The release from jail of the former Aegean Army commander, retired General Hursit Tolon, on February 7 on grounds of lack of evidence has sparked speculation that he and other four-star generals are being protected by the country’s politically powerful Turkish Armed Forces (TAF). He was set free by an Istanbul court after being held in prison for about 7 months pending trial on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.
Istanbul’s 12th Higher Criminal Court released him on grounds that his possession of a copy of a booklet allegedly showing the structure of a clandestine organization named Ergenekon could not be accepted as convincing evidence that he was a senior member of this group, since the same document has been published by the media and is available on many websites (all Turkish dailies, February 8). The same court, however, issued a foreign travel ban on Tolon.
Operations against those allegedly involved in deep-state activities are continuing; 86 people, 47 of whom are under arrest, are being tried by a court in Silivri, an Istanbul suburb. Those arrested include a retired general and other retired officers. The defendants are accused of organizing the Ergenekon terrorist organization to overthrow the government by force. The charges include forming and being a member of a terrorist organization as well as inciting public unrest and encouraging the military to commit disobedience in order to remove the Islam-oriented ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) from power.
The Silivri court’s 2,500-page indictment revealed the existence of an ultranationalist terrorist organization seeking to overthrow the government while fomenting unrest in the country under the pretence of maintaining the status quo.
"Both the attached documents and wiretapping show that the Ergenekon terrorist organization has been engaged in secret operations within the TAF and that there have been members of the organization within the TAF from the lowest to the highest ranking officers," the indictment said. The indictment also charged the suspects with possessing explosives and arms as well as obtaining classified documents, provoking military disobedience, inciting hatred, and abusing power.
Umit Kardas, a lawyer turned retired military prosecutor, asserted that Tolon’s release showed that there had been intervention in the judiciary. "Certain bargains have been made [between the government and the military]; thus, a balance has been established. After that bargain, senior generals are being released one after another. An earlier request for Tolon’s release had been turned down….The threat of a coup in Turkey is still continuing," he added (Taraf, February 8).
"It was known earlier that (the) booklet (which) showed the structure of Ergenekon was made public by the media. What has changed since then that [led to his being] released?" wondered Lawyer Ozkan Yucel (Taraf, February 8).
Earlier, retired General Tuncer Kilinc, the former head of the country’s once powerful National Security Council (NSC), and retired General Kemal Yavuz were briefly detained before being released by a Turkish court during an Ergenekon operation on January 8 (all Turkish dailies, January 10).
Their release came soon after extraordinary meetings on January 8 that Turkish Chief of General Staff General Ilker Basbug held separately with President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to a retired general speaking to Jamestown, the generals were released after Basbug made veiled threats to both Erdogan and Gul. "Basbug’s meeting with Gul and Erdogan came following consultations made among the top service commanders of the air, navy, and the land," the same source said.
Meanwhile, a recording released by a number of news websites on February 10, alleged to have been the voice of the wife of retired General Sener Eruygur, a suspect in the Ergenekon probe, indicated that there were attempts to influence the judiciary. A former head of the Gendarmerie General Command (JGK), Eruygur was arrested last July on charges of being a senior member of the Ergenekon organization. He was released from custody by the Istanbul 9th High Criminal Court for medical reasons last September after he was hospitalized for a cerebral hemorrhage.
The recording allegedly contains a conversation between Mukaddes Eruygur, the general’s wife, and GATA military hospital doctor Colonel Albay Demircan, in which the two talk about what can be done to ensure that Eruygur will not be arrested again after his release from the hospital. There is a discussion about which court could help prevent Eruygur from being arrested again. "Zekeriya Oz [the Ergenekon prosecutor] is in close contact with the Istanbul 13th Higher Criminal Court. This court blocks our demands. The 12th and 14th higher criminal courts are ours,’ the voice alleged to be that of Mrs. Eruygur said (Today’s Zaman, February 11). Websites have also published pictures showing Eruygur inside GATA standing up and looking healthy.
As speculation about the Ergenekon probe has increased, Turkey’s former President Suleyman Demirel, who was overthrown twice by the military and who served as prime minister six times, said that the Turkish military was the deep state in Turkey and that it faced the risk of division into different camps when engaged in politics (Today’s Zaman as quoted from the monthly Eko Enerji, February 3).
Critics of the Ergenekon probe, meanwhile, questioned the rationale behind keeping Tolon in jail for seven months if he were not guilty. Deniz Baykal, Chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said on February 12 that "You [the courts] will catch the people [i.e., former generals who are later released), keep them in jail for 11 months, and then release them as if nothing had happened….Can any such thing happen?" (NTV news channel, February 12).
There are Western opponents of the Ergenekon probe as well. A Western military analyst who spoke to Jamestown on February 12 believed that Ergenekon was a poorly orchestrated but well-controlled government operation to discredit the country’s secular community.
But in the first public opinion poll conducted by the local A & G company about the two-year Ergenekon investigation and the trial, 61.7 percent of the respondents believed in the existence of the Ergenekon network while only 32.8 percent said that the investigation had been taking place within the rule of law (Milliyet, January 26).
Similarly, a report approved by the foreign relations committee of the European Parliament on February 12, demanded that the Ergenekon investigation be resolutely continued but that a fair trial should be ensured (all Turkish dailies).