Ergenekon investigation to shed light on Turkey's dark history

Turkish republican history is full of such crime dossiers, either left open or whose closure was disputed.

Ergenekon investigation to shed light on Turkey's dark history
"The state is not necessarily innocent, and the people convicted of crimes with political repercussions in the past may well be victims of a deep state operation."

That is the main lesson the public has learned from the current Ergenekon investigation. The investigation itself is already related to several murders and terrorist attacks of the recent past, but the mentality change it will induce in the Turkish public will also help re-interpret and confront political crimes of the remote past.

Analysts claim this change of mentality concerning the state and the relationship of the state organs with the society, terrorist organizations and the mafia will create a valuable opportunity to mobilize the public and create political will and determination to reopen old dossiers filled with unsolved crimes and presumably victimized convicts. Allegations that the Ergenekon terrorist organization was behind two attacks (thBe Council of State attack in 2006 and bombs thrown at the headquarters of the Cumhuriyet daily in the same year), ascribed to a certain segment of society, have changed the entire logic used to analyze politically influential crimes.

Turkish republican history is full of such crime dossiers, either left open or whose closure was disputed. Starting from the Sheikh Said Revolt of 1925, passing through to the Dersim Massacres of 1937-38, the Taksim Square killings of May 1, 1977, the serial murders of secular-minded intellectuals in 1990 and more resentful and sophisticated attacks on symbolic names and institutions, question marks were left in the consciousnesses of the people. One reason was the inconceivability of state involvement in these crimes. The army, which still places first in public surveys of the most respected institutions, was not only beyond reproach, it was also unthinkable, unperceivable and unpronounceable to claim that army officers were committing crimes, not for the sake of the country, but for their own and evil interests. Now that the Ergenekon investigation has proven that Turkish officers are not sanctified angels and that they are judicable, detainable, liable to interrogation and arrest, that perplexed public consciousness is asking whether those old dossiers can be reopened and reinvestigated with this new framework in mind.

The İstanbul chief prosecutor already announced that Ergenekon suspects would be tried for their involvement in the Council of State attack of May 17, 2006, an attack which left a judge dead, and in the throwing of hand grenades at the headquarters of Cumhuriyet daily. It is suggested that the indictment and subsequent court decision will influence the open cases and may also induce a reopening of closed ones. On top of the list of reinvestigatable cases are the murder of Necip Hablemitoğlu, the Gazi neighborhood events, the murder of Özdemir Sabancı, the murder of Gen. Eşref Bitlis, the murder of Uğur Mumcu and the murders that took place in the Adapazarı-İzmit-Sapanca triangle. The Ergenekon decision will also influence the İbrahim Çiftçi case, already waiting for the Ergenekon trial to be finalized. Çiftçi was killed in 2006 in a bombing soon after he confessed to a prosecutor that he killed Hablemitoğlu.

The influence of the Ergenekon investigation won't wait for the prosecutors to open some of the older dossiers on their own. Already there are several criminal complaints about detainees of the Ergenekon terrorist organization from the relatives of lost and murdered people. Families of Serdar Tanış, a People's Democratic Party (HADEP) Silopi district deputy (the party has been banned), and Ebubekir Deniz already filed a complaint about Brig. Gen. Levent Ersöz, who is still being sought and is said to have left for Russia before the last round of Ergenekon-related detentions. The two were detained by the gendarmerie seven years ago and were never heard from again. Relatives of the people killed during the Gazi incidents of 1995 also filed a complaint recently about Osman Gürbüz, who was arrested during the Ergenekon investigation.

Ergenekon prosecutor Zekeriya Öz is claimed to have came upon significant information about the murder of Assistant Professor Hablemitoğlu in 2002. Öz is claimed to have received strong evidence that Brig. Gen. Veli Küçük, the prime suspect of the Ergenekon investigation, was involved in the abduction and killing of several Kurdish businessmen in the Adapazarı-İzmit-Sapanca area within the first six months of 1994.

