Releasing Mehmet Ali Agca

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mehmet Ali Agca has been released from prison after serving only ten years of his sentence for killing Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci in 1979. 

Agca released after serving just 10 years

Agca (pronounced "Ah-jaa") who is now 52, is better known internationally as the man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981. After serving 19 years in a jail in Italy for his assassination attempt on the Pope, Agca was pardon at John Paul II's request and then transferred to a Turkish prison in 2000 in order to serve his punishment for killing Ipekci ("Ee-pek-chi"). 

Agca is a veteran of the left-right political violence that plagued Turkey back in the 1970s. While both leftists and rightists committed their fair share of killings, rightist-nationalist terrorists (known as the "Grey Wolves") were often protected by security officials responsible for keeping the peace. Agca (pronounced "Ah-jah"), who was convicted of killing the "liberal" journalist Ipekci, was allowed to escape from prison after serving just 6 months of his sentence. Before long, he was back at work, shooting the Pope in St. Peter's Square, probably under the direction of the Bulgarian government. At the time, Bulgaria was a satellite of the USSR, which feared the influence of the Polish-born Pope on the Solidarity movement then taking place in fellow Warsaw Pact member Poland.

Agca's release comes at a time when Turkey's security forces have been prosecuting the Ergenekon investigation for nearly two years. I've written plenty about Ergenekon--look here for previous posts if you're interested--so I don't want to repeat myself too much right now. Long story short, Ergenekon began as an investigation into state support for death squads and assassins like Agca, but has since been transformed into a search for "coup plotters" supposedly determined to bring down the AK Party government of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Conveniently enough for the prosecution, a large number of the accused plotters apparently kept very careful notes regarding their illegal plans and left these notes in places where the police (which are a component of the Ministry of Interior, and therefore led by political appointees) were able to find them.  

So, even as journalistsacademics, and NGO leaders considered unfriendly to Erdogan's government sit in jail after being arrested on specious charges of plotting to overthrow the government (since when does the Turkish military need journalists and academics in order to carry out a coup?), people with obvious connections to state-sponsored murder walk free. 

Agca is one of these people. So is Sedat Bucak, about whom I've written a number of times. Bucak was the member of parliament who was found, after a car accident in 1994, to have been riding around with a right-wing terrorist from the 1970s, Abdullah Catli, a comrade in arms of Mehmet Ali Agca. Catli was wanted at the time by Interpol, and the car in which they (and a senior police figure from Istanbul) were riding also contained several state-issued weapons, thousands of dollars in cash, silencers, and several green (mean 'privileged') passports issued to Catli in a number of aliases. All of these passports had been signed personally by the then-Minister of Interior, Mehmet Agar.  These events constituted the "Susurluk" scandal, named after the town in Western Turkey where the accident occurred. Bucak was the only survivor of the crash. 

Bucak, Agar, former Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, and many others are obvious persons of interest for any serious investigation into state involvement in planning assassinations and protecting assassins. However, none of these individuals have been brought to trial in connection with Susurluk or other cases of state-support for assassination and murder. A trial against Agar, in which he was accused of "forming a criminal gang" but which was undertaken outside of the framework of the Ergenekon investigation, began last year but has gone nowhere. Meanwhile, Bucak has never been tried or seriously questioned for his role in Susurluk, nor has Ciller. The fact that none of them have been question in relation to Ergenekon makes it clear, in my opinion, that this trial is not really about unearthing crimes of this matter. 

People in Turkey seem to have largely lost interest in the Ergenekon investigation. It has become so compromised, so ridiculous, that even the bloggers and journalists who cover Turkish politics from abroad, and who breathlessly--and often uncritically--reported on the scandal for months, have begun to question its foundation. Compared with a year ago, Ergenekon is much less of a story nowadays. 

But here is something that should be remembered: the Ergenekon trial, no matter how absurd and deformed a direction it has taken since the beginning of 2008 (which was also when the AK Party learned that the state prosecutor would start a case against it in an effort to close the party), was, at one time, actually based upon something real. There really are, in fact, thousands of cases (such as this one) of alleged state involvement in murdering, kidnapping, and extortion, as well as instances when state officials appear to have been assisting murderers like Catli and Agca. These are things that need to be investigated, and the fact that the Ergenekon investigation has been transformed into an apparent political witch-hunt doesn't mean that the original impetus for the investigation--uncovering wrongdoing committed by state officials--has become any less important or urgent. On the contrary, more than ever the apparent abuse of power and criminal conduct of state officials in the 1990s and beyond needs to be laid open, but now Ergenekon has effectively been turned into a trial against supposed coup-plotters.  

Agca's release makes a further mockery of the Ergenekon investigation and trial, if such a thing is possible. 


More links, info and analysis can be found at the Borderlands Lounge.

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