Ergenekon Indictment Deepens Divisions In Turkish Politics

Saban Kardas

Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC
July 18 2008

A suspect in the Ergenekon operation Turkish prosecutors investigating
the Ergenekon network finally submitted their indictment to the court
on July 14. The indictment was presented a year after the network
was first discovered and many influential figures including retired
army generals, journalists, businessmen and academics were arrested or
interrogated as part of the investigation. This delay has caused much
speculation that the investigation was being used by the government
to silence the opposition. The substance of the indictment is also
a matter of contention, because in the wake of different waves of
arrests, the case has evolved from the investigation of a criminal
organization into a probe of a network connected to the "deep state"
with extensions in various sectors of civil society seeking to change
the government, by staging a coup if necessary.

Istanbul’s high criminal court will examine the 2,500-page indictment
and decide whether to accept it and open the case, reject it, or
return it to the prosecutors for amendments. This process may take
up to two weeks, and the court is currently working hard to ensure
that its procedure is compatible with the penal code (CNNTurk, July
16). In the meantime, the indictment cannot be made public; but in
an unusual press briefing, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor summarized
the main charges. There are a total of 86 suspects, of whom 48 are in
custody and 38 temporarily released. It is not clear which ones will
be tried for which crimes. Sections of the indictment have been leaked
to the press as well. The prosecutors accuse the suspects of various
crimes including "membership in an armed terrorist group"; "attempting
to destroy the government of the Republic of Turkey or block it from
performing its duties"; and "being in possession of explosives, using
them, and inciting others to commit these crimes." More importantly,
the prosecutors have established connections between the Ergenekon
network and the 2006 Council of State shooting and an attack at the
daily Cumhuriyet’s Istanbul office. Moreover, the indictment charges
the suspects with inciting several unresolved murders in Turkey’s
recent past, which may lead to the reopening of some closed cases
(CNNTurk, July 14).

The indictment produced mixed reactions from the Turkish political
community and the Turkish media. For some reformists it was a step
toward further democratizing the country, while others found that
it did not live up to expectations. The opposition, in contrast,
believes that the case is highly politicized.

The core of the indictment is its labeling of Ergenekon as a "terrorist
network." It does not include charges related to staging a coup, and
therefore the notorious "coup diaries" are not among the evidence
presented. Treating Ergenekon as a terrorist organization rather
than as a "junta" has enabled critics to argue that the controversy
created previously around the investigation was baseless and that the
pro-government media overstated its case by connecting many unrelated
charges to Ergenekon (Cuneyt Ulsever, Hurriyet, July 15-16). Reformists
see this move as deliberate insofar as the suspects will be tried
by the civilian penal system and a transfer to the military courts
has been prevented. In the notorious Semdinli case, according to the
reformists, the transfer of the file to the military tribunal hijacked
the entire case and thwarted the investigation into the involvement
of military officers in subversive activities (Samil Tayyar, Star,
July 16). For the reformists, the very act of bringing former military
officers to trial under the civilian penal code, together with the
cooperation of the military, is a revolutionary step for the Turkish
political system (Today’s Zaman, July 16).

Avoiding mentioning a "coup" also results from the fact that the
suspects taken into custody in the wave of arrests in early July
are not included in the indictment. Although initially there were
expectations that a complementary indictment for them would be
submitted in the following days, it was later announced that there
would be a separate indictment for them that might be combined with
the original one in the course of trial (Milliyet, July 16, 17).

Because some former and possibly active military personnel and
military-related information were involved, there was speculation
at first that the military had initiated a separate investigation,
but those claims were denied by the military prosecutor (Hurriyet,
July 17). Aksam claimed, however, that the Air Force’s prosecutor was
investigating an illegal formation in Turkish Armed Forces and whether
it was tied to Ergenekon. This formation was allegedly uncovered
by a National Intelligence Service report that was handed over to
the military authorities by the civilian prosecutors in charge of
the Ergenekon case (Aksam, July 18). An article in Taraf, however,
argued that even if the case involved active officers, it would have
to be heard by civilian courts (Taraf, July 15).

For reformists, the case is a revolutionary step for Turkish
democracy. The liberal-left Taraf has already published documents
exposing a new illegal organization named Lobi and revealing its plans
of operation; and it has implied that the Ergenekon investigation
might be deepened further through new waves of arrests (Taraf, July
16). For Sabah, the case is a turning point for democratization and
demilitarization, because it will end a tradition of coups dating
back to the late Ottoman period (Soli Ozel, Sabah, July 17). For
Yeni Safak, it may uncover the Turkish Gladio and normalize Turkey
(Fehmi Koru, Yeni Safak, July 17). The liberal-left Radikal sees the
possibility of reopening unresolved murder cases as a light of hope
for the relatives of victims and for Turkish democracy (Radikal, July
16). In Today’s Zaman Kerim Balci views Ergenekon as "the Copernican
revolution of Turkish republican history…. Starting from the forced
Armenian emigration, I propose [that] each and every illegal event
in our recent past be reopened and re-judged" (Today’s Zaman, July
17). Some observers have even speculated that Ergenekon is tied to
the PKK (Bugun, July 17).

Skeptics caution against those exaggerated claims and maintain
that lumping together any and all past cases and blaming them on
Ergenekon and tying all leftist, rightist, Islamist, and nationalist
groups to Ergenekon could inflate expectations. It could, moreover,
turn into a defamation campaign (Fikret Bila, Milliyet, July 17). The
opposition Birgun (July 17) responded to these claims with the headline
"Ergenekon: The new detergent!"

Whether it is a decisive moment in Turkish politics or a feint
used to suppress the opposition and deflect attention away from the
government’s legal problems will be seen as the case progresses. The
Ergenekon case has in any event already shaped public opinion: First,
the leaked information, whether true or false, has created a climate
in which the majority of people believe that the "deep state" seeks
to remove the ruling AKP from power through whatever means. Second,
it has brought the judicial system’s credibility into question. Taken
together with the closure case and the divisions created in the
country, no matter what the ruling on Ergenekon will be, at least
some segments of society will question it.