Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Ergenekon Arrests

I thought that I would have some time to get used to living in Turkey before big stories started to break, but this has not been the case. This past Wednesday 33 ultra-nationalists were arrested for their alleged connections to a gang called "Ergenekon." The name the group gave themselves has associations with Turkey's far right and refers to the Turkish mythical homeland out of which a wolf is said to have led the Turkish people to their new home in Anatolia. It is sad that this mythology will now forever be connected with the mass violence the group is alleged to have committed over a yet unknown, but assumedly very long, period of time.

Among those arrested include a former major general, Veli Küçük, and perhaps most interestingly, Kemal Kerincsiz, an ultra-nationalist prosecutor who filed several cases against a wide variety of individuals alleged to have "insulted Turkishness" under Article 301. Their suspected crimes include the assassination of three Christian missionaries last year in Malatya and the assassination of Hrant Dink last January. The Malatya murders had been blamed on Islamists and as put to rest the claim that they are evidence of the growing threat of political Islamism that some members of Turkey's political establishment have launched at AKP. As to Dink, it was just this Monday that Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin urged further probes into his assassination. January 19 marked the one-year anniversary of the Turkish-Armenian's murder and questions have persisted since about the participation of shadowy groups thought to comprise Turkey's deep state. The investigation also discovered plans to assassinate Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk and notable pro-Kurdish politicians. The state has issued a moratorium on press reports about the arrests, but it has largely gone ignored.

Most significantly, the investigation that led to the arrests renews long-standing rumors of a Turkish "deep state," a shadowy group with connections inside the miliary and government that conduct assassinations and other acts of violence through proxies at the bequest of agents within the structure of the state (see Jan. 24 post). Talk of a "deep state" grew very loud following an event in 1996 involving a car crash in Susurluk just west of Bursa. Three bodies were found after the accident and included a top police chief, Hüseyin Kocadağ, along with Abdullah Çatlı, a known assassin accused of being connected with the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, and Çatlı's girlfiend. After the discovery, rumors filled the Turkish press as to the mysterious activities of Kocadağ and Çatlı. An investigation was conducted, and in 1997 a report was released stating that the Turkish Armed Forces had indeed used a quasi-fascist paramilitary group, the Grey Wolves, as proxies and in order with a variety of different security aims. Nonetheless , rumors of a deep state persisted. Although the report revealed little about Susurluk, it gave veracity to long-standing rumors about the existence of a deep state and indicated a nexus between some factions in the military and the Grey Wolves during the turbulent 1970s, in which groups like the Grey Wolves perpetrated violent attacks against leftists.

Said to be connected to NATO efforts. largely influenced by American Cold War policy, to create clandestine paramilitary organizations to counter Soviet activities, the theorized deep state was thought to have connections within elements of the Turkish military and to have operated against Turkish leftists in the late 1970s and Kurdists during Turkey's fight against the PKK during the 1990s. In so much as the deep state's origin is thought to be a function of the communist threat, it is not unique. Other European states had similar groups and all were funded by NATO. Indeed, the Turkish deep state is sometimes compared against Gladio in Italy, a similar group of paramilitarists who operated in cahoots with rightist Italian governments to violently quash leftist political organizations. Many point to the creation of a special operations group formed by the Turkish Armed Forces in 1952 called the Seferberlik Taktik Kurulu (STK - Tactical Mobilisation Group). This group likely received funding by NATO and functioned as part of a larger effort to keep the "communist threat" at bay. As violence peaked in the 1970s, concern about the role of such groups and the military began to grow both within and outside of Turkey.

Criticism of the deep state in Turkey reached its apex in the 1970s following a 1977 attack on demonstators celebrating May Day in Taksim Square. The attack left 39 people dead and more than one hundred injured. It also led Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit to publicly voice his suspicion of state involvement á la state proxies operating as part of the deep state. When Ecevit expressed these concerns to President Fahri Korutürk, significant public attention was drawn to just what groups like the Grey Wolves were up to and what connections they might have with the Turkish military. An investigation led by Ankara prosecutor Doğan Öz soon commenced, and Öz's final report stated that much of the violence Turkey was experiencing at the time was led by a unified effort in which military and civilian actors were cooperating to accomplish common objectives. Öz further argued that much of the violence was led by the Special War Department (Özel Harp Dairesi) and that the Counter-Guerillas on whom the department's operations relied included the Grey Wolves and other paramilitarists. Further, these groups largely operated under the hand of MHP, which was then very much outside of the political mainstream and quite extreme. MHP was staunchly nationalist, xenophobic, anti-Communist, and racist in ideology, the manifestation of the twisted vision of its leader, Alparslan Türkeş. However, like Susurluk after it, the investigation did not go much further, and Öz was assassinated in March 1978 by a member of the Grey Wolves. İbrahim Çiftçi, who confessed to the crime and claimed to be "untouchable," proved to be so when Turkey's highest military court appealed his verdict and sentence. (For more information on Gladio and the Turkish deep state, see Daniele Ganser, NATO's Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe (New York: Routledge, 2005)).

Although it can hardly be said at this point that Ergenekon has any ties to the long-theorized "deep state" of the 1970s and Susurluk, and whether indeed it has any ties to the military at all or is simply a rogue force operating on its own accord, the arrests are indeed of great importance since they renew the role of groups operating outside the democratic government. The Ergenekon arrests date to June of last year when a small amount of explosives and hand grenades were found in an İstanbul house. A series of detentions followed, but reportage of the investigation was largely lost in news coverage of the presidential crisis. Time will tell just what Ergenekon is and in what illegal and violent activities it had its hand.

