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ANKARA: Ergenekon: trial of the year and century

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  • ANKARA: Ergenekon: trial of the year and century

    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