Fact and Fantasy: Turkey's Ergenekon Investigation

Between Fact and Fantasy: Turkey's Ergenekon Investigation (PDF)
By Gareth H. Jenkins
August 2009
Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
Silk Road Studies Program
by Svante E. Cornell
Research Director
Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program

Two years since its inception, the Ergenekon case has mushroomed beyond all expectations. In over a dozen predominantly pre-dawn raids, hundreds of suspects have been detained and/or questioned, and almost two hundred have been charged. Prosecutors have so far produced two indictments running a total of several thousand pages, and both a third and a fourth indictment are rumored to follow in coming months. But far from convincing its critics, the Ergenekon investigation has become ever more controversial. On the one hand, it has clearly uncovered information on wrongdoing on the part of some of the accused, and certainly on the prevalence of democratically questionable views among a section of the Turkish elite. But that said, the prosecution appears to have failed to live up to the high judicial standards that Turkey’s population were entitled to expect, leading to serious doubts concerning the investigation’s conduct, and ultimately, its motives.

Several factors have fed these concerns. Firstly, every pre-dawn raid appeared to net an increasingly unlikely batch of suspects. Gradually, a pattern emerged whereby prosecutors could show little or no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of a substantial proportion of the suspects, many of whom appeared to have nothing in common except their political opposition to the AKP in particular and to Islamic conservatism in general. Secondly, as the investigation dragged on, concerns mounted regarding the length of time suspects spent in detention without being formally charged with any crime. Third, it gradually became clear that the case not only made claims that defied reason – such as implicating the supposed Ergenekon organization in every act of political violence in Turkey’s modern history – but also that the investigation included deep inconsistencies and internal contradictions. Fourth, the systematic leaking of evidence from the investigation to the pro-AKP press, which appeared to serve the purpose of intimidating the opposition, had by mid-2008 become a serious concern that compromised the integrity of the investigation. In sum, at the time of writing, the Ergenekon investigation has led to a climate of fear spreading in the ranks of the substantial section of the Turkish population that is opposed to the AKP government and to Islamic conservatism...

In view of the Ergenekon investigation’s massive impact on, and far-reaching implications for Turkey’s society and politics, it is all the more surprising that it has been subjected to so little analytical treatment. Indeed, studies of the case seldom go beyond newspaper-length articles that can at best highlight only limited aspects of the issue. This is in all likelihood a factor of the sensitive and infected nature of the case, as well as a result of the prohibitive size of the indictments, which has deterred even those scholars that do have a command of the Turkish language from acquiring a serious enough knowledge of the case to speak authoritatively on the subject.

Yet that is exactly what Gareth Jenkins has done. A long-time and respected observer of Turkish politics and society, Jenkins is ideally placed to understand, as well as explain, the intricacies of the Ergenekon investigation. His published works to date include monographs both on the Turkish military and on Turkish political Islam, both key ingredients in the maze of relationships that make up the context of the Ergenekon investigation. Not standing at that, Jenkins is among the few to have studied both indictments in the case in detail. It was therefore natural for the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program to commission Jenkins to conduct an in-depth analysis of the case. The result is the present paper, whose conclusions concerning the Ergenekon case should form essential reading for anyone seeking to understand contemporary Turkish politics. Those conclusions, however, are not encouraging. They suggest, in fact, that the prevailing Western view of the Ergenekon investigation as a step forward in Turkey’s democratization process is misplaced. Indeed, they also imply that the Western tacit encouragement of the investigation – though diminishing in emphasis as concerns have mounted even there – should be tempered with a much more acute concern for the investigation’s breaches of the rule of law and due process. Coupled with other developments of concern in Turkish affairs, not least the growing intimidation of independent media, the Ergenekon investigation is certainly worthy of much closer monitoring and analysis.

Executive Summary

... However, whether among those formally indicted as part of the Ergenekon investigation or those detained in the police raids and subsequently released without charge, many appear to have been guilty of nothing more than opposition to the AKP. In fact, there is no proof that the Ergenekon organization as described in the indictments exists or has ever existed. Indeed, the indictments are so full of contradictions, rumors, speculation, misinformation, illogicalities, absurdities and untruths that they are not even internally consistent or coherent...

However, some of the inconsistencies in the evidence presented to the court have led to accusations that the investigators have amended material to try to reinforce the charges against the defendants. Such accusations have been dismissed as unfounded by those involved in the investigation. But it is difficult to be as dismissive about the frequency with which material – particularly the transcripts of what appear to be recordings of telephone calls involving either the defendants or critics of the investigation – has appeared in pro-AKP media outlets and websites. In most cases, the victims of the apparent wiretaps have claimed that, although substantially accurate, the recordings and transcripts have been doctored to try to incriminate or discredit them. Government officials have dismissed suggestions that the transcripts are based on wiretaps by AKP sympathizers in the TNP, claiming that the equipment required to tap telephone calls is freely available on the black market. While that may be the case, it does not explain why it is only critics and opponents of the AKP who have had their telephones tapped and purported transcripts of their conversations published in the media. Nor does it explain the failure of the law enforcement authorities to investigate the apparent wiretaps. Under Turkish law, tapping a telephone without judicial approval is a crime, as is publishing the transcript of a wiretap.

The law enforcement authorities have also displayed a marked reluctance to pursue other accusations of wrongdoing against those associated with the AKP. Even after a German court ruled in September 2008 that close associates of leading members of the AKP in Turkey had been involved in the embezzlement of at least €16.9 million in donations to the Deniz Feneri e.V. Islamic charity. When members of the Doğan Group, Turkey’s largest media holding, reported details of the German court’s findings, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan instructed party supporters not to buy the group’s newspapers. On February 19, 2009, the tax authorities abruptly fined the Doğan Group TL 826 million (approximately $525 million) for alleged tax irregularities; charges which the group has resolutely denied. On April 13, 2009, one of the Doğan Group’s executives was detained overnight on suspicion of links to Ergenekon. On April 21, 2009, all of the companies in the Doğan Group were banned from bidding for state tenders for a period of one year.

This context has inevitably reinforced suspicions that the Ergenekon investigation cannot be explained solely by the investigators’ penchant for conspiracy theories. Significantly, despite its proponents’ claims that it represents a final reckoning with the some of the darker pages in recent Turkish history, the Ergenekon investigation has made little attempt to investigate the numerous well-documented accusations of abuses by Deep State operatives during its heyday in the 1990s. Indeed, the fear is that it represents a major step not – as its proponents maintain – towards the consolidation of pluralistic democracy in Turkey, but towards an authoritarian one-party state.
File under: This is complete nonsense, everybody knows that Islam is a religion of peace, case closed, nothing to see here, move along you Islamophobes.

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