Thousands March in Ankara to Protest Direction of Ergenekon Inquiry

April 18, 2009
The Istanbul daily Cumhuriyet is reporting that "tens of thousands" of individuals marched to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as part of an organized protest against the path that the Ergenekon investigation has taken (an AP story estimated the crowd at 5000). Meanwhile, Deniz Baykal, leader of the opposition Republican People's Party, has denounced the Ergenekon inquiry as "a political trial, not a legal one." 

Protesters in Ankara. Photo courtesy Radikal
The Ergenekon inquiry began nearly two years ago ostensibly to investigate state connections to drug running and death squads, exemplified most notoriously by the Susurluk scandal, I subject that I discussed in a number of articles (here and here, for example) that I wrote when I was living in Istanbul in the 1990s. 
In January of 2008, however, the focus of the Ergenekon investigation suddenly changed direction, an event which coincided with the initiation of closure proceedings against the ruling AK Party government in Turkey. Indeed, the transformation of the Ergenekon trial occurred just one week after Turkey's Chief Public Prosecutor of the Appeals Court, Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, warned the AK Party on January 17, 2008 that its attempt to reverse a headscarf ban in the country's universities constituted a risk to Turkey's "secular unitary structure."  By the middle of March, Yalcinkaya had filed a complaint against the AK Party and petitioned Turkey's Constitutional Court to have the party closed down.    
It was during these tense months that the Ergenekon trial shifted abrubtly away from an examination into the crimes of the “Deep State” (such as those which the Susurluk scandal seemed to point to) and towards an exploration into the supposed attempts of opponents of the AK Party (in the military, the media, and civil society) to undertake a coup against the AK Party. In a country where the military has ousted four governments over the past fifty years, prosecutors and police officials claimed that suddenly Turkey's generals were forced to rely upon journalists and university professors in their alleged efforts to oust the government.
Coverage of the Ergenekon trial varies considerably by newspaper. In Turkey, only certain newspapers (like Cumhuriyet, and papers controlled by the Dogan Group, which is currently in a struggle for survival vis-a-vis a recent government tax levy that some have viewed as politically motivated) have adopted a critical stance towards the trial, while other papers (most notably Zaman and Taraf) tend to treat Ergenekon as a straightforward investigation into coup-plotting (a recent two-part article by Taraf's Halil Berktay, for example, describes the Ergenekon trial as an "unprecedented democratization movement," an approach which is typical of most of that paper's coverage of the trial, while neither Taraf nor Zaman is reporting yesterday's rally on their websites).
Meanwhile, much of the coverage of the Ergenekon trial produced outside of Turkey has likewise repeated the Ergenekon narrative uncritically, while paying little or no attention to opposition claims that the trial has taken a political turn (see, for example, reports on Ergenekon by Al Jazeera, the New York Times, and NPR). As I discussed in an earlier posting, Taraf seems particularly influential among foreign observers of Turkey, which might have something to do with the uncritical approach of the foreign media to the trial.  
But it seems obvious that many people in Turkey are becoming increasingly concerned about the direction this investigation has taken. While there is still broad support for investigating the "Deep State" crimes of the sort that Susurluk and other scandals seemed to point to, the jailing of critics of the AK Party even while obvious "Deep State" characters like Sedat Bucak and Mehmet Agar  remain free has engendered considerable anger and skepticism regarding the motivations of the security officials leading the investigation. 

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