Today's Zaman, Turkey
Dec 31 2008

[2008 EVENT OF THE YEAR IN TURKEY] Ergenekon: trial of the year and century

This year saw the start of a landmark trial in which former senior
military members, who have been viewed as untouchable throughout the
republic's history, have been placed behind bars for the first time.

The trial and the deepening investigation was most certainly the event
of the year for the country, and it might also prove to be a watershed
incident that places democracy in Turkey on a course it should have
been on years ago. Turkey has seen three coups in the last five
decades, but no commander has ever been prosecuted or convicted for
planning or staging a coup until now. Kenan Evren, the retired general
who staged the 1980 coup, is currently enjoying retirement in a
southern resort town and keeping himself busy with painting.

In a sign that this may be changing, retired Gen. Å?ener
Eruygur, the former head of the Gendarmerie Forces who is now the
chairman of the Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD), which
helped organize mass anti-government demonstrations last year, and
HurÅ?it Tolon, a former commander of the 1st Army Corps, were
arrested after testifying in court during their time in custody in
July. The trial of the two men along with 84 others began not long
after that.

The two were taken into custody on July 1 as part of an investigation
into Ergenekon, a gang suspected of planning a shooting at the Council
of State in 2006 that resulted in the death of a senior judge; an
attack on the Ä°stanbul headquarters of the Cumhuriyet
newspaper; and even the killing of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant
Dink, who was gunned down by an ultranationalist teenager almost two
years ago. Eruygur was one of the main characters in former
Adm. Ã-zden Ã-rnek's journal, which revealed senior military
commanders had planned to stage a coup against the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AK Party) government in 2004. The diaries were
published in a weekly in 2007, and a court later established their

A historic opportunity

The landmark trial of 86 individuals suspected of membership in
Ergenekon began in October. The trial is seen as a historic
opportunity for Turkey to confront for the first time a phenomenon
known as the `deep state' and generally used to refer to highly
influential individuals and groups nested within the state hierarchy
that manipulate the political and social environment in the country,
typically through illegal and illegitimate means, though definitions
of the phrase vary.

The suspects, 45 of whom are under arrest, have been appearing before
a judge since October even though the investigation started 17 months
ago after the accidental discovery of a house that was used as an arms
depot in Ä°stanbul. The existence of this behind-the-scenes
network attempting to use social and psychological engineering to
shape the country in accordance with its own ultranationalist ideology
had long been suspected, but the current investigation into the group
began only in 2007, when a house in Ä°stanbul's Ã`mraniye
district that was being used as an arms depot was discovered by
police. The investigation was expanded to reveal elements of the deep

The Ergenekon investigation was not the first time dark elements have
surfaced from the `depths' of the state, but it certainly was the
first time so many suspects were brought before the court.

Ergenekon's predecessors from the past

The closest Turkey came to overcoming the powerful friends of the deep
state in the judiciary and the police was the Susurluk affair in 1996,
when the relationship between a police chief, a Kurdish deputy who led
an army of men from his family clan armed by the Turkish state to
fight against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and an
internationally sought mafia boss was fully exposed.

The three were in a Mercedes that was involved in an accident in the
town of Susurluk, killing the mafia boss and the police chief. The
deputy survived but said he had no memory of the crash and did not
testify in the course of the investigation. The scandal exposed, as
never before, the extent of the state's links to organized crime, but
those implicated in the case refused to testify, nor could they be
subpoenaed by the judiciary. Despite public outcry and protests
against deep state links around the country, the case was soon covered
up and forgotten.

Nine years later, a bombing against a bookshop owned by a Kurdish
nationalist in the southeastern town of Temdinli, during which two
members of the Turkish security forces were caught red-handed, gave
Turkey another chance to shed light on at least some of the elements
of the complex deep state network. But the prosecutor on the case was
disbarred by the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges (HSYK) after
indicting the then land forces commander as being the founder of a
gang that was responsible for the Å?emdinli bookstore
bombing. The three main suspects -- two noncommissioned officers and a
PKK informant -- were given nearly 40 years each by a civil court at
the end of a lengthy trial process that lasted nearly two
years. However, the Supreme Court of Appeals in May of this year
declared the case a mistrial and ordered the suspects retried by a
military court.

Beginning of the trial

The landmark trial began on Oct. 20, but the first day of the trial
descended into disarray, in what many thought could be a covert
attempt to hinder the legal process.

The trial of the suspects by the 13th Higher Criminal Court began at
9:55 a.m. in Silivri, near Ä°stanbul, with 73 of the suspects,
their lawyers and families and journalists cramming into the tiny
courtroom at Silivri Prison, where most of the 45 suspects standing
trial under arrest are being held. Before the trial could even start,
defense lawyers claimed that the small, makeshift courtroom was not
physically suitable to host a fair trial.

In the first day of the trial, the presiding judge ordered everyone
except the suspects out of the courtroom, as protesters piled in and
lawyers complained of intolerable conditions.

Suspects, journalists and lawyers had to pass through three search
points before reaching the courthouse. According to reporters at the
site, laptops, mobile phones and similar electronic devices were not
allowed inside the prison grounds. Members of the press were led to
the same waiting lounge as lawyers and suspects' families after the
two initial -- and thorough -- searches.

Outside the courtroom, journalists who were supposed to be monitoring
the trial through LCD screens placed in a press room in the area found
to their surprise that the promised LCD screens were not there.

Hundreds of people belonging to neo-nationalist groups also gathered
outside the courthouse in support of the defendants, holding Turkish
flags and portraits of the suspects. Members of the Workers' Party
(Ä°P) -- the chairman of which is also standing trial as a
primary suspect -- and members of the Turkey Youth Union (TGB) chanted
slogans of support for retired Gen. Veli Küçük,
accused of being one of the leaders of the group.

Order was restored in the following hearings, but defense testimonies
could not be heard until well into November, as it took nearly two
weeks to complete the reading of the massive indictment against the
suspects in the trial against Ergenekon.

Because some of the suspects' lawyers had demanded shortly after the
beginning of the trial in October that the 2,455-page indictment be
read aloud, most of the trial time was spent on this process in the
first two weeks.

As of mid-December, only a few of the suspects had delivered their
defense testimonies. The case is expected to take years before any
verdict is reached.

Notes from the Ergenekon indictment

The indictment, made public in June of this year, claims Ergenekon is
behind a series of political assassinations over the past two
decades. The victims of alleged Ergenekon crimes include secularist
journalist UÄ?ur Mumcu, long believed to have been assassinated
by Islamic extremists in 1993; the head of a business conglomerate,
Ã-zdemir Sabancı, who was shot dead by militants of the
extreme-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) in
his high-security office in 1996; secularist academic Necip
HablemitoÄ?lu, who was also believed to have been killed by
Islamic extremists in 2002; and the 2006 Council of State attack.

The indictment also says retired Gen. Küçük,
believed to be one of the leading members of the network, threatened
Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist slain by a teenager in 2007,
before his murder -- a sign that Ergenekon could be behind that murder
as well.

The Ergenekon indictment accuses 86 suspects of links with the
gang. The suspects have begun their appearances in court to face
accusations that include `membership in an armed terrorist group,'
`attempting to destroy the government,' `inciting people to rebel
against the Republic of Turkey' and other similar crimes.

31 December 2008, Wednesday