The shady gang named Ergenekon is suspected of a number of political murders, including that of a senior judge in a shooting at the Council of State in 2006 and a hand grenade attack on the secularist Cumhuriyet daily. Academics, businessmen, mafia bosses and retired military officers, including former generals, are among more than 100 suspects accused of various crimes in the indictment, submitted to a court in the middle of last summer.
In one of the phases of the Ergenekon investigation, 13 individuals including Workers’ Party (IP) Chairman Dogu Perinçek, Cumhuriyet daily columnist Ilhan Selçuk and former Istanbul University Rector Kemal Alemdaroglu were detained. While Perinçek was sent to jail, Alemdaroglu and Selçuk were released pending trial after being interrogated.
There were allegations that Perinçek wrote the Ergenekon manifesto, that Selçuk was a senior manager of the organization and that Alemdaroglu was engaged in coup plans.
But how people from such different backgrounds and professions came together and designed coup plans has been an intensely debated issue in Turkey, and with the most recent detentions last Wednesday — which included three retired generals and 10 active duty officers of various ranks — the debate has become more intense than ever.
After the latest wave of detentions, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal called a news conference, claiming that the detentions were politically motivated and that they were an attempt on the part of the government to "change the regime." On Wednesday evening, the General Staff also called an immediate meeting of force generals, who did not issue any statement after holding their six-hour meeting. Belittling the investigation, Baykal has already offered to be an attorney for the Ergenekon suspects; so has former President Süleyman Demirel.
Suspects motivated to save country
Attorney Yusuf Alatas, who has taken on many cases involving political figures, has said the founders of Ergenekon probably had a common motivation — "to save the country."
"For them, the country is about to be occupied or has already been occupied, and it has to be saved," he explained, adding that right-wing people in the organization were convinced that communists would seize the country, left-wingers were convinced that imperialists would seize the country and secular-minded people were convinced that Shariah would replace the current regime.
"So even people who would never be able to get along came together in the same organization, probably without even knowing each other. Only the upper-rank coordinators who used them knew who was who."
Indicating that the Ergenekon organization is not new, Alatas said it is based on Gladio, a code name denoting the clandestine NATO stay-behind operation in Italy after World War II. In Italy in the 1970s, it was discovered that explosives used in an attack that killed three gendarmes in Pateano came from an arms depot belonging to a secret organization. As the investigation developed, the existence of an organization named Gladio was discovered. In the course of the ensuing investigation, more than 600 Gladio members, including two people who had served as prime minister and president, were exposed.
‘Ergenekon goes back to Feb. 28 period’
According to journalist and writer Nazli Ilicak, the Ergenekon terrorist organization was deeply involved in the psychological dimension of the unarmed military intervention of 1997, commonly referred to as the "Feb. 28 process."
Ilicak explained that in the run-up to the Feb. 28 process, Ergenekon was involved in creating a suitable atmosphere to curb the rise of the religiously minded Welfare Party (RP), which has since been shut down by the Constitutional Court.
"A campaign led by the military used the media, civil society groups and academics as tools to spread propaganda," she said, referring to the Feb. 28 process, also dubbed the "post-modern coup," in which the coalition government was forced to resign.
She also said the West Study Group (BÇG), which was known to be active in most of the events that led up to the unarmed military intervention of Feb. 28, may be viewed as an extension of Ergenekon.
Democratic Society Party (DTP) deputy Sirri Sakik said the Ergenekon gang was strengthened by developments in southeastern Turkey following the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup.
"Such organizations have become stronger, being fed by the unlawful environment in the Kurdish region," he said, referring to unsolved murders committed in the Southeast.
"There have been 17,000 unsolved murders. Look who was in charge of the country when those murders were committed: Süleyman Demiral, Tansu Çiller, Mesut Yilmaz and Necmettin Erbakan. Turkey should face not only Ergenekon but also its past," Sakik said.
‘Indictment needed to explain latest detentions’
Felicity Party (SP) Deputy Chairman Ömer Vehbi Hatipoglu said the Ergenekon prosecutors should put forward their indictment as soon as possible to explain the reason why, for example, two figures as seemingly unrelated as former Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Sabih Kanadoglu and former Special Police Operations Deputy Chief Ibrahim Sahin, who served six years in jail after Susurluk (the 1996 scandal in which ties between subversive elements and the state were established for the first time), have been detained in relation to the Ergenekon case.
"It’s hard to understand the links that brought unrelated people together in the Ergenekon case. These will be understood with the release of the prosecutor’s indictment. If a prosecutor feels the need to search the home of Kanadoglu, that means he has serious reasons for it. There seem to be mutual ideals to unite these people," he said.
Journalist Celal Kazdagli, who investigated the "deep state," reiterated the idea that the detentions show that those people came together because they shared the same purpose.
"They do not necessarily have to know each other. There are ideologues who plan the big picture, and there are pawns to be used. Everyone does his or her own thing in the operation."
So far, waves of detentions and more discoveries of weapons serve as pieces to complete the mosaic of Ergenekon, and the investigation may in fact present an opportunity for an in-depth analysis of the past 50 years in Turkey.