On January 7 the investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine neo-nationalist criminal network that allegedly plotted to stage a military coup, resulted in a new wave of high-profile arrests in Sivas, Ankara, and Istanbul. The network reportedly has members from many segments of society, including military officials, businessmen, journalists, politicians, the police, and civilians. A total of 38 people have been arrested including the former head of the National Security Council, retired General Tuncer Kilinc; former head of the Council of Higher Education, Professor Kemal Guruz; nine active duty military officers, including captains, colonels, and lieutenant colonels; college professors; the former head of the special forces unit of the Turkish National Police, Ibrahim Sahin; an active-duty police captain; and mafia members. An arrest warrant was also issued for Bedrettin Dalan, a former mayor of Istanbul who was in the United States during the recent operations. The governor of Sivas Province revealed that the Ergenekon network was planning to assassinate the head of the Armenian community there (Zaman, January 8).
Because nine active duty military officers and high-level retired generals were arrested, Turkish Chief of General Staff General Ilker Basbug called the commanders of land, air, and sea forces to a meeting that lasted six hours. (Hurriyet, Sabah, Milliyet, January 8). After the meeting, Basbug visited Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul to express the concern of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) (www.tsk.mil.tr, January 8). It was reported that Basbug asked Erdogan and Gul to request that the TSK members not be arrested but be invited to go to the prosecutors’ office (Yeni Safak, January 9). According to an unconfirmed report, a lieutenant colonel, who is considered to be a key figure because police found 22 hand grenades, one automatic weapon, five pistols and 8,300 bullets in his house (Star, January 9), escaped from his office when the police were not allowed to enter the military compound where he worked (Hurriyet, January 9). In addition to arms seized at the lieutenant colonel’s house, police dug up additional ammunition in the backyard of a house in Ankara (Hurriyet, January 9).
It appears that the TSK was expecting the operation. The Ankara Central Command reportedly told the security units of the military compounds where active and retired generals live not to allow police and prosecutors to enter the compounds, even with a search warrant, without the command’s permission (Taraf, January 9).
As usual, the Ergenekon investigation has once again divided Turkish intellectuals into two camps. On the one hand, Kemalists and neo-nationalist intellectuals argue that it is politically motivated. They maintain that it is no coincidence that the government opposition is the target of the investigation. Some of the pro-Ergenekon intellectuals went so far as to call the arrests of such well-known people “state terror” (Hurriyet, January 8). Chairman of the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) Deniz Baykal harshly criticized the investigation, claiming that it was an attempt to change the Turkish state regime. Baykal even saw parallels to the developments during the preparatory stages of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (Aksam, January 8).
On the other hand, some intellectuals say that the Ergenekon investigation is a well-organized investigation and a golden opportunity to punish those who plot against the civilian government (Sabah, Yeni Safak, January 9).
The police reportedly have video tapes of meetings where military plots against the AKP government were discussed (Taraf, December 19). Although these reports need confirmation; it is no secret that Tuncer Kilinc was the first person to advocate that Turkey leave the U.S. and EU camp and form a new pact with Russia and Iran (see EDM, December 2). The Ergenekon network believes that a military coup is the only way to control the government (Sabah January 9).
The recent arrests took place at a time when people had started asking whether the prosecutors could really go any deeper. The recent wave of arrests has shown just how serious the prosecutors are about investigating the Ergenekon network. The wave of arrests has triggered deep concern within the TSK leadership. After the long meeting with other commanders, it appears that Basbug wants to intervene in the due process of the Ergenekon investigation and trial. It will not be the first time that he has actively taken the side of Ergenekon suspects. The day of his appointment as Chief of the General Staff he sent a general to visit retired Generals Hursit Tolon and Sener Eruygur at the prison where they were being held awaiting trial.
It is not yet known how a worried military will react to the investigation, but the Ergenekon inquiry has the potential to harm the recently improved relations between the AKP government and the TSK.