BACKGROUND: The first indictment in the Ergenekon case was presented on July 10, 2008. The 2,455 page indictment charged 86 suspects with membership of what it described as the “Ergenekon terrorist organization”. On March 8, 2009, a second indictment, 1,909 pages long, accused another 56 suspects of membership of Ergenekon. On July 19, 2009, a third indictment, totaling 1,454 pages, charged 52 more suspects with belonging to Ergenekon. A fourth indictment is expected later this year.
The indictments claim that the accused members of Ergenekon belong to a vast, centrally-controlled organization which was not only trying to topple the AKP government by provoking a military coup but was responsible for virtually every act of political violence in Turkey over the last 20 years – including controlling an unlikely array of militant leftist, Kurdish nationalist and Islamist groups.
Ever since its inception, there have been allegations that Ergenekon investigation has violated the law and judicial procedures; not least through a tendency to detain suspects and then begin searching for evidence against them. (See Turkey Analyst, 24 October 2008 issue) Equally disturbing has been the frequency with which alleged evidence – including purported transcripts of wiretaps – has appeared in the pro-AKP media before being presented to court. (See Turkey Analyst, 16 January 2009 issue) There have also been numerous instances of serious discrepancies between what the pro-AKP media has claimed to be in the indictments and what is actually there; while the prodigious length of the indictments has acted as a shield against any objective evaluation of their contents.
One of the most startling features of the first two indictments was that neither the 4,364 pages of the indictments themselves nor the tens of thousands of pages of supplementary evidence presented to the court contained any evidence that the Ergenekon organization actually existed. Indeed, the first two indictments were so full of illogicalities, absurdities and contradictions that they were frequently intellectually incoherent.
Any hope that the third indictment would contain evidence of Ergenekon’s existence proved to be misplaced. Alarmingly, the writers of the third indictment appear to follow the same presumptive reasoning that underpinned its predecessors; namely, the assumption that there is a vast, centrally-coordinated conspiracy to destabilize the AKP and that any outspoken critic of the government must necessarily be a member of the conspiracy.
IMPLICATIONS: The third Ergenekon indictment follows the same format as its predecessors. Details of the 52 accused and the charges against them are followed by 42 pages explaining why Ergenekon should be regarded as a terrorist organization, it’s alleged past activities and future plans. The remainder of the indictment is taken up by alleged evidence against the individual accused. As in the first two indictments, this mostly consists of wiretaps and documents which the indictment claims were recovered from premises associated with the accused.
With a very small number of exceptions, the indictment seeks to prove not individual criminal activity by the accused but membership of a criminal organization. This is done primarily by trying to prove that the accused were in contact with, or held political views similar to, other alleged members of Ergenekon; with the implication that this proves that the individual concerned was a member of the Ergenekon organization. As was the case with the first two indictments, none of those charged in the third indictment has confessed to being a member of Ergenekon; nor is there any reference to belonging to the organization in any of the wiretaps or documents seized from the homes and workplaces of the accused. As a result, the prosecutors have resorted to a circular argument in which personal acquaintance with, or similar political views to, one of the other accused is regarded as proof that both are members of Ergenekon. For example, the proof against the accused Yalcin Küçük includes the fact that he participated in a panel discussion where Erol Mütercimler, who was accused of being a member of Ergenekon in the second indictment, was present. Yet, the indictment also notes that there were 12 people on the panel, and none of the other 10 has been charged with membership of Ergenekon.
Perhaps most extraordinarily, the third indictment makes no more attempt than its predecessors to explain how Ergenekon functions, how it is funded and organized, how its members communicate with each other and how decisions are made. In fact, it produces no evidence that the organization even exists. Yet, if Ergenekon does not exist, membership of the organization cannot be proof of guilt of the crimes Ergenekon is alleged to have committed.
Unlike the first two indictments, which detailed an improbably long list of violent attacks allegedly perpetrated by Ergenekon, the third indictment focuses on two, both of which occurred in May 2006. The first is a grenade attack on the fiercely secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper in Istanbul. The second is an assault by a lone gunman on the secularist Council of State in Ankara. The indictment claims both were “false flag” attacks intended to destabilize Turkey and discredit Islamists. Yet, although such an explanation is possible, there is no evidence that either attack was or was not the work of an organization, much less one called Ergenekon.
