12 January 2011

Today ESI published a new report – Murder in Anatolia – Christian Missionaries and Turkish Ultranationalism. Below is more background for those of you who want to find out more about one of the most important court cases in Turkey today.

Is the deep state still smiling?

In early February 2008 one of the Malatya victims’ lawyers, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, published a series of four articles entitled “The Deep State is smiling at me in the Malatya massacre case” (see below).

From the beginning of the trial, wrote Cengiz, there were signs that some people were unhappy about the strong legal team that had come to the defence of the victims’ interests:

“We first went to Malatya a few days before the first hearing. Then we realized that there had already been a local media campaign against me and the legal team. It was quite surprising to see the hostility towards us … In addition to that, when we looked into some of the details in that news we came to the conclusion that some of the information contained in these pieces could not have been gathered without intercepting our telephone conversations and electronic communication.”

The trial had started on a bad note. In addition to the indictment, there were 32 additional files prepared with the help of the police. Remarkably, only 8 of them dealt with the crime, while the rest contained information about Christians in Malatya. Umut Sahin, general secretary of the Association of Protestant Churches, later told us:

“At the beginning there was an attempt to turn the trial against the murderers of Christians into a trial against Christians. That is why these folders contained information from the victims’ computers: what articles and books they read, their bank details. But there was nothing from the computers of the murderers.”

So what can one say about the way the Malatya trial has unfolded since 2007? Already the length of the trial has proven to be encouraging for the victims’ legal team. As lawyer Erdal Dogan told ESI in October 2009:

“Initially some wanted to finish the Malatya court case as quickly as the Santoro murder case in Trabzon. The indictment was short and focused only on the 5 main suspects. But here this did not work. We succeeded in bringing many details to the attention of the court. We urged them to conduct further investigations. We have seen that the prosecutors and judges changed their attitude during the trial. This is already a success.”

In 2006 the trial into the killing of Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in Trabzon closed after nine hearings, which took place between 15 May and 14 October 2006. Santoro’s 16 year old murderer was sentenced to 10 years and 5 months behind bars. A court of appeals later confirmed the verdict. Nobody investigated the question whether somebody else might have incited a 16 year old (and provided him with a weapon) to kill a priest of a church that had already been a target for ultranationalist groups before.

Further reading on Malatya:

Here are a few recommendations for those who want to know more about the case.

First, media which regularly cover the Malatya trial in English online:

Second, there are a number of articles by lawyer and columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz on the Malatya trial, including an article series published in February 2008 (refered to above):

More recently Orhan Kemal Cengiz wrote an article (in English in Today’s Zaman):

There is also a documentary about the murder and the trial by director Nolan Dean and released in October 2009 (in English, 69 minutes). The trailer (3 minutes) is here.

And then there are the following books by or about people close the the trial:

Filed under: Turkey — Tags: , , , , — Gerald @ 2:03 am
20 March 2008

Umit Kardas welcomes my colleague Ekrem and me in his office just off the main pedestrian street in the busy Beyoglu quarter of Istanbul.

The office is filled with books, a new version of the Turkish Penal Code, reformed in 2004, lies on the desk. Kardas smiles and offers us two glasses of Turkish tea. He is a mild-manner and very polite man. It is only when I begin to ask questions about the current political situation in Turkey that his smile disappears.

No wonder: Kardas knows more than most about anti-democratic attitudes within parts of the Turkish state administration.

Kardas served as a military judge during some of the worst periods in Turkey’s war against the PKK in South East Anatolia. There was a time, he noted, when most suspects brought to his courtroom bore signs of torture. He resigned. He has since turned into one of the best informed critics of official Turkish nationalism.

But has the situation regarding torture not changed fundamentally since the 1990s, I ask him?

“There is progress, yes, and there is less torture today. But this progress could be reversed if the general situation develops in the wrong way. Then there could even be a return to torture”

What would cause such a reversal?

“Turkey is not a country that has so far turned into a functioning democracy and the supremacy of the rule of law. A state based on the rule of law has not come into being. There is an ongoing struggle between the government and the Turkish armed forces. …

Now Turkey has come to a critical point. Either Turkey will stick with the status quo, close itself and turn into an anti-democratic, authoritarian country; or prodemocratic forces pushing for an opening of society, for a withdrawal of generals from politics, for an enlargement of civil liberties will prevail. Based on what I know I am a pessimist, but based on my desires I am an optimist.”

Umit Kardas

Umit Kardas

He goes on:

“The military is constantly interfering in politics, writing declarations, trying to influence politics. In a democratic country the government would send these generals into retirement. According to Turkish laws it is forbidden for members of the armed forces to interfere in politics.”

“Since 1980 the military has become used to exercising power which it now does not want to abandon. So on the one hand it acts like a political party, and on the other hand it does not run in elections, is not exposed to control and criticism but nevertheless is part of the government.”

