As Turkish police have been uncovering arms and ammunition buried deep beneath the ground in various places in Ankara, divisions within the Turkish political scene, the judiciary, and the intelligence services, as well as the politically powerful Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), have widened. The caches were discovered by examining sketches found in the houses of some suspects arrested in simultaneous raids in six cities on January 7 as part of the investigation of the Ergenekon network.
This has expanded a 19-month old probe into an alleged plot by staunch secularists to overthrow the pro-Islamic government. Three senior former generals detained for their alleged role in the coup plans were released on the weekend, while four active officers were arrested. This was the first time that active officers had been arrested in connection with the coup plot. Two former generals were also arrested in early July last year as part of the Ergenekon probe.
Last October in Istanbul the trial began of 86 people, 46 of whom (including a retired general) were under arrest on charges of setting up the Ergenekon terrorist network to overthrow the government by force. Prosecutors had prepared an indictment of more than 2,500 pages. The defendants are also accused of attempting to stage the assassination of such important figures as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former Turkish Chief of the General Staff General Yasar Buyukanit.
They are also charged with possessing explosives and firearms as well as obtaining classified documents, provoking military disobedience, inciting hatred, and the abuse of power.
Meanwhile, a raid on the house of Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Donmez, who surrendered to the military prosecutors on January 12, yielded 22 hand grenades, over 100 bullets, a Kalashnikov assault rifle, and four pistols. The police widened the investigation when they found a sketch in Donmez’s house, which led to the discovery of 30 hand grenades and ammunition on January 12 in an historic site in Sincan, an Ankara suburb (all dailies, January 13). Minister of National Defense Vecdi Gonul said that it was possible that the hand grenades belonged to the military-owned Machines and Chemical Industries Board (MKEK) (NTV news channel, January 13).
Turkish police, acting upon a sketch found during a search in the house of Ibrahim Sahin, former acting chief of the Police Special Operations Unit, discovered 28 different types of bombs, arms, and ammunition hidden under the ground in an empty plot in Ankara’s Golbasi suburb (all dailies, January 12). It is not clear yet why the arms and ammunition were hidden under the ground or in the houses, but police experts told Jamestown that the unearthed arms caches might shed light on the unresolved murders from the late 1980s and early 1990s of people ranging from Kurds to high-profile Turkish figures including Professor Ahmet Taner Kislali and senior columnist Ugur Mumcu.
Ibrahim Sahin, who was arrested under the Ergenekon investigation, served six years in jail when a court found him guilty of forming a gang to commit crimes under the trial of Susurluk gang, discovered in 1996 following a traffic accident that has taken place in Turkey’s Surusluk township. For medical reasons former Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer later pardoned him after serving only 185 days in prison (Hurriyet, June 26, 2003).
“Ergenekon is the continuation of the unfinished Susurluk gang scandal,” said Mehmet Elkatmis, a former parliamentary deputy and the head of the parliamentary commission investigating the Susurluk case at the time (NTV news channel, January 7).
Judges were able to trace the involvement of the police and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) in the Susurluk gang scandal, and Ergenekon widened the inquiry, including for the first time powerful members of the military, journalists, academics, and businessmen.
As the Ergenekon probe has become broader, however, serious divisions within society have again arisen. Kemalists (the defenders of Turkey’s staunchly secular foundation) and ultra nationalists uniting with leftists have formed a faction opposed to the Ergenekon investigation. A pro-Ergenekon group has emerged on the other side, consisting of liberals seeking increased democracy by supporting the ruling Islam-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP), as long as it adheres to the European Union’s (EU) democratic criteria.
As a reflection of that division, the latest Ergenekon probe has again sparked a severe war of words between the pro and anti-Ergenekon groups.
In televised speeches made to their party members, Deniz Baykal, chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), blamed the AKP government for politicizing the investigation, while Devlet Bahceli, chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), extended his support for the probe (CNNTurk news channel, January 13). “For the sake of democracy, it is right and natural that the political authority should uncover all the illegal activities and [eliminate them] within the rule of law,” Bahceli said. However, he warned against turning the investigation into a politics of revenge (CNNTurk, January 13).
Meanwhile, both Baykal and some media outlets blamed the government for trying to turn Turkey into a police state. A similar criticism was leveled at the government by Omer Faruk Eminagaoglu, Head of the Judges and Prosecutors Association (YARSAV). He complained that the police had assumed the role of prosecutors and judges in the Ergenekon operations (Hurriyet Daily, January 12).
Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin, in reply, highlighted the importance of respecting the independence of the judiciary, adding that the police had been acting on orders from the prosecutors.
Erdogan, in the meantime, strongly criticized Baykal, saying that he had been intervening for some reason in the judicial process. “He [Baykal] sometimes urges the investigation of Gladio and the gangs, while sometimes acting as if he were the lawyer of gangs and mafia,” Erdogan said (NTV news channel, January 13).
In the midst of the fierce ongoing war of words among the politicians and the judiciary, the Turkish General Staff (TGS) announced that a probe was being launched into the affairs of Donmez (www.tsk.mil.tr, January 13). Columnist Alper Gormus questioned the reasons behind the failure of the Turkish military to launching a probe long ago over alleged links between its active officers and Ergenekon (Taraf, January 13).
There is an emerging belief in Turkey that the Ergenekon investigation became possible because of an agreement reached with the United States. “There might be a consensus between the United States and Turkey over bringing Turkey’s politically powerful military in line with NATO’s democratic standards,” asserted lawyer Umit Kardas, a former military prosecutor (Interview with Jamestown, January 8).
In an interview with Today’s Zaman on January 11, Kardas said:
I do not believe that Ergenekon marks the start of a general clean-up operation within the TSK, because it will resist it. But behind Ergenekon operations may be a consensus with the United States to bring the TSK into line with NATO standards, which sees intervention in politics through military coups unacceptable (www.sundayszaman.com, January 11).
NATO cannot forget that Turkey’s military has intervened in the political system in various ways from direct intervention to memos or post-modern coups five times since the establishment of the Turkish Republic 85 years ago.