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Is Ergenekon Erdogan’s revenge?

Ceylan Ozbudak

Published: Updated:

It is almost embarrassing that some analysts are still saying of the Turkey protests that “peaceful protestors got a harsh response from the Islamist government of Turkey.” They seem to have forgotten that the first rule of being a journalist is to refrain from taking sides. The maxim of Daniel Patrick Moynihan – “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts” – should apply to everyone, regardless of political orientation. So let's talk facts about the Gezi Park display. In the summer of our discontent, we in Turkey have witnessed the destruction of:

274 civilian vehicles, 116 police cars, 22 buses, 297 shops, 3 apartments, 5 police centers, 16 political party buildings, hundreds of bus stations, traffic signs, traffic lights, and miles of pavement stones.

If this picture represents “peaceful protests” for some people, I think they need therapy.

Why have I brought this up again? Because the same revision of history divorced of facts and objectivity, is happening with the recent verdict in the Ergenekon trials. Some analysts even said this verdict is the Islamist government’s payback for the Gezi protests. Statements like these leave me speechless – not a phenomenon I am used to – because they are wrong on so many levels.

The facts of Ergenekon

The Ergenekon case, which concluded on August 5, originated in an investigation of plots against the government which began six years before these recent protests. In fact, the Ergenekon case has nothing to do with these protests. The majority of the suspects who were found guilty by the court were jailed by the time the protests took place and the name of the trial didn’t make it to the banners of protestors.

To protest the exposure of Ergenekon is like saying “I don't care that there is a snake as long as it doesn't hurt me.”

Ceylan Ozbudak

In June 2007, Turkish police discovered a stash of grenades and bomb-making materials at the residence of two retired police officers in an Istanbul suburb. Authorities launched a wide-ranging investigation, which led to numerous arrests, and to the conviction of 86 people in 2008. In 2009, several high-ranking officers gave evidence which led to the discovery of four separate coup plots, and to the discovery of plans for the assassination of very prominent Turkish political and intellectual figures, including the Nobel winning novelist, Orhan Pamuk. The latest verdict has let to the sentencing of many high-ranking figures.

The Western media didn’t hesitate to call the verdict a confrontation between the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and the army. They claim that it is a win for the government, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it is actually democracy and the rule of law that have triumphed.

“Deep state” networks

I know it is not easy, especially for a Western audience, to fully grasp what is going on in Turkey. The West has no political experience of a “deep state,” and the idea even evokes suspicion in the Western mind. For purposes of illustration, the well known Italian “Gladio” may be treated as a rough analogy to the Turkish Ergenekon. It is a “deep state” network which has been ingrained in national life – Turkish government, media, universities, hospitals, police force and civil society – for many years. Ergenekon corrupted our police force, and made us afraid of our own cops. Because of this deep state organization there was no real freedom in politics, judiciary or media, pretty much from the end of Ottoman rule. Most Turkish people described the case against this network as the cleansing of the century. Most people outside of Turkey have no idea how much pain Ergenekon has inflicted on the Turkish people, but the recent investigation has revealed the extent of the horror – the mysterious death of Esref Bitlis, the commander of the Turkish gendarme, the assassination of former Prime Minister Nihat Erim, and the car bomb assassination of Cumhuriyet columnist Ugur Mumcu are just a few in the long list of crimes.

I want to use the Spanish experience as an analogy this time. During the early years of post-Franco Spain, when the country got its first taste of democracy, the Spanish government decided to give Basque separatist group ETA a taste of its own medicine. ‘Democracy is to be defended not only in the lounges but also in the sewers, too,’ said then-Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales. France was tolerating ETA and let its leaders run the terrorist organization from the country. In retaliation, Spain founded a paramilitary group called Anti-Terrorist Freedom Groups (GAL) which started taking violent action against people and buildings associated with ETA. From 1983 to 1987, they killed 27 people, many of whom had no links to ETA.

When GAL halted its operations after relations with France improved, it was held to account. The network of alliances was revealed to be so vast that even the Minister of the Internal Affairs at the time was involved. He was convicted to 10 years in prison. However, it didn't stop there. The police chief, the gendarme general, intelligence officers, district officers, anti-terrorism officers were all sentenced. Perpetrators of many murders are still yet to be found. However, the court was able to prove that discretionary funds of the government were used to finance the abduction of at least one person and the murdering of two ETA members.

The deep state mafia in our country is much bigger and bloodier than its Spanish equivalent. No one seriously questions the rectitude of the judicial decision to prosecute and punish the actions of the GAL. To protest the exposure of the Ergenekon is like saying “I don't care that there is a snake as long as it doesn't hurt me.”

There hasn't been a single unsolved murder in Turkey for the past six years. Surely this is an outcome of the trials of Ergenekon, not the verdict pronounced today. This verdict has made everyone safer. Days when murderers killed “secular Ataturk targets” and put the blame on others to scream “secularism is under threat” are long gone. They were trying to justify a military coup, and it failed. It is all history now. If this blow to Ergenekon had come earlier, if the governments weren’t so afraid of Ergenekon’s revenge, trying to evade their blows, we could have developed faster, improved even more. So I recommend that everyone abandon their prejudices against the verdict of the court. They should stop thinking that it will only help the government. It is the farthest thing from the truth, because this decision will instead strengthen the opposition. With the Ergenekon days over, the government will have lost one of its reasons to stay in power. Now we will ask them for more democracy. At the same time, the opposition will be the only alternative once people are confident that Ergenekon is not coming back.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.