[Originally published in Hürriyet Daily News, with readers' comments]
It must be hard to be a foreign observer and try to sort out what Turkey exactly is. For this is a truly mind-boggling, sometimes maddening country. Its people have totally opposite narratives about the destiny of the nation and the causes of its misfortunes.
The founder of the country, for example, is a demigod for many Turks, whereas he is a ruthless dictator in the eyes of others. The demigod of some Kurdish citizens, on the other hand, is for the majority a “terrorist master” who should have been executed long ago. What is absolutely black for some is the purest tone of white for the other.
And now, as if we did not already have all these stark divisions, we have the Ergenekon probe which divides the country into two diametrically opposite camps.
The two camps
For the first camp, the Ergenekon probe is the best thing that has ever happened to Turkey. It is a brave effort by heroic prosecutors to unearth the criminal gangs within the state (or the criminal side of the state) and its civilian allies. Every measure taken by the authorities in this probe is absolutely rightful and necessary.
The second camp thinks that all of this is a big lie and Ergenekon is just a myth created by the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and its allies. They either totally deny that there was a coup scheme against the government, as the prosecutors claim. Or they see the coup scheme as a justified and even glorious duty of the patriots against the mistaken democratic choices of the nation.
The readers of this column might be aware that I have been roughly in the first camp – and certainly not in the second one. Yet, with developments of the past few weeks, and due to my concerns regarding a somewhat parallel case (called “Sledgehammer”), I guess I am shifting to a third position now: that the Ergenekon probe is indeed rightful and crucial, but it has excesses that growingly cause serious concern.
The case is rightful, for the existence of a military coup coalition that had various activities in the past decade is, for me, undeniable. Hence, the launching of the Ergenekon probe was crucial in not just a legal but also political sense. In other words, it not only brought some culprits to justice but it also prevented them from realizing their goals.
Indeed, it is fair to say that the AKP would have been overthrown by now had there been no Ergenekon case. Even the 2008 closure case against the AKP, which was a civilized form of a coup attempt, testifies to that. The AKP survived the case, quite barely, partly thanks to the Ergenekon probe. For the latter redefined the most serious criminal act that the closure case had attributed to “the encouragement of the Islamists by the AKP”: the shooting of a secular judge at the Council of State in 2006. In the Ergenekon indictment, the suspected killer, Alparslan Arslan, is accused of being an ultra-nationalist who carried out a false flag operation on behalf of Ergenekon.
On the other hand, the excesses of the case that I am speaking about include things such as the extremely long arrest periods, especially for journalists who are accused to be involved in the coup plot. More importantly, the prosecutors seem to have taken a very worrying leap recently, by considering “propaganda on behalf of Ergenekon” as a crime as well. For me, this is unacceptable and will lead us to none other than an ideological witch hunt.
But why are the prosecutors so excessive?
The common mind
The second camp that I referred to – the all-of-this-is-a-big-lie choir – finds the answer in a conspiracy theory: The AKP and/or its Islamic allies are willing to crush all their opponents by using Ergenekon as a pretext. They further argue that all the evidence found by the police was simply fabricated by the same police.
I refuse to agree with that conspiratorial mind, and I find the explanation for the case’s excesses in the exact same problem: the conspiratorial mind – this time, that of the police, the Ergenekon prosecutors and their unconditional supporters.
In other words, while the second camp believes in a grand Islamist conspiracy that fabricated Ergenekon ex nihilo, the first camp believes in a grand secularist conspiracy that reaches out everywhere through Ergenekon. Yet both pictures seem exaggerated.
(A case in point: Although Turks might be bitterly divided on political issues, they are quite united through political culture, which includes affinity to paranoia.)
The right thing to do, I believe, is to buy into none of these sweeping arguments, and to look at every element of the Ergenekon case separately and try to assess what is really going on. My sense is that some of the suspects are truly criminal people, whereas others might be just their ideological buddies.
Of course, the judges will give the verdict on all of that. But, meanwhile, they would do all of us a great favor if they decide not to keep the suspects, especially the journalist ones, in custody for many months, even years.