Books on Turkey
Update No: 137 - (24/10/08)
Behind the scenes
Turkey, as everyone knows, is a secular state, albeit now with a
moderate Moslem government. It has been steered behind the scenes from its
inception by Kemal Ataturk in 1923 by a powerful elite of military officers,
jurists and bureaucrats, who have toppled the government of the day four times,
notably in the army coup of 1980. The army sees itself as the custodian of the
The Islamicist character of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)
sticks in the gullet of many in the military and other security services, and of
many in the media, academia and among the ultranationalists. It is evident that
several plots to topple the government have been hatched in the last decade by
the violent fringe of the secular elite.
The election of Abdullah Gul, an AKP member, in August 2007 was
expected to provoke violent opposition; Gul's wife wears a headscarf, held to be
emblematic of Islamic culturalism. Actually things went off reasonably smoothly
Trial of the century
One dramatic plot has been revealed in a sensational trial that
began on October 20. Actually its first hearing was delayed several hours as the
court was overwhelmed by nationalist demonstrators and journalists inside and
outside the courtroom. When it convened, it was decided to adjourn it until
October 23 to arrange better security.
The court in Silivri, near Istanbul, then started hearing a case
against 86 retired generals, journalists, academics, mafia-linked figures and
common criminals, charged with crimes, including assassinations and bomb
attacks, designed to topple the government. The main brunt of the case is
focused on an illicit ultranationalist network, known as Ergenekon - the name
refers to a Central Asian Turkic legend.
Prosecutors claim that the organisation employed violence in an
attempt to destabilise civil society and undermine support for the AKP
government, which was re-elected last year. The ultimate objective was to
prepare for a fifth coup in the history of modern Turkey.
There have been a series of murders and bomb attacks, amid
indications that a broad conspiracy was under way, though it remains to be seen
what evidence there is and how firm it is.
The charges against the group were made public this summer in a
2,455-page document of indictment. They include several murders - of a judge, of
a cleric and of a journalist, and of three workers of a Christian publishing
house, and the bombing of a newspaper, Cumhurriyet, which was made out to look
like the work of Islamic extremists. The network is also charged with plotting
to assassinate prominent public figures, notably the novelist and Nobel Prize
winner, Orhan Pamuk. Among the accused is a bete noir of Pamuk's, Kemal
Kerincsiz, a nationalist lawyer, who has prosecuted him and other prominent
writers for “insulting Turkishness” under the notorious Article 301 of the
The indictment includes charges of plans to kill Greek and
Armenian religious leaders and a prominent Jewish businessman, Ashak Alaton.
Among the suspects are a retired army general and former mayor of Istanbul, Veli
Kucuk, and Dogu Perincek, a politician believed to have ties to a Kurdish
separatist group that the police have been fighting for years.
The scope of the police investigation has widened so much that
several key figures among those arrested have not been indicted in the initial
hearing, but are expected to face trial later. They include two senior generals
arrested in July – Sener Eruygur, the former head of the paramilitary
gendarmarie and secretary of the pro-Ataturk Kemalist Thought Association
(shades of 1984); and Hursit Tolon, a former 1st Army Commander, who is the most
senior person linked to the investigation.
The police started a series of raids last year, which have
revealed caches of hand-grenades in the apartments of members of the conspiracy.
They have also confiscated documents outlining in a PowerPoint presentation how
to restructure the state. High treason no less is what is in question!
The indictment states that the network "turned our country
into a mafia and terror haven."
The agenda of the government
There is a widespread supposition that the Premier Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, of the AKP, is using the case to silence critics who say that his party
has an Islamicist agenda which is undermining the secularism that characterises
modern Turkey, setting it apart from other Moslem countries in the Middle East.
But Erdogan insists that his party has moved way beyond its Islamic roots and
that it has a modernising agenda that involves greater freedom of religious
That there is a struggle between the governing party and the elite
has been clear for some time. The government is aiming to prevent this taking a
violent form, and to pre-empt another coup.
The trial is a means to this end. It is arousing enormous interest
in Turkey, which normally sees very little criticism of generals, even retired
ones, three of whom are among the accused. The fact that Turkey is holding the
trial at all is being seen as a victory for open society and the independent
rule of law.
The investigation's supporters depict it as an attempt to disclose
unaccountable elements within Turkey's military-security apparatus, held
responsible for decades of mayhem and atrocities perpetrated in the long war
against Kurdish militants. Its critics have portrayed it rather as a
politically-motivated bid by the AKP to weaken the military and other pillars of
the secular state.
The trial continues and is gripping the country. It is lighting up
a whole political landscape and is a moment of coming to self-consciousness on
behalf of a nation. 'Know Thyself' said the Ancient Greeks. By the end of this
trial the Turks will know themselves and their polity much better.