The influence of the Ergenekon investigation on a confrontation with historical crimes need not be a direct and organic one. The fact that the Kahramanmaraş Massacre in which over 100 Alevis were killed by alleged nationalists in December 1978, the murder of journalist Abdi İpekçi on Feb. 1, 1979, the murder of frontrunner nationalist Gün Sazak on May 27, 1980 and the Çorum Massacre of 26 [unofficially 56] Alevis paved the way for the military coup of 1980 is telling enough. The link between these events and the Ergenekon terrorist organization need not be an organic one. The fact that the existence of a terrorist organization that penetrated into state organs, including the army, and conspired to stage violent coups gives enough incentive to rethink the Kahramanmaraş, İpekçi, Sazak and Çorum incidents. It has to be kept in mind that the prime suspects of the Ergenekon organization were already colonels in the army in the run-up to the 1980 coup and that their involvement in these events may have been more than a mere "learning a lesson."

A similar wave of killings came in 1990. Atatürkist Though Association (ADD) founder and Cumhuriyet daily columnist Muammer Aksoy was shot in the back of the head in front of his house on Jan. 31, 1990 [Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink would be shot in almost the same manner in front of his office on a Jan. 17 years later]. On March 7, 1990, Çetin Emeç, the editor-in-chief of the Hürriyet daily, was murdered in front of his house. On Sept. 4, 1990, Turan Dursun, a former theologian-turned-atheist was killed close to his home. On Sept. 26, former National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Deputy Undersecretary Hiram Abas was assassinated in his car. 1990 ended with the assassination of Professor Bahriye Üçok with a parcel bomb sent to her address in a book package. In all these cases fundamentalists were accused of the murders, yet in none of them were the perpetrators apprehended.

It seems that the response the public gave to these events was not strong enough for the planners, and they had to work on a second wave of acts to reach the same end their brothers realized in 1980. The second wave started once again in January. On Jan. 24, 1993, Cumhuriyet daily columnist Mumcu was killed by a remote-controlled bomb placed under his car. Several terrorist attacks in Turkey's eastern provinces perpetrated by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) added to the momentum of public unrest. On April 17, Gen. Bitlis, the commander of the gendarmerie, was killed in a still unexplained plane crash. On July 2, 1993, 33 intellectuals were killed after the hotel they were staying at was set on fire. These were mainly of Alevi background, and the event left a deep wound on the Alevis of the whole country. Three days later, the PKK hit Erzincan's Başbağlar village, and 29 people were killed. On Aug. 8, Ferhat Tepe, a correspondent of the Özgür Gündem daily, was abducted and killed by unknown assailants. On Nov. 4, Cem Ersever, a former head of the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-Terrorism Organization (JITEM) was killed. His girlfriend and a colleague were also found dead.

The similarity between these two waves of terror events and the plans of the Ergenekon terrorist organization to push the country into a period of unrest in order to legitimize a military intervention is striking. But is this similarity enough to reopen those already-shelved files? Even if there is enough forensic and legal evidence that would necessitate a reopening of these files, would this be enough for an actual investigation to be re-launched into all these events?

Avni Özgürel, a columnist writing on Turkey's recent history is not optimistic. He thinks no one would be happier if real the perpetrators of certain political crimes were revealed. "Look at the İpekçi murder. There is already an understanding that this was the job of nationalists. If this explanation proves incorrect, we will lose the entire paradigm. The society may be ready for this, but the state is not," he told Sunday's Zaman.

According to Özgürel, the state is happy with the current state of what is known. "Further investigation would not be well received within the state. The state would be ready to claim some of the murders if they were really committed for the sake of the state or the country; but what if an investigation reveals that the real reason was of a financial nature? What if notions like 'state' and 'nation' were used as a disguise for personal interests?" he asked.

