces (VKGB),"
one of several activist groups that have followed in the footsteps of
the 1960s-era quasi-political organizations that fed the original Grey
Wolves movement. Sami Hostan, another suspect, was "a key figure in
the Susurluk investigation." Also arrested was Sevgi Erenerol, a
former political ally of Alparslan Türkes, and spokeswoman for the
so-called "Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate," a church without a
congregation, simply a front and meeting place for nationalist

The most recent reports claim that Gen. Küçük "had tried to ring
‘influential friends’ just before his arrest on Jan. 22." Aware that
police were closing in, the former general "made eight phone calls to
‘influential friends,’ telling them that the police were waiting at
the door to take him into custody, and asked for help – but his pleas
for help were rejected."

However, despite this eleventh-hour setback, other new information
reveals the intricate web of plotters, from low-level assassins to
high officials, involved in the plot. Zaman adds:

"…a plot to kill Turkey’s only Nobel Prize-winning author, Orhan
Pamuk, was also among Ergenekon’s plans. Newspapers printed
transcripts of recorded phone conversations between Spc. Sgt. Muhammed
Yüce, Ret. Col. Fikri Karadag and Selim Akkurt, the trigger-man hired
to do the job, whose phones were tapped with a court order. Officials
say that Yüce, who was also arrested for being part of the Ergenekon
organization, said in a phone conversation with the hit-man that he
had spoken to Karadag about the planned Pamuk assassination. Yüce told
Akkus, that an Istanbul businessman would financially support them as
would a prosecutor and a judge in Istanbul’s Kadiköy district.

Akkurt, who spoke in a worried tone, is quoted as saying he was
concerned he might end up like Mehmet Ali Agca, a deep-state assassin
who also shot the pope in the ’70s. Akkurt expressed a desire to be
like O.S., the teenager who shot Dink in January of last year, saying:
‘He has trillions of lira in his account. Plus, those around him have
become heroes.’ In response to these words, Yüce was quoted as having
said: ‘You, me and Fuci will take care of Orhan Pamuk. We will have
YTL [New Turkish Lira] 2 million in our accounts. Are you with me on
this one?’ Akkurt is heard giving an affirmative response to Yüce’s
question in the recordings.

Shortly after his conversation with Akkurt, Yüce sent a text message
to a relative in which he wrote: ‘We will take care of Orhan after the
conference. They will put in [YTL] 5 billion into our account. They
will give us a gas station and a villa. Sedat Peker will take care of
us while we’re in jail.’ Peker is an ultranationalist mafia leader
with apparent links to deep-state figures."

For Turkish sociologist Cem Özatalay, a wide consensus of powers had
grown concerned enough to instigate the recent action: "it is clear
that the USA, the General Staff and the AKP [Turkey’s ruling party]
have agreed to break the back of Ergenekon." Indeed, it is interesting
to note that the robust action against the ultranationalist group
unfolded not long after Turkish President Abdullah Gül returned from
meetings with US President Bush in the White House. And, despite the
significant participation of disgruntled elements in the army and
former military officials in the plot, it seems clear that the Turkish
military as an institution would prefer to keep the uneasy peace with
the allegedly ‘Islamist’ government of Prime Minister Erdogan, rather
than engage in old adventures that would diminish Turkey’s standing
abroad and quite possibly affect its ability to access Western
military technology at a time when Turkey is trying to create an
independent defense industry of its own. In denying army support for
the coup attempt, Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff General
Yasar Buyukanit recently stated that "at every opportunity, there have
been in the past and there continue to be efforts to link the armed
forces with these kinds of things."

Uncharted Territory

Aside from keeping foreign policy leverage and ensuring defense
industry cooperation, there might be a third reason why there was not
wide support in the Turkish establishment, either civilian and
military, for a coup, though at bottom it does have import for
watchers of Turkey’s deep state activities. This is the planned
participation of Turkey (along with other American allies in the
Middle East and North Africa) in an American-led program, GNEP, to
create nuclear power plants as a means for alleviating energy strain
and dependence on oil. On 22 January, as the Ergenekon arrests were
going down in Turkey, Washington announced that the country would get
the green light to go ahead with the program.

Aside from the rather alarming possible implications of juicing up,
say, Saudi Arabia, there are other items of interest here, the most
relevant being the question of why an agreement on nuclear technology
transfer to NATO-ally Turkey had not been achieved long ago. Indeed,
why not? As the AFP reported:

"…the deal stalled shortly after being signed in July 2000 because US
agencies received ‘information implicating Turkish private entities in
certain activities directly relating to nuclear proliferation,’ the
White House said… ‘the pertinent issues have been sufficiently

Whether through a remarkable harmonic convergence of events or just
plain coincidence, the GTEP deal is peaking just at the moment Turkey
appears to be gaining the upper hand in the struggle against the deep
state – and, not to mention, at just the same moment that London’s
Sunday Times has come out with a serial investigation on what would
seem to be exactly this subject: the role of Turkish deep state
figures in the theft of American nuclear secrets, at precisely the
moment American security agencies were stumbling across "information
implicating Turkish private entities in certain activities directly
relating to nuclear proliferation."

Some have speculated that legalizing the nuclear trade with Turkey is
the Bush administration’s way of retroactively legalizing the
activities of any of the shadowy governmental figures that the Times
alleges were involved with the illicit commerce, so that they cannot
be touched in the event that their alleged misdoings are exposed. I do
not know enough about how such legislation works to be able to comment
on the likelihood of this or not, but even if so, it would seem a
rather small element of what is a global program with objectives
beyond securing the legacies of a few bad apple bureaucrats.

However, it certainly is remarkable that none of the Western media
bodies reporting on the GNEP developments, or on the recent arrests in
Turkey, have examined these events in the larger context of the
historic US/NATO role in creating the Turkish deep state, and of what
the Times alleges, not to mention attempting to put all the pieces

Maybe the pieces fit; maybe they don’t. Yet unless the mainstream
media (the only media well-funded enough to undertake a proper
investigation) starts to take an interest, we will never know. After
all, no one in officialdom is talking about the Times’ allegations and
yet, somehow, "the pertinent issues have been sufficiently resolved,"
says the White House. In other words, Turkey’s proliferation
violations have been solved – even though they have never been
properly explained, or even admitted, by the powers that be.

You may also like