Turkey's Ergenekon affair: ‘A way of thinking on trial’

Demonstrations outside the court in Silivri, Turkey, on August 5, 2013
Demonstrations outside the court in Silivri, Turkey, on August 5, 2013
6 August 2013 – Presseurop Yeni Şafak, T24, Cumhuriyet, Vatan

On August 5, a court in Silivri near Istanbul delivered its verdict in the Ergenekon case, which the government claimed was a nationalist conspiracy to overthrow Recep Tayyp Erdoğan's Islamo-Conservative government in the 2000s. The decision is as controversial as it is significant in setting a new landmark, concludes the Turkish press.

The “trial of the century”, as newspapers had dubbed it, ended with life sentences for a score of defendants, including several high-ranking military officers, journalists and politicians from the Kemalist opposition. More than 250 others also received jail terms.

In the pro-government daily Yeni Safak, columnist Abdülkadir Selvi is pleased with the sentences handed down but wonders: “Is the Ergenekon trial really over?” and if the matter should end there. In 1997, he recalls, the army overthrew the coalition government led by the Refah party, the forerunner to the AKP under Erdoğan, and that in 2007 the military once again tried to mount an “electronic coup d’etat”, by posting on the website of the Turkish Major Staff a warning against the expected election of the AKP candidate, Abdullah Gül, as President of the Republic.

Yeni Şafak, Istanbul

There have been plenty of coups d’etat in Turkey, and yet no action has ever been taken against the plotters. This is what has changed today. Indeed, Turkey, victim of military coups d'état, is now demanding a settling of scores. In this context, the verdict of the Ergenekon trial has a particular historical importance. This tableau is, nevertheless, missing some pieces. Indeed, since General Başbuğ has been sentenced to life imprisonment, should General Büyükanit, who wrote the warning of April 27, 2007, as well as General Evren [head of the junta behind the coup d'etat of 1980], not also be prosecuted? Not to mention the coups d’etat of May 1960 and March 1971. The question here is not to judge old men or dead men, but to punish the carrying out of a coup d’etat.

On the independent site T24, Aydin Engin explains that –

Logo – T24, Istanbul

in effect, among the suspects tried in the Ergenekon trial, there were people who, in order to create the conditions for a genuine coup d’etat, had organised actions that were both legal (for example, events calling on the army “to do its duty”) and illegal (including the murders of Christian missionaries in Malatya in April 2007, caching weapons, and the attack against the State Council in 2006). These obviously are serious crimes that deserved to be judged [...], but the other aspect of this trial should also be looked at. Indeed, the Turkish justice system has been discredited in this trial by an excess of simplistic revenge. Thus, at the same time that people who had committed very real crimes were being judged, the action against the Ergenekon network has been seriously tainted by the putting on trial of a mindset, of a way of thinking.

The Kemalist daily Cumhuriyet, one of whose journalists, Mustafa Balbay, was sentenced to 34 years and eight months in prison, believes that this trial has been strictly –

Cumhuriyet, Istanbul

an act of political revenge, orchestrated by the AKP government.

In Vatan author and columnist Zülfü Livanelli, a former political detainee who was exiled in the 1970s, also denounces a verdict “that has lashed out at a good number of innocents, convicted on the basis of anonymous witnesses and statements that have never been proven”, which “casts a terrible shadow over the verdict."

Vatan, Istanbul

Justice has not been done, because the innocent have been punished alongside the guilty. I hope that the judges at the Court of Cassation will re-establish justice in Turkey.