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Turkey, Orhan Pamuk, Pamuk
Burhan Ozbilici/AP
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Alleged Ultranationalist Terrorist Ring on Trial in Turkey

October 24, 2008 01:05 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A group including politicians, former military leaders and journalists accused of trying to overthrow the Turkish government is now being prosecuted in court in what has come to be known as the Ergenekon case.

Second Day of Hearings Commence

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The court resumed hearing the Ergenekon case on Thursday, after its first session on Monday “descended into chaos,” reported Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. On Monday, there was a delay in court proceedings when defendants and lawyers said that they could not hear what was going on.

The court has ruled to continue detaining 46 suspects out of the 86 accused of belonging to the so-called Ergenekon network, which is accused of being behind high-profile murders and bombings and plotting to overthrow the Islamist-rooted government.

Judges began hearing the indictment on Monday, 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.

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.

“[B]illed as an historic opportunity for Turkey to rein in renegade security elements 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,’” Time magazine wrote about the case.

Background: The Ergenekon case; Nationalism in Turkey

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.

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 organisation 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 Öz in the indictment, according to the BBC.

But anti-Western sentiment, stemming largely from what many Turks see as endless pre-EU accession demands, 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 statements 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.”

Opinion & Analysis: Deep state trial polarizes Turkey

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 trying 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 where coups are common and the military has a strong political presence.

Related Topics: Turkey’s economy; Turkey joins UN Security Council

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