As proof of the organization’s ultimate intentions, the third indictment cites what it alleges were “four coup plans” prepared by Ergenekon: one in a diary allegedly written by retired Admiral Özden Örnek, who served as commander of the navy, and which was first published in Nokta news magazine in spring 2007; and three power point presentations which were allegedly recovered from a computer belonging to retired General Şener Eruygur, the former commander of the Turkish gendarmerie. There are question marks about the provenance of all four documents. Even if they are genuine, they appear to reflect a mixture of frustrated personal ambition and a desire for the military to apply pressure the AKP rather than to stage a full-blooded coup. More importantly, none contains any references to an organization or joint action with any of those accused of membership of Ergenekon.
The third indictment also include details of what it claims are plans for attacks against NATO installations and personnel and the assassination of members of Turkey’s religious minorities. The plans for the attacks against NATO were allegedly found amongst documents recovered from premises associated with the socialist-nationalist Worker’s Party, whose chairman, Doğu Perinçek, was one of those accused in the first indictment. The plans for attacks against members of Turkey’s religious minorities were allegedly recovered from the premises associated with İbrahim Şahin, an ultranationalist former head of the Special Operations Department of the Interior Ministry. Şahin and two of his close associates are among the suspects charged in the third indictment. The alleged plans have been dismissed as forgeries by the owners of the premises in which they were reportedly found. But, even if the plans are genuine, there is no evidence that they are linked to an organization called Ergenekon.
The third indictment also contains a list of the contents of what it claims are secret Ergenekon arms caches. The caches were allegedly discovered on premises associated with four of the 194 people accused in the Ergenekon indictments; one of those charged in the first indictment and three of those (one of them İbrahim Şahin) named in the third indictment. However, the list is problematic in itself. It includes 33 rifles and a large quantity of ammunition. But it also contains what are described as “used booby traps” and “used anti-aircraft ammunition”, the empty casings for “light anti-tank weapons (LAWs)” and “gas bombs”. It is unclear why such items with no apparent military use would be secretly buried. In addition, some of the weapons appear to have been buried in the ground wrapped only in newspaper, with the result that they would have been quickly corroded by the dampness in the soil. It is possible that there are explanations for such anomalies and that some or all of the weapons and equipment were intended for use in politically-motivated violence. However, it is equally possible that they were linked with organized crime groups or intended for sale on Turkey’s thriving market in illegal arms. There is simply no evidence one way or the other; and certainly nothing linking them to an alleged organization called Ergenekon.
CONCLUSION: The third Ergenekon indictment is marked by the same flaws that characterized its predecessors. A disparate collection of defendants who share nothing in common except opposition to the AKP have been charged with membership of a supposedly vast and powerful organization which does not even appear to exist. This is not to say that all of the accused are innocent of any crime. It is possible that some of the 194 people who have been charged with membership of Ergenekon are guilty of criminal activity. Yet even they cannot be guilty of membership of an organization which does not exist. But, for the majority of the defendants, their membership of Ergenekon – and, by implication, guilt for its alleged deeds – is all the indictments try to prove.
The contrast between the vigor with which the AKP sought international support when the party was threatened with closure in 2008 and its apparent indifference to the many abuses and absurdities of the Ergenekon investigation inevitably raises questions about its commitment to democracy and equality before the law. However, the manner in which Ergenekon investigation has been conducted, particularly the capriciousness with which people have been arrested and charged with membership of an organization which prosecutors have failed to prove exists, raises even more serious questions about the credibility of the Turkish judicial system.
Gareth Jenkins, a Senior Associate Fellow with the CACI & SRSP Joint Center, is an Istanbul-based writer and specialist of Turkish Affairs. The contents of first two indictments are discussed in greater detail in Jenkins' Between Fact and Fantasy: Turkey’s Ergenekon Investigation, a Silk Road Paper published by the Joint Center in August 2009.
© Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, 2009. This article may be reprinted provided that the following sentence be included: "This article was first published in the Turkey Analyst (www.turkeyanalyst.org), a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center".