TURKISH POLITICS NOW PLAYS OUT IN COURTROOMS
July 25 2008
Arrests and revelations in the investigation of the far-right
Ergenekon reveals divisions within the bastions of secularism. Two
retired generals are among those arrested.
Friday, July 25, 2008 By Ioannis Grigoriadis
Turkish politics seem to have been taking place decreasingly in
parliament and increasingly in courtrooms.
A series of revelations and arrests in the investigation into a
far-right nationalist group known as Ergenekon is now attracting
attention away from the closure case against the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP).
Many commentators have made a careful distinction between what they
call the "small" and the "big" Ergenekon. The "small" Ergenekon refers
to a group of officers, lawyers, journalists and others arrested in
the police operations of January 2008. Most belonged to the fringe of
Turkish society. As members of marginal nationalist groups, on the left
or right, they had limited social appeal. The "big" Ergenekon, though,
referred to a group of generals, leading journalists and academics who
were suspected to be the masterminds behind the Ergenekon group. Most
columnists doubted that the investigation would ever dare touch them.
The arrests of Ilhan Selcuk, Dogu Perincek and Kemal Alemdaroglu in
March 2008 gave the first hint that the prosecutors would not spare
prominent suspects. Yet few could expect the twist which events took
this month, when two retired four-star generals, Sener Eruygur and
Hursit Tolon, were among a group of high-profile suspects detained
on July 1.
In a country where the military has been held as "untouchable" and
the perpetrators of military coups have not been held accountable
for their deeds, these arrests were indeed a seminal event. On
July 14, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, Aykut Cengiz Engin, filed
a 2,455-page-long indictment against 86 persons involved in the
Ergenekon affair. They were charged with organising an armed terror
group and orchestrating a coup attempt. Charges against the latest
group of arrested, including Eruygur and Tolon, are to follow in a
The arrest of the two generals brought attention to a news story from
the magazine Nokta in March 2007. Nokta published what it claimed to
be excerpts from the diary of the retired admiral Ozden Ornek. They
included information about two coup plots against the AKP government
in 2004 organised by Eruygur, Tolon and other top ranking officers.
Shortly thereafter, Ornek claimed that the documents were a forgery,
the police raided the offices of Nokta and the magazine had to suspend
its operation. Following the arrest of Eruygur and Tolon, information
reinforcing the Nokta claims has appeared in the media. Information
has also surfaced about two additional coup plots and a set of covert
operations aiming to wreak social havoc, polarise existing divisions
in the country and create conditions facilitating a military coup.
Both Eruygur and Tolon had acquired leading positions in Turkey’s
nationalist secularist civil society in the aftermath of their
retirement. Eruygur is the president of the Ataturkist Thought
Association (Ataturkcu Dusunce Dernegi, or ADD), which organised the
massive anti-government demonstrations "in defence of the republic"
Now allegations are arising that increasing pressure against the AKP
government was not only limited to peaceful demonstrations. It may
have included the murder of the Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in
Trabzon in February 2006, the bomb attacks against the offices of the
secularist daily Cumhuriyet in May 2006, the bloody attack against
Turkey’s Administrative Court in May 2006 and even the murder of the
Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January 2007.
In this light, the indictment against the AKP could be seen as
one more stage of the deep state’s all-out attack against the AKP,
implemented not only through the operations of the Ergenekon group,
but also through its loyal judiciary.
Connections between the Ergenekon affair and the case against the AKP
are the focus of widespread discussions in Istanbul these days. Some
argue that the AKP uses friends in the judiciary to put pressure upon
his opponents on the eve of the critical decision of the Constitutional
Court on the closure of the AKP. Its alleged aim would be to enforce a
compromise between the government and the secularist elite. This could
entail the survival of the AKP and its leading cadre, perhaps under a
different party name. Others argue that the indictment against the AKP
gains new significance in light of the recent Ergenekon revelations.
Which side will win this struggle is hard to predict, but Ergenekon is
bringing out significant divisions within the bastions of secularism –
the Turkish military and judiciary.
It appears that the former chief of the Turkish general staff,
Hilmi Ozkok, was one of the primary targets of the Ergenekon group,
which included military men. Being perceived as "weak" or even
"crypto-Islamist" because of his unwillingness to undertake initiatives
against the AKP government, Ozkok represented a Turkish military
loyal to the Turkish constitution and the principles of democracy.
His recent meeting with President Abdullah Gul aiming to alleviate
social tension and his repeated public support for Turkey’s EU
integration project have reconfirmed his stance as a moderate. In
addition, his refusal to deny the existence of the Ergenekon-led coup
attempts attested that the case was not simply an AKP forgery against
its political opponents.
A similar rift has opened in the judiciary. Turkey’s chief prosecutor
of the court of cassations, Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, filed on March 14
a closure case against the AKP, a party which won 47 percent of the
popular vote less than a year ago. A decision of the constitutional
court on June 5 annulled a constitutional amendment the government
had voted through parliament allowing the use of the headscarf, and
questioned in its rationale the very principle of popular sovereignty.
On the moderate side, Zekeriya Oz, the Istanbul prosecutor, who
together with his two assistants Mehmet Pekguzel and Nihat Taskin has
been running the investigation of the Ergenekon affair for the last
eighteen months, has become the protagonist in what might become
a turning point in the struggle of Turkish democrats against the
To paraphrase the famous conversation between Prussia’s Frederick
the Great and the miller Arnold, "if there are no judges in Ankara,
there are still some in Istanbul".
Dr Ioannis N Grigoriadis is a lecturer at the Department of Turkish &
Modern Asian Studies at the University of Athens, a research fellow
at ELIAMEP. He appears here courtesy of Athens News.