World Bulletin / News Desk
A Turkish human rights association launched its new booklet, over 60 pages in length, which responds to arguments raised by opponents of the case against Ergenekon -- a clandestine criminal organization accused of working to overthrow the AK Party government-- at a press conference in Istanbul on Friday, Cihan News Agency said.
The conference was chaired by Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a lawyer by profession and president of the association, and Bekir Berat Ozipek, an academic at İstanbul Commerce University. Turkish and foreign journalists as well as members of the Young Civilians, a group promoting democracy in Turkey, also attended the conference. The Young Civilians also contributed to the booklet, which was published in English.
Cengiz, who spoke on behalf of all contributors of the booklet, said they decided to prepare such a document in order to fight vast misconceptions about the Ergenekon case, particularly abroad.
“I was in Washington seven months ago. There I saw that there is a huge lobby working for Ergenekon. Ergenekon is, unfortunately, a completely different story abroad. They [the lobby] keep claiming that no such organization as Ergenekon exists," Cengiz said.
Then we started to think what we could do to fight the misconceptions. We scanned all Western media and saw that 90 percent of Ergenekon-related stories were in favor of the Ergenekon organization. Then I collected many arguments raised by critics of the Ergenekon case as hypotheses and called a group of intellectuals, analysts, human rights advocates and journalists for a two-day workshop to respond to the arguments. We compiled the responses in our booklet: Ergenekon Is Our Reality,” stated Cengiz, about the booklet's background.
Dozens of suspected members of the Ergenekon gang, including those from the military, academia and the business world, are currently in prison pending trial on coup charges. Many others are accused of contributing to devious plans to destroy Parliament and topple the government albeit not under arrest.
Ergenekon hearings have been taking place since October 2008. Critics of the Ergenekon case argue that the case targets Turkey's military and secular circles as it is a maneuver by the government to weaken and eventually get rid of the secular order in the country.
According to Cengiz, however, the case is Turkey confronting its past, which is filled with shadowy acts of crime that mainly targeted non-Muslims, pious Muslims, Alevis, Kurds and intellectuals.
“Opponents of the [Ergenekon] case claim that the case is supported only by circles close to the government. For me, it is quite natural because these circles were the actual targets of the planned acts of Ergenekon," he said.
"Furthermore, the case has gained the support of many others other than the supporters of the [Justice and Development Party (AK Party)] government, contrary to claims,” Cengiz remarked.
Ergenekon suspects are accused of having a hand in Turkey's darkest incidents, including mass murders. For example, some suspects are blamed for the Gazi events of 1995, in which 17 people were killed in İstanbul's Alevi-dominated Gazi neighborhood when unidentified individuals opened fire on a local café.
Other crimes Ergenekon is suspected to have had a hand in include the August 2001 murder of Uzeyir Garih, a Jewish-Turkish businessman stabbed to death in a Muslim cemetery in İstanbul's Eyup district; the 2002 murder of secularist academic Necip Hablemitoglu; and the 2006 murder of businessman Ozdemir Sabancı.
The accusations also include three coup attempts by military generals in the early 2000s codenamed Blonde Girl, Moonlight and Glove.
The “Ergenekon Is Our Reality” booklet mentions 10 main arguments put forward by Ergenekon critics, which are refuted in a group evaluation of participants of the above-mentioned workshop. The workshop was attended by nearly 50 individuals, including journalists, columnists, bar association members, rights activists and jurists.
Cengiz mentioned one of the arguments, which concerns the alleged “violation of the human rights” of suspects in the case. According to the argument, individuals were detained and arrested in violation of the law as part of the Ergenekon probe.
The veteran lawyer responded to the argument, saying: “Rights violations are not unique to the Ergenekon case. It stems from the Turkish legal system, which has many shortcomings and flaws. Human rights advocates say they are very surprised to see people speaking about rights violations in the Ergenekon case though they turn a blind eye to similar violations in other cases in which simple or ordinary people are tried. Furthermore, no allegation of torture or mistreatment has been made yet, though nearly 300 people have been arrested as part of the case thus far. The suspects were never denied the right to access to lawyers, either. Even some suspects are defended by 10 lawyers.”
He also said there are no limits on the length of the defense statements delivered by Ergenekon suspects during the trial. “Some suspects spent 15 days making defense [statements]. This is unbelievable. No other suspect in a different case would be given that chance,” Cengiz stated.
Kemal Kerincsiz, an ultranationalist lawyer, spent 60 hours testifying in his own defense over the course of 12 hearings. Four hearings were devoted to Workers' Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek's 18.5-hour-long defense statement. The prosecution also spent many days reading the Ergenekon indictments aloud.
Timing of Ergenekon case, pressure on prosecutors
In a question-and-answer session, one of the journalists asked why prosecutors overseeing the Ergenekon probe picked 2007 and 2008 to start such a gigantic case. Cengiz, in response, pointed to the importance of the emergence of the evidence related to the Ergenekon criminal organization and the political atmosphere available for the launch and conduct of such an inquest.
“I chatted with one of the Ergenekon prosecutors before. He said he did not know what they were following at the beginning of the Ergenekon probe. They did not know where the emerging evidence would take them. They felt there was something extraordinary with what they were probing. After a while, it turned out to be the Ergenekon case,” he said.
Cengiz also said Ergenekon prosecutors would not be able to maintain such a large-scale case if the political atmosphere did not permit it.
“However, Ergenekon prosecutors are under immense pressure. This pressure stems from the judiciary itself, as well. An Ergenekon prosecutor once complained that a chief prosecutor had given them massive documents to examine, but none of them were related to the Ergenekon case. Such paperwork is most probably aimed at keeping the prosecutors busy and preventing them from spending the necessary time on the Ergenekon case,” he noted.
Asked whether the Ergenekon case will take decades before its conclusion, Cengiz said, “Absolutely not.”
“There are court sessions almost every day. If this were an ordinary case, it'd be right to expect it to take many years to reach conclusion. But we are talking about the Ergenekon case. Prosecutors and judges are working hard to conclude the case as soon as possible,” he added.
Ergenekon hearings are held at the Silivri courthouse in İstanbul four days a week. The prosecution examines documents (indictments and folders of evidence) on the fifth day, which saves a great amount of time in the case.
Objection to case due to ‘allergy' to AK Party
Cengiz also drew attention to a point that hints at people's objection to the Ergenekon case. According to the lawyer, most people have a strong position toward the case only because they are “allergic” to the AK Party.
“They see Ergenekon as a ‘stick of the state' against a so-called Islamist party, and they do not want to lose that stick. The Ergenekon case is indeed very similar to Italy's Clean Hands operation. But prosecutors had the support of intelligence officers and politicians there. In Turkey, however, prosecutors are not allowed into the military barracks, for example. Take a crime scene as an example. Prosecutors are told to wait outside the scene, and they are forced to conduct the investigation based on the documents provided to them. The case is no different at all for Ergenekon prosecutors,” he added.
Among the participants of the workshop were İstanbul Bar Association member Fethiye Cetin, Agos weekly Editor-in-Chief Etyen Mahcupyan, former public prosecutor Resat Petek, former head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association Sezgin Tanrikulu and political analyst Ahmet Turan Ayhan.