Özgürel is not hopeful for the results of the Ergenekon investigation and hence does not want to attach additional hopes to it. "There is a political will in Turkey, but politics is a politics of bargaining. The [Justice and Development Party] AK Party is dealing with a closure case, and no one knows what will happen with the Ergenekon investigation if the AK Party is closed. Look at the constitutional amendments on the headscarf issue. There was a political will there, but it didn't help. We should wait and see whether this investigation will reach a meaningful end," he explained.

Mithat Sancar, a professor of law at Ankara University, agrees that the Ergenekon investigation is an opportunity to confront the dark past. But he thinks that neither the government nor the courts can do this. "The political government will understandably deal with what it sees necessary for its own political interests. Prosecutors and judges are in no position to start an investigation into the events of the past on their own. Such an investigation necessitates a mobilization of democratic circles, especially the democratic left wing which has traditionally fought with militarism and the deep state," he told Sunday's Zaman. According to Sancar, public control over the legal and political processes is also important so as to guarantee that the political government does not enter into the mistake of bargaining.

Former military judge Ümit Kardaş thinks that the political will that would confront the dark events of the past should have been powerful enough to confront Turkey's recent problems, such as the Kurdish issue. "The prosecution needs to have special support from not only the government but also from the media and the society," he told Sunday's Zaman. According to him, the AK Party was and still is strong enough to give that support but, considering previous opportunities lost, there is not enough evidence to be hopeful of its support. "It has lost a major opportunity in Şemdinli. And we don't know whether the AK Party will be closed or not nor what will happen to the Ergenekon investigation if the party is closed. The investigation in itself is an opportunity, but there are reasons to be pessimistic that this opportunity will also be lost," he explained.

Diyarbakır Bar Association Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu claims that the political will to come to terms with history is lacking, though there is a social demand in that direction. But he believes that there are things that can be done through the judiciary. "We don't know for sure, but if this [Ergenekon] case is related to the Susurluk and Şemdinli cases, as is claimed in the press, then the judiciary has to reveal the relationship between them," he told Sunday's Zaman.

Tanrıkulu then referred to four reports prepared by parliamentary investigation commissions. The four reports were about forcefully abandoned villages, political murders with unknown assailants, the Susurluk incident and the Şemdinli scandal. "Parliament established these commissions and they prepared their reports, but the reports never came to Parliament to be read and voted on. They were simply left on the wayside. If the politicians claim they have the will to open the old files, here, there are four files to be opened first," he said.

Cafer Solgun is the chairman of the Confrontation Society, which advocates for a re-writing of republican history and a return of honor to the people unjustly convicted of crimes committed by state-related organs. He says that the Ergenekon investigation should go as far as it can. He thinks the Ergenekon investigation has managed to remove the "untouchable dark shadow" of deep state gangs from hovering over Turkish democracy. "It is clear that without getting rid of these kinds of secret powers that were imposed upon us, especially after the Susurluk incident, as things that we need to accept as they are, our democracy cannot mature," he told Sunday's Zaman.

Solgun thinks that the Ergenekon investigation is not only an opportunity but also a challenge. "The Susurluk and Şemdinli incidents were also historical opportunities for Turkish democracy, but what we are left with is a pessimism that makes people think nothing will come out of any similar investigations or that a new gang will always replace one that has been disbanded. In that sense, it is important that this time the investigation should go as far as it can," he said.

Popular history writer Ayşe Hür thinks the Ergenekon gang has a distinctive ideological position. "The ideological tools of the organization are yet to be revealed. So far this has been an operation against a criminal gang," she told Sunday's Zaman. According to her, as long as the ideological tools have not been revealed, it is almost impossible to disclose the link between criminal actions of the Ergenekon organization and the earlier political crimes. "For that we need a stronger will. Political will is not enough; political will of a particular ideological camp is not enough at all," she said. According to her, the society is not ready for a full-fledged "cleansing" and there is no real consensus on the nature of the threat. "The opposition of the AK Party is undervaluing the operation, whereas we should have dealt with the facts and not with who said what," she explained.

