Turkey Shocked By Allegations In Ergenekon Indictment


Southeast European Times
July 16 2008

A group of retired Turkish soldiers and hard-liner nationalists face
charges of belonging to an alleged "terrorist network" that aimed to
oust the Islamist-rooted government.

By Ayhan Simsek for Southeast European Times — 16/07/08

The indictment against the shadowy Ergenekon group went to court Monday
(July 14th), following a 13-month-long investigation. The indictment
covers charges against 84 suspects. An additional indictment to follow
will include charges against 20 other suspects detained early this
month. Retired four-star generals Hursit Tolon and Sener Eruygur,
the latter of whom chairs the Ataturkist Thought Association, are
the alleged leaders of the group.

Turkey’s secular opposition claims the government-backed case is
"revenge" for the ongoing closure case against the Islamist-rooted
ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the Constitutional
Court. Both cases deepened Turkey’s worst political crisis in decades.

The 2,455-page Ergenekon indictment remains confidential, but
information leaked to the press includes sensational claims about
recent events in Turkey.

Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin said on Monday that
alleged Ergenekon members face charges of "inciting others" to commit
several assaults, including last year’s Council of State shooting
and a hand grenade attack at the secular daily Cumhuriyet’s Istanbul

Observers initially attributed those incidents to radical Islamist
militants, portraying them as symptoms of a greater threat of Islamism
in the majority-Muslim but secular country. Earlier press reports
on Ergenekon alleged it had links to the murder of Turkish-Armenian
journalist Hrant Dink, though this did not appear in the indictment.

Engin said the suspects belonged to an "armed terrorist group"
that reporters identified as Ergenekon. "The terrorist organisation
mentioned in the indictment is not a separatist or ideological
organisation in the classic sense," Engin said. But still, it is
defined as a "terrorist group" under Turkish law.

The investigation started last year, when police discovered a house
full of ammunition and guns in Istanbul’s Umraniye district. Police
first detained a group of low-ranking veterans and members of a
criminal organisation, but the operation expanded to include hard-line
nationalist and secular politicians, journalists and other suspects,
after Turkey’s chief prosecutor asked the Constitutional Court to shut
down the ruling AKP, on the grounds that it was undermining Turkey’s
secular system.

The AKP denies influencing the judiciary on the case but makes no
secret of backing the probe.

The indictment claims that Ergenekon, allegedly under the control of
some retired generals and with links to active troops, aims at becoming
the real power in Turkey. Prosecutors say Ergenekon has far-flung
cells, including media personalities and assassins, but that those
cells have no contact with each other and receive instructions from
the top. The indictment claims Ergenekon has tried to develop chemical
and biological warfare and was behind drug trafficking in Turkey.

Despite these sensational claims, prosecutors have yet to advance
evidence of connections between known criminals under arrest
and the other suspects, namely, the ex-generals, politicians and
journalists known for strong opposition to the Islamist-rooted
government. Prosecutors say they have around 20 witnesses who will
testify while having their identities protected.

Eruygur is accused of preparing several failed attempts at a military
coup during and after his term as the commander of the gendarmerie
forces between 2002 and 2004. The general also faces charges of
plotting violent attacks and assassinations this year to provoke a
military overthrow of the AKP government.

The detained ex-generals insist they have done nothing illegal or
against the interests of Turkey, and the Turkish armed forces deny
any link to Ergenekon.

Despite the crisis, for some liberal thinkers, the process is an
important step in strengthening Turkish democracy. "This is the start
of a new period in Turkey," argued Ali Bayramoglu, a writer for the
pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper. "In a country where we had two
direct and two indirect military interventions, now for the first time
retired generals are brought into court for preparing coups," he said.

But not all pundits share Bayramoglu’s view. A leftist writer and
Ankara University scholar, Turker Alkan, believes that the probe
reflects a power struggle between secularists and Islamists rather
than a move towards higher democratic standards.

"In history, there is no example of a coup by retired generals," Alkan
wrote for his column in the Radikal daily. "And neither domestic nor
international conditions … could justify a coup in today’s Turkey."