Cumhuriyet Ankara Bureau Chief Re-Arrested in Ergenekon Case

March 7, 2009
Mustafa Balbay, who is the Ankara Bureau Chief for the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, was arrested at his house at seven o'clock in the morning on Thursday, then was transported to Istanbul as part of the ongoing Ergenekon investigation. Last July 1--just weeks before a decision was to be made on the AK Party's closure in Turkey--Balbay had been arrested along with three other journalists and interrogated for four days in connection with police suspicions that the four journalists had been involved in the plotting of a coup against the AK Party government of Tayyip Erdogan.

Mustafa Balbay was arrested again on Thursday morning
The early-morning arrest of Balbay on Thursday--which occurred, Balbay claims, without the police giving him the chance to turn himself in on his own accord--is part of a pattern of arrests which have taken place in the early hours of the morning and middle of the night, including a new wave of arrests occuring just a few weeks ago.

Whether it's Al Jazeera, the New York Times, NPR, or just about anybody else covering this story from abroad, the Ergenekon trial is almost always reported at face value. That is, it's treated as the vast conspiracy of hundreds of people working not only in the shadowy recesses of Turkey's deep state, but also as part of a plot to overthrow the AK Party government.

I've written about this a number of times so I won't go into much detail here, but what bothers me about the Ergenekon investigation is this: it basically started off as a [very necessary] investigation into the state's involvement into extra-legal killings, but has been transformed into a search for coup-plotters seeking to overthrow the AK Party government.

Suddenly, the Turkish military--which has, don't forget, a fair bit of experience ousting civilian governments in Turkey--apparently needs the help of hundreds of people, including the Ankara Bureau Chief for Cumhuriyet, in order to carry out a coup.

Meanwhile, individuals who obviously need to be questioned in relation to Turkey's deep state--most notably Sedat Bucak of the Susurluk scandal--walk free.

To be honest, I have no idea what's really going on (and you can quote me on that). Maybe Balbay really is part of a plot that includes the Turkish military, the PKK, militant anti-PKK nationalists, Hizbullah, Ilhan Selcuk, and the Turkish Workers Party. If it's real, it's quite a coalition. Maybe I'm just being overly suspicious for wondering why the nature of this investigation changed so much as the country's Constitutional Court pondered the political future of Prime Minister Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul, and the AK Party itself.

But at the very least, I think it's worth looking into. 

While the foreign media reports on the Ergenekon trial tend not to ask why clear-cut figures from Turkey's deep state past walk free while journalists get arrested in the middle of the night, Turkish newspapers been asking such questions. Or at least some have. Cumhuriyet, which has seen not only Bureau Chief Balbay but also editor Ilhan Selcuk arrested, has denounced repeatedly a process which its writers refer to as a "witch-hunt."

Newspapers (Hurriyet, Milliyet, Radikal) owned by the AK Party-nemesis Dogan Group--which is currently being threatened with bankruptcy by the Finance Ministry's recent assessment of a nearly $500 tax fine--are also, somewhat predictably, discussing Ergenekon more critically.

Which newspapers in Turkey are reporting Ergenekon as nothing more than a straightforward investigation into "gangsters?" First there's Zaman, which has always been viewed as a religious paper that supports the AK Party government. Also Sabah, which was taken over in late 2007 by a company owned by Prime Minister Erdogan's son-in-law.

And finally, there's Taraf, which has been the subject of a remarkable string of positive press produced by Voice of America, the director of the Soros-financed European Security Initiative, and columnists for Der Spiegel and the Times Online. Taraf was also the subject of a particularly friendly story by a freelance journalist named Suzy Hansen, who is in Turkey as a fellow for an organization called the Institute of Current World Affairs. Hansen's piece, in turn, was picked up on Jenny White's blog, as well as in a column that appeared in the Guardian online, the blog of Atlantic associate editor Reihan Salam, and the blog of Istanbul-based Christian Science Monitor correspondent Yigal Schleifer.

I don't know if there's any connection between the fact that Taraf tends to discuss Ergenekon in a generally uncritical way [here's a recent English-language discussion of Ergenekon by Taraf columnist Ahmet Altan, which was not published in Taraf but is reflective of what you see in that paper], and the tendency of the foreign observers commenting on Turkey to present these events in much the same way. I don't think Taraf is necessarily that influential, although non-Turks do really seem to like it a lot and often rely on the newspaper frequently in the coverage of events in Turkey, particularly Egenekon. 

Ultimately, I think it's like-mindedness. Foreigners (including me) are appalled by many of the things the military has done to this country. Like many other Americans who follow events in Turkey (but unlike just about all of my Turkish friends), I was very happy when the AK Party came to power in 2003. I thought that this would be great for Turkish democracy, and just hoped the military and the permanent bureaucracy would just leave the AK Party alone.

And of course that didn't happen. From Day 1, the political opposition has never given the AK Party an ounce of credit, despite two large electoral mandates. The closure case launched against the AK Party (and which ended last July in what many considered to be a surprise verdict allowing the AK Party to stay open) was also, in my opinion, a really destructive and unnecessary tactic.

But what happens if the party which has been under threat of closure then turns into an authoritarian populist movement that jails its adversaries and seeks to dominate the media? Is it not possible that there's more to worry about here than the military over-reacting to the democratic will of the people? 

I'm not sure, but I do find it odd that a supposedly "independent" newspaper like Taraf, which has repeatedly shown a willingness to stand up to a heavy-handed military in Turkey, is not more curious about the strange road this trial has taken. Unlike other newspapers in Turkey, Taraf isn't even asking tough questions about Ergenekon.

And neither is the foreign media.

No comments:

Post a Comment