All of the national daily newspapers published in Turkey dedicated a special place on their front pages on Monday to the trial of people suspected of membership in Ergenekon, a criminal network with ties to the state. Headlines and titles were similar: "Trial of the century begins," "History changes today," "Third confrontation with the deep state," "They are called to account," "Monumental trial commences," "Judgment day," "The Ergenekon marathon"… The single truth advertised by these titles is that the Ergenekon trial is of substantial importance for Turkey.
All Turkish media organisations, though they have diverse ideological stances, are covering this trial extensively, thereby negating the attempts by certain groups in Turkey to scorn and downplay the trial ever since the commencement of the Ergenekon investigation. So why is this trial so important?
Turkey is unfortunately a country characterised by an abundance of mysterious murders, shadowy provocations that foment social, ethnic or religious hatred or conflict, terrorist organisations of all manner of ideological disposition, and bloody attacks staged by these organisations. The regime currently in place in this country is still miles away from being a system of peace based on mutual trust and respect between state and society, but gives the impression of an order of repression that seeks to ensure its survival through fabricated fears and inflated threats.
The argument that the true democracy sought by all segments of society, one entailing greater democratic participation, extended rights and freedoms, would make the country an ungovernable one still has buyers among some influential groups. These groups that assume a self-induced responsibility and duty to maintain the survival of the existing regime believe that the only way to prevent Turkey from becoming "an ungovernable country" is to keep popular demands for democracy and freedoms reined in – a situation that, they argue, can only be ensured by keeping fears and concerns over security and stability alive at all times. As activities to nurture these fears and concerns cannot be undertaken openly, they need underground, shadowy terrorist organisations like Ergenekon. As such organizations have come into being for the purpose of keeping the state apparatus manageable, every organisation or act can naturally be associated with this apparatus’ behind-the-scenes machinery. For this reason, the equation "Ergenekon terrorist organisation = deep state" is a well-justified one.
Our argument is that "Turkey confronts its dark past" – and this is proposed with good reason. The 2,455-page indictment on the organisation and the millions of documents submitted with the indictment show that the Ergenekon terrorist organisation has ties with many groups within the state and the army, and that the acts directly or indirectly conducted by the organisation did indeed make their imprint on Turkey’s recent past, altering the course of events and interrupting the country’s natural progress. Some documents in the indictment clearly indicate that the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Hizbullah, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), Islamic Great East Raiders Front (IBDA-C) and many other illegal organisations or gangs either have ties with or are under the direct control of Ergenekon, some since their establishment and others from a later stage.
Also, the claims voiced by Turkish media organizations maintain that the assassination of many distinguished journalists and intellectuals — including Ugur Mumcu, Çetin Emeç, Ahmet Taner Kislali, Necip Hablemitoglu and Hrant Dink – and businessmen such as Özdemir Sabanc›, Üzeyir Garih and many Kurdish businessmen and similar murders by unknown assailants, and the tragic killing of a Christian missionary in Malatya are linked to this organisation. Moreover, two years ago, the council of state was attacked and a judge killed; almost simultaneously, hand grenades were thrown at the office of newspaper Cumhuriyet. Both attacks had given the impression that they were perpetrated by radical fundamentalist groups as a reaction to a headscarf ban; it is now obvious that both were subcontracted by the Ergenekon organisation. Indeed, the chief prosecutor has recently demanded that the council of state attack case be re-heard in light of the new evidence.
Going further back, it is suspected that this Gladio-like organization, which has existed since 1956, albeit under different names or appearances, has played an active part in many obscured murders or incidents conducted by unknown assailants. It is thought that the bloody clashes between leftist and rights groups in 1970s, the massacre in Kahramanmara?, the mass killing in Çorum, the bloody May Day in Istanbul’s Taksim Square in 1977, the massacre in Sivas in 1992, the mass killing in Basbaglar and the massacre in Istanbul’s Gazi district in 1995 are all linked to Ergenekon.
This shadowy network has infiltrated deep into the state bureaucracy, the media and NGOs. Since 2003, its strategy has been to create chaos in the country to prepare the grounds for an eventual military takeover. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that some retired generals who plotted two distinct, abortive military coups in 2004 against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK party) because of its policy concerning the Cyprus issue have ties to Ergenekon. Also, the fact that these generals became the chairmen of the so-called Kemalist Thought Associations (ADD) after retirement and organised a number of demonstrations called "republican rallies" in order to lure the military to oust the government should come as a surprise to no one. Although these generals have yet to be indicted, it is highly likely that their coup plots will be prosecuted under the process of the Ergenekon trial.
In the end, they all served one grand purpose: to keep Turkey under the reins of the former Kemalist elites – though they are called neo-nationalists nowadays – and maintain the system of "military guardianship".
Thanks to this trial, for the first time in its history, Turkey is attempting to try military officers on active duty on charges of attempting to overthrow the elected government. If it can do this successfully, Turkish democracy has a bright future. No doubt, the Turkish judicial system will undergo a serious test of its maturity with this trial; either it will show that it is pressure-proof – or that it is a failing system.
Meanwhile, we must correctly analyze the threat posed by the PKK in its efforts to fill the gap vacated by Ergenekon – in terms of injecting fear into society so that the country becomes easily manageable by certain groups. It is possible to regard the errors that go beyond army negligence in the face of PKK attacks on military outposts in Daglica in 1997 and in Aktütün earlier this month, where many soldiers were killed, in this context. Now, everyone must open their eyes to the fact that, whether the job of persuading society that the country is always under threat is done by Ergenekon or the PKK or any other terrorist organisation, this serves only to increase the influence of generals over politics and government.
The Ergenekon trial is truly a turning point for Turkey. Turkey will either purge itself of this poison or be obliged to live with its toxic effects.