ANKARA (Combined Sources)–Over the weekend, more people were formally arrested by a Turkish court, part of a group of some 40 people detained, for their alleged ties to an ultranationalist, terrorist ring popularly referred to as the Turkish ‘deep state.’ The arrests bring the number of defendants in the so-called Ergenekon case to more than 100.
The supposed network is accused of being behind high-profile murders and bombings and plotting to overthrow the Islamist-rooted government. The wave of arrests, which followed an investigation that revealed a cache of weapons in a forest near the Turkish capital Ankara, is the 10th of a series of arrests that began nearly a year ago in a case emblematic of the widening gulf between Turkey’s conservatives of two different stripes: ultranationalists who see Turkey as a secular nation in which citizens are Turks first, Muslims second, and Islamist-leaning politicos who espouse Islam as more important than Turkish identity.
Judges began hearing the indictment on Oct. 20, after a lengthy police investigation. Prosecutors allege that the Ergenekon waged their violent campaign in an attempt to "breed chaos and public despair, paving the way for a military coup and derailing Turkey’s European Union-mandated democratic reforms," reported Time magazine.
There was a delay in court proceedings when defendants and lawyers said that they could not hear what was going on and the proceedings "descended into chaos," reported Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. On Oct. 23, the court resumed hearings and ruled to detain 46 suspects out of the 86 accused.
The indictment itself, at 2,455 pages, describes an intricate conspiracy involving lawyers, journalists, police, academics, the mafia, hit men and former military members, reports the BBC. The group is linked to the murder of a secular judge in 2006 and a grenade attack on an office of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, which is known for its opposition to the government–but takes a liberal, rather than a far-right bent. Yet at the same time, Ilhan Selcuk, a prominent columnist for the newspaper, is among the Ergenekon defendants.
Time magazine wrote about the case, "billed as an historic opportunity for Turkey to rein in renegade security elemen’s that see themselves operating beyond the reach of law–many Turks have long suspected the existence of such a network, popularly referred to as the ‘deep state,’" an alleged underground fascist network thought to wield power to preserve the vaguely definable concept of "Turkishness."
Background on the Ergenekon Case
The Ergenekon group is thought to have named itself after a valley in Central Asia that is the mythical birthplace of the Turkish people. Due to deep anti-Western sentiment, they hold a strongly isolationist stance.
The government’s case against it was kick-started last year when a weapons cache was discovered in the house of a former military officer. Members of the group face charges ranging from possessing firearms to running an armed terrorist organization. The indictment also accuses them of creating a hit list of targets, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Nobel Prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk.
Former police Chief Ibrahim Sahin, who was among those charged and detained Sunday said his office had spent years gathering intelligence on Turkey’s Armenia’s, Armradio reported. According to Istanbul based Marmara Daily Editor Robert Hatechian, Sahin at one time was investigating an Armenian woman going by the name of Serbil. During his testimony Sahin, once at the center of a corruption controversy in the 1990s, said Serbil as renting houses in Turkey to host Armenian immigran’s.
Sahin’s office had also been directed to gather intelligence on various Armenian organizations in Turkey, compiling monthly reports on their meetings and activities.
Last year, on the night of Jan. 26, Turkish authorities arrested 13 ultranationalists suspected of planning assassinations of dissidents. The group is also thought to have connections to the government.
"The Ergenekon terror organization is known as the ‘deep state’ in our country and organises many bloody activities aiming to create an atmosphere of serious crisis, chaos, anarchy and terror," wrote prosecutor Zekeriya Oz in the indictment, according to the BBC.
But anti-Western sentiment, stemming largely from what many Turks see as endless pre-EU accession deman’s, is on the rise as a whole within the country. Statistics compiled by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy show Turkish popular support for EU accession dropping from 65 to 49 percent between 2002 and 2007.
Article 301, a law that had banned criticism of "Turkishness" was amended in late April to criminalize insulting only the "Turkish state" and Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Previously, the law made illegal any communication found to be disparaging of the vaguely defined concept of "Turkishness." But with a recent rise in nationalism, not all Turks welcome the new leniency.
Lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz, one of the defendants in the Ergenekon case, has brought cases under Article 301 against at least 40 writers and was indicted in January along with 12 others for conspiring to assassinate known Turkish dissidents, including ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. After Dink was killed by a hard-line nationalist teenager, his murderer was photographed being embraced by police officers sympathetic to his cause. Novelist Pamuk’s statemen’s about the Armenian Genocide prompted death threats and a Kerincsiz-led Article 301 case against him.
Andrew Anthony wrote in U.K. paper The Guardian about the recent surge of Turkish nationalism. Anthony met with former pro soccer player Samim Uygun, a leader of a group of businessmen and politicians, who believes that foreign investment is a threat to Turkish sovereignty, that Israel fancies claims on Turkish territory, that Dink’s murder "was unimportant" and that Pamuk’s writing is but a shill for Armenia. Anthony writes, "Uygun saw himself on the center right, which set the imagination racing over what a member of the Turkish far-right might sound like."
Turkey’s Rising Nationalism
The trial has divided public opinion, reports the BBC. Critics say the case is a misapplication of justice. They accuse the prime minister’s ruling Islamist-leaning AK Party, tried earlier this year for attempting to Islamize the nation, of targeting its opponents and the military.
“I think this government is using the case to establish a dictatorship in Turkey,” says Leyla Tavsanoglu, a columnist for newspaper Cumhuriyet. “Now everyone is subdued. They have clamped down on the democratic opposition and everyone is afraid that one day they will be included in another wave of arrests.”
Others contend that the trial is a key step forward for democratization. The arrest of two retired generals in the case is without precedent in a country with a recent history of coups d’?tat and the military has a strong political presence.
But as The Guardian’s run-in with ultranationalists shows, such fervent nationalism has been simmering for years, fomented by seemingly endless EU accession deman’s and what is seen as U.S. foreign policy myopia. This has come to the fore in Turkey in public reaction to pop culture: both foreign and home-grown. This is not to say, however, that there wasn’t already popular animosity towards America in Turkey.
On July 4, 2003, U.S. troops in northern Iraq arrested, handcuffed and put bags over the heads of a Turkish special forces squad that was apparently channeling arms to squads that were fighting a group of Kurds, considered U.S. allies in the region. The ensuing coverage in the Turkish media rallied the local nationalist cause while posing a public diplomacy dilemma for the United States.