According to Hür, Turkey is not ready for a real and comprehensive settlement of accounts with its past. "Turkish society is not ready to see Kenan Evren tried. And we have these 1915 events that are very hard to face. This is a kind of stumbling block of every effort of opening the old accounts. We should first study recent examples of reconciliation efforts all over the world and then start with events that are recent enough to speak with witnesses. The Kahramanmaraş and Çorum incidents could be two good examples," she told Sunday's Zaman.

Last 13 years of suspicious incidents

* Gazi neighborhood incident -- March 12-15, 1995

İstanbul's Gazi neighborhood, populated mainly by Alevis, was provoked to a revolt and confrontation with police forces after attacks on three coffeehouses killed one and wounded several people. The events led to the killing of 17 more people (seven from police bullets and 10 from bullets of unknown origin).

* Özdemir Sabancı assassination -- Jan. 6, 1996

Businessman Özdemir Sabancı was killed in his office by members of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C) terrorist organization.

* Susurluk accident -- Nov. 3, 1996

A car accident in Susurluk revealed dirty relations between state organs, mafia and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

* Turkish so-called "Hizbullah" murders -- Jan. 21, 1998

An operation that started in Konya revealed several "grave houses" in Konya and İstanbul, wherein tens of bodies were found.

* Akın Birdal assassination attempt -- May 12, 1998

Human Rights Association (İHD) President Akın Birdal sustained 13 gunshot wounds in a terrorist attack, but escaped with his life.

* Ahmet Taner Kışlalı assassination -- Oct. 21, 1999

Cumhuriyet daily columnist Professor Ahmet Taner Kışlalı died in a remote-controlled bomb attack.

* Gaffar Okkan assassination -- Jan. 24, 2001

Diyarbakır Police Chief Gaffar Okkan was killed in a gun attack.

* Üzeyir Garih murder -- Aug. 21, 2001

Turkish businessman of Jewish origin Üzeyir Garih was found murdered in a Muslim cemetery in İstanbul's Eyüp district.

* Necip Hablemitoğlu assasination -- Dec. 18, 2002

Writer Necip Hablemitoğlu was assassinated in front of his house.

* Şemdinli incident -- Nov. 9, 2005

Several army officers and a sergeant were caught red-handed in a provocative operation in Şemdinli, Hakkari. The perpetrators were never punished.

* Father Santoro assassination -- Feb. 5, 2006

Italian priest Andrea Santoro was killed in his church in Trabzon.

* Bombing of Cumhuriyet -- May 5, 2006

Hand grenades were thrown at the Cumhuriyet daily on May 5, 10 and 11.

* Council of State attack -- May 17, 2006

Lawyer Alparslan Aslan entered the Council of State building in Ankara and fired shots in a meeting room, killing Judge Mustafa Birden.

* Hrant Dink assassination -- Jan. 19, 2007

Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was murdered in front of the offices of the Agos newsweekly, of which he was editor-in-chief.

* Murders of missionaries -- April 18, 2007

Three Christian missioners were slaughtered in Malatya.

* Attempted murder of Professor Erdoğan Teziç -- April 25, 2007

A man in his 30s attempted to enter the Higher Education Council (YÖK) headquarters building in Ankara. The event was interpreted as an assassination attempt on Professor Erdoğan Teziç, the YÖK president at the time. The event changed the route of the presidential elections and the Motherland Party (ANAVATAN) and the True Path Party (DYP) decided not to participate in the elections. Teziç was openly critical of Abdullah Gül's candidacy for the presidency.

* Dağlıca ambush -- Oct. 21, 2007

In an ambush by the PKK 12 soldiers were martyred and eight abducted. The captured soldiers were eventually freed by the PKK, but the reasons for the terrorist organization's success in the attack were never understood.

* Attack on the US Consulate General in Istanbul -- July 9, 2008

Four people attacked the Turkish policemen in front of the US Consulate General in İstanbul, resulting in the deaths of three Turkish police officers and three assailants.

Sunday's Zaman
Last Mod: 20 Temmuz 2008, 09:47
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