Below is today's article from the Turkish Daily news:

Operation Takes 'Deep State' Under the Spotlight

As the echoes of Tuesday's extensive police operation against a shadowy group, referred to by some as the “deep state” continues, Turkey is once again haunted with memories of assassinations, bombings and mass provocations of the distant and not-so-distant past.

Some 33 people, among them former generals, lawyers, two “mafia” leaders, rank-and-file soldiers and even a journalist have been apprehended in a nationwide operation that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blessed with the words “The government is working” Tuesday. The state has imposed a ban on press reports on the issue, but yesterday nearly all newspapers' headlines were full of disturbing details about the operation against the gang known as “Ergenekon.”

Those under custody may be accused of plotting to assassinate senior figures such as Leyla Zana and Ahmet Türk, two prominent pro-Kurdish politicians, and novelist Orhan Pamuk, according to media reports.


It is also suspected that they are linked with various provocations, including three bomb attacks against the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet in May 2006, the assassinations of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink last January and nationalist writer Necip Hablemitoğlu on Dec. 18, 2002.

The name “Ergenekon” implies an ideological link to the Turkish far-right, as in Turkic genesis mythology, it is believed that a grey wolf showed the Turks the way out of their legendary homeland “Ergenekon.” Turkish ultranationalists have used the name “Grey Wolf” for decades.

Nevertheless, those under police custody have a different profile than an ordinary “ultra nationalist on the street.” The most prominent name is Retired Brig. General Veli Küçük, whose name hovered over many political scandals - but remained virtually untouchable, since a groundbreaking traffic accident in Nov. 3, 1996, dubbed as the “Susurluk scandal.”

The scandal broke out when the identities of four people in a Mercedes were revealed after an accident in Susurluk, approximately 400 kilometers southwest of Istanbul. The three dead were Hüseyin Kocadağ, a former deputy chief of Istanbul police, Abdullah Çatlı, an ultra nationalist convicted of the massacre in which seven students were murdered brutally in Ankara in 1978 and his girlfriend. Sedat Edip Bucak, the Şanlıurfa deputy from the True Path Party (DYP) and a local leader of a practically private “army” of village guards used by the state against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was wounded. The scandal kept the public awake for months, revealing shadowy relations between various powers within the state apparatus and ultra nationalists. For some, the accident revealed the tip of the “deep state” in Turkey.

Defending the ‘official line':

Veli Küçük is the alleged founder of JİTEM (Gendarmerie Intelligence), whose existence was denied by governments for years. Others in custody are no less interesting than him: Lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, who came in the spotlight as one of the leaders of protests in front of Turkish courts against prominent writers and intellectuals such as Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink, is one of them. Kerinçsiz is known to be a staunch supporter of the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, and he has, on various occasions, accused those who spoke against the “official line” in issues such as the Kurdish problem or the alleged Armenian genocide of “treason.”

Three other detaines are Güler Kömürcü, a columnist at Akşam daily, Fikri Karadağ, the President of the “Kuvayi Milliye” (National Forces) Association, Ali Yasak and Sami Hoştan, two alleged “mafia” leaders, and Fuat Turgut, lawyer of Yasin Hayal, the alleged instigator of the murder of Dink.

Another figure that press reports linked to those is Retired Captain Muzaffer Tekin, who is accused of instigating Alparslan Aslan into storming the Council of State on May 17, 2006 and killing one top judge. Tekin was arrested last year, after a police raid in Ümraniye that unveiled 27 hand grenades in a slum house.

Seeking money for murder:

The shadowy organization was seeking YTL 2 million (approximately $1.7 million) to assassinate renowned novelist Orhan Pamuk, according to yesterday's Hürriyet daily. The paper said telephone conversations of the suspects had been wiretapped for the last eight months. Another allegation is that an associate of those under custody was planning to murder a retired colonel, according to Hürriyet.

Meanwhile, daily Radikal focused on the “Ergenekon” organization itself. According to the paper, members believe they are the “real defenders” of the Turkish Republic, and are intent on doing everything possible to “pacify or even liquidate internal enemies.” The organization consists of four “command posts” and two “civilian presidencies” directly accountable to one “president.” The “civilian leaders” are responsible of “organizing civilian elements” in the society, while former officers and former intelligence officials are the “backbone” of the whole organization, Radikal wrote.

Core within a core:

According to documents confiscated last year, civilians constitute an “inner organization” within “Ergenekon.” This “core” is named as “Lobby” and is led by five civilians, who are in contact with the rest of the group through two “appointees.”

The documents claim that the “Lobby” aims to create a “counter-force” against “foreign non-governmental organizations operating in Turkey.”

Another function of the “Lobby” is, according to Radikal, “influencing trade unions,” while also gaining economic power through commercial companies.

Speaking to the “Haber 7” Web site, former police chief Bülent Orakoğlu said the “final aim” of the operation is to destroy “Turkish Gladio,” resuscitating an old debate. “In many countries, operations against Gladio were launched and these relics of the Cold War were destroyed,” Orakoğlu, a former police intelligence chief, said. “But such an operation had not been launched in Turkey. Now I am under the impression that Turkey has taken this step.”

“I think that the operation has some sort of preventive quality,” Orakoğlu continued, strengthening allegations that the group was about to unleash a high-profile assassination.

Gladio, meaning “Sword” in Italian, was a code name given to a clandestine NATO operation in Italy during the Cold War, allegedly aiming to counter a “Soviet invasion” of Western Europe. However, the name passed to obscurity, as it was unveiled that all NATO members had created similar clandestine organizations, under alleged CIA supervision.

The suspects will be taken to court today.

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