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What is the significance of the Ergenekon case for Turkey?

Friday 7 May 2010, by Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Twenty-seven hand grenades seized in a shanty house in İstanbul’s Ümraniye district in June 2007 pried open an unprecedented process for Turkey.

Having tracked down the grenades, which belonged to a retired military officer, prosecutors found other arms depots, assassination plans, coup “diaries,” action plans and, most important of all, a gigantic organization. This organization, which brought together “nationalists” from rightist and leftist circles and members of the military and civilians, later came to be known as Ergenekon.

The “modern” history of Turkey — which has a pretty long and established tradition of a “deep state” — can also be considered a history of “provocations.” When all the provocations are listed, they may look like a film script to a “foreigner.” Non-Muslims, pious Muslims, Alevis, Kurds and intellectuals have fallen victim to these provocations. In the wake of attacks in which the shadow of the “deep state” was obviously seen, non-Muslims were made to flee the country, Alevis were massacred, thousands of Kurdish villages were set ablaze and later evacuated, hundreds of intellectuals were killed in professional assassinations and any era when tension was high due to such provocations ended up with a military takeover.

Failing to confront the “ethnic cleansing” by the İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress) during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey bequeathed the “remains of a deep state” to its newborn republic. It would be impossible to understand how the Counter-Guerrilla (stay-behind force) — established within all NATO countries in the 1950s — managed to grow such deep roots in Turkey without knowing the historical heritage and state tradition peculiar to Turkey. Originally set up to avert a possible Soviet invasion, these “secret armies” turned out to be used with the ulterior motive of suppressing the “opposition” in Italy and Turkey and establishing a continuous authoritarian regime.

The first known provocation of the Counter-Guerrilla, first formed under the name “Tactical Mobilization Group” and later renamed the “Special Warfare Unit,” was the pogroms of Sept. 6-7, 1955, when all houses and places of business belonging to non-Muslims in İstanbul were destroyed. A retired commander of the Special Warfare Command, Sabri Yirmibeşoğlu, later described the incidents as an “act well-organized by the Special Warfare Command.”

The fingerprints of this structure are seen on the long and bloody path to the Sept. 12, 1980, coup d’état. During May 1 celebrations in 1977, 34 people were killed and 136 others injured as a result of shots fired from the roofs of buildings where the celebrations were being held. The perpetrators of the attack have not yet been captured.

On May 29, 1977, the then-Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit escaped through sheer luck an assassination attempt at the İzmir Çiğli Airport. The police officer who carried out the attack was released three or four months afterwards, and it has remained a mystery how he obtained a US-made “Tengas” handgun, which was not used by any security unit at the time.

Ankara Public Prosecutor Doğan Öz was shot down in an armed attack on March 24, 1978, as he was probing the Counter-Guerrilla nested within the state. The hit man, İbrahim Çiftçi, was acquitted of all charges (after the military takeover) by a decision of a department of the Military Court of Appeals despite all evidence and the fact that he even confessed to the murder.

Four students were killed and 41 wounded after a bomb was thrown at left-leaning students at İstanbul University on March 16, 1978. Confessions of suspects revealed that the explosive was provided from a military unit in İstanbul by Abdullah Çatlı, one of the hit men of the Turkish Gladio. Çatlı is also known to have given orders for many other bloody attacks, including strangling to death seven university students in Ankara’s Bahçelievler district. The students had been members of the Turkish Labor Party (TİP).

One of the most important intersections taking Turkey to the Sept. 12, 1980 coup was the successive massacres of Alevis. The Malatya Massacre of April 18, 1978, which began one day after the murder of then-Malatya Mayor Hamit Fendoğlu and his family by a mail bomb, was followed by the Sivas (Sept. 4, 1978), Maraş (Dec. 19, 1978) and Çorum (May 28, 1978) massacres. Similarly, hundreds of people lost their lives in armed attacks in 1978 and 1979, and prominent intellectuals and writers were assassinated one after another. Mehmet Ali Ağca, who assassinated Milliyet Editor-in-Chief Abdi İpekçi on Feb. 1, 1979, managed to “flee” from the Kartal Military Prison — one of Turkey’s highest-security prisons — on June 15, 1979, with the help of his friend, Çatlı. In the wake of all bloody provocations, of which I only have space to mention a few, Turkey woke up to the footsteps of a bloody coup d’état on Sept. 12, 1980.

The task of carrying out the illegal work of the deep step was undertaken in the 1990s by the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-Terrorism Organization (JİTEM), an illegal formation within the gendarmerie, instead of the Special Warfare Unit. The southeastern parts of Turkey turned into an empire of fear at the hands of JİTEM as thousands of Turkish citizens of Kurdish ethnicity lost their lives in extra-judicial killings and around 3,500 Kurdish villages were burned.

On Nov. 3, 1996, Çatlı, who was “on the run” and was being sought on a red notice, was involved in a road accident. He was in the same car as a police officer and a deputy. The accident occurred in Susurluk, Balıkesir province, and revealed the existence of dark relations within the state between the mafia and politicians. This incident went down in history as the “Susurluk scandal.”

Despite a history of blood and scandals, Turkey never dared root out the illegal formation called the “deep state.” In periods following the Susurluk scandal, parliamentary commissions established to investigate the illegal activities of the state were faced with strong resistance and thus failed in their mission. For example, security forces failed even to interrogate the gendarmerie commander, retired Gen. Veli Küçük, who is believed to be the founder of JİTEM and one of the architects of the deep state exposed by the Susurluk scandal.

To sum up, perpetrators of the “deep state” provocations before Sept. 12, 1980 and after the 1990s benefitted from an absolute “immunity from prosecution.” When evaluated from this historical perspective, Turkey’s “Ergenekon investigation” refers to a milestone in the country. The Ergenekon case implies an end to this immunity from which state-related groups and groups within the state have thus far benefitted. Thanks to the Ergenekon investigation and case, a court has managed to look closer at coups and “preparations” to that end, such as assassinations, bombings and manipulation of the public via the media. The founders of JİTEM and the most important figures of the Susurluk scandal have for the first time appeared before a judicial body as they were active members of the Ergenekon organization. The political atmosphere after the launch of the Ergenekon case has paved the way for the launch of other cases that aim to closely examine “previous” sins of the deep state.

One needs to know all its history in order to understand the importance of the Ergenekon case for Turkey. Please, take a look at the case from this perspective.

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Source : TdZ, 30 April 2010, Friday

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