The Ergenekon Investigation May Reveal JITEM’s Dirty Past

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 18

The investigation of the neo-nationalist criminal Ergenekon network involving military and police officers, politicians, media members, labor union leaders, and political strategists is continuing. In the 11th wave of arrests, on January 22, 40 people were detained including 10 police officers, nine active duty military officers, and a union leader accused of being one of the network’s financiers (CNNTurk, January 22). It was claimed that among those arrested were two assassination teams consisting of police officers from special forces units and the military (Sabah, January 22). At the same time, new evidence has been revealed that has turned public opinion against the Ergenekon network. According to a poll conducted by the A&G polling company, 61.7 percent of the respondents believed that Ergenekon existed, 20.3 percent said they believed there was no such crime network, and 18 percent were undecided (Milliyet, January 27).

With the recent wave of arrests, the direction of the investigation has tuned to unsolved political murders committed throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. One of the witnesses in the Ergenekon trial testified that a key Ergenekon suspect, retired General Veli Kucuk, personally ordered the assassination of the secular academic Necip Hablemitoglu in 2002 (Today’s Zaman, January 28). The Ergenekon trial will determine whether the witness’s claim is true, but the debate over Ergenekon has finally turned to the state’s policies toward the Kurds in the 1990s. Abdulkadir Aygan, a former member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and later a member of the clandestine gendarmerie intelligence unit known as JİTEM, confessed to the media that when retired Colonel Abdulkerim Kirca was the head of JITEM in Diyarbakir, the unit conducted dozens of executions (Star, January 19). Since then, Aygan has been living in Stockholm for fear of his life. The following day, Kirca committed suicide (Star, January 20). Chief of General Staff General Ilker Basbug, armed forces commanders, and a large number of military officers attended Kirca’s funeral in what was apparently a show of solidarity by the military for its members (Hurriyet, January 21). The Turkish Armed Forces issued a statement saying, “the media with its untrue stories judges people and drives them to tragedies. The authorities should act to stop this irresponsible media coverage” ( January 21).

As was to be expected, the media continued giving attention to Aygan’s confession. Aygan claimed that JITEM had executed between 600 and 700 Kurds in the 1990s and that “JİTEM operations always ended in death.…those who were reported to JİTEM as having any relationship with the PKK were executed” (Taraf, January 27).

In addition, Kurdish activists have started demanding that the acid wells of BOTAS, the Turkish petroleum company, be emptied, because former Ergenekon members have claimed that JITEM dumped some of its victims in them (Today’s Zaman, January 16, Bugun, January 28). The Kurdish nationalist Democratic Society Party (DTP) asked parliament to request that the authorities investigate the unsolved murders in southeastern Turkey. In response, the justice minister indicated that if there were solid reasons to support digging out the acid wells, he would consider investigating the claims (Radikal, January 21).

With the possibility of establishing a relationship between Ergenekon and some of the unsolved murders and PKK operations in the Kurdish region, the Ergenekon prosecutors asked the court in Diyarbakir to send the files of the JITEM trial in which 11 accused JITEM members have been tried in the last 10 years without producing a conviction (Referans, January 28).

Moreover, the Ergenekon prosecutors have asked the court to send the files on Brigadier General Bahtiyar Aydin who was mysteriously assassinated in town of Lice in Diyarbakir Province in 1993 and the files of colonel Ridban Ozden, whose murder in Mardin Province in 1995 was blamed on the PKK, a theory that is rejected by many including Ozden’s wife (Sabah, January 28).

It still remains to be seen how Ergenekon prosecutors will connect the murders in the Kurdish region in the 1990s with the arrested Ergenekon suspects and the buried ammunition found after the last two waves of Ergenekon arrests in January. Another claim that is being circulated about the Ergenekon network is that it plotted assassinations and killings to put the country into chaos in preparation for a possible military coup. While an opinion poll conducted by A&G polling company in second half of January shows that a majority of the people believe that Ergenekon is a criminal network operating outside the boundaries of the law, it is still a difficult task for the prosecutors to prove Ergenekon involvement in the incidents that took place in the past (Milliyet, January 27).