“There is no change in mentality and basic structures. At least some things that one could not talk about in the past are now discussed openly. But this opening is not without risk as we see in the case of Nokta, or Semdinli.”

Nokta, Semdinli: for Kardas both of these events became symbols in recent years that forces of authoritarian nationalism have not yet been defeated in Turkey.

Semdinli 

Semdinli is a place in the mainly Kurdish South East of the country near the border with Iraq and Iran.

On 9 November 2005 there was a bomb attack on a bookstore. One person died. The Van Third Criminal Court was later to decide that two noncommissioned officers were guilty of the crime. They were both captured on the spot by a furious crowd. On June 19 2006 the two noncommissioned officers, Ali Kaya and Özcan İldeniz, were found guilty and sentenced to serve 39 years and 10 days in prison.

Guns found in car in Semdinli

The court also noted that the group responsible could not have been set up or led by the noncommissioned officers and that they could not have carried out the act without the tacit approval, protection and involvement of more senior officers.

However, when Van Prosecutor Ferhat Sarıkaya implicated in his indictment (the current chief of general staff) General Yaşar Büyükanıt, together with some other top commanders, he found himself disbarred by a panel of judges set up by the Supreme Board of Judges and Public prosecutors. He lost both his job and his license as a lawyer.

Later the Semdinli case was transferred to a military court. This military court then released the two noncommissioned officers (NCOs) pending the outcome of the trial.

For more in the press go here:

http://www.bianet.org/english/kategori/english/101806/semdinli-trial-in-military-court

or

http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/yazarDetay.do?haberno=34222

Nokta

In March 2007 the weekly magazine Nokta published an article about a confidential list by the Turkish military blacklisting journalists and press organs, a leaked report prepared by the Office of the Chief of General Staff categorizing journalists as “trustworthy” (pro military) and “untrustworthy” (anti military). While the military acknowledged the existence of such a list, they declared that the version published by Nokta was “only a draft”.

Later that same month Nokta published excerpts of a diary, alleged to have been written by admiral Özden Örnek, a former navy commander. The diary entries gave details of two plans for a military coup, discussed by the commanders of the army, navy and the air force, together with the gendarmerie chief, and aiming to overthrow the AK Party government in 2004.

Following these publications, the magazines’ offices were raided by the police in a three-day operation. Subsequently, the owner of the magazine discontinued its publication.

For Kardas both cases sent strong and negative messages to the Turkish public: the outcome of the Semdinli case discouraged prosecutors; “Who will dare to take on the military again in the near future?”, he wonders. And the outcome of the Nokta case discourages the press. There is a degree of self-censorship, he worries, and the taboos, what one reports on and what one remains silent about, have been reinforced.

It is a sombre picture of Turkish society, and a disheartening analysis of the balance of power between the forces struggling for control of the country that Kardas has to offer. And it feels strange to step out of the house where his office is into the bright sun on Istiklal street on such a bright spring day, to pass Gloria Jeans and Starbucks cafes and then to head for the bookshops in the centre of the city.

And yet, as long as there are people like Kardas liberalism and the European vision will remain alive in Turkey.

Kardas, in the meantime, returns to his job: preparing the defence of the former editor of Nokta, who showed courage when others did not, in a Turkish court.

Filed under: Europe,Turkey — Tags: , , , — Gerald @ 11:01 pm
19 March 2008

Three days ago I wrote about a series of strange and shocking events - murders, rumours of military coups and political conspiracies – that have made headlines in Turkey in the past three years. I listed these events as they came to my mind and as if they were unrelated. This impression of randomness could be seriously misleading, however.

In fact, reading Turkish newspapers and newly published books these days one enters the world of a multilayered thiller – Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose or Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code come to mind – in which every ominous event appears to be linked to the next. It is a world of secret patterns that are only revealed at the very end: a hidden plot that connects the murder of an Italian priest in a church in the Black Sea town of Trabzon in 2006, the attempted murder of a former PKK member in a mainly Kurdish city on the border with Iraq in 2005, the assassination of a high judge in a courtroom in the centre of Ankara in 2006 and the cold-blooded execution of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in the busy centre of modern Istanbul in 2007. Istanbul prosecutors currently seek to prove in an ongoing investigation that there is in fact a link between all these (and many more) crimes: a network of radical nationalist conspirators operating under the name Ergenekon. This in turn is linked to what Turks call derin devlet: the deep state.

What is Ergenekon? And what is derin devlet? Let us proceed cautiously from what is known before arriving at what is only suspected. In matters of conspiracies, it is best to treat carefully lest one gets lost in a fantasy world of multiple echoes and strange shadows.

First, devlet. When I arrived in Turkey a few years ago I was struck how often Turkish analysts would make a distinction between “the government” and “the state” in sentences such as “the state will not allow the government to do this” (for instance, use its sufficient parliamentary majority to elect a new president). I did not appreciate at the time the definition of devlet in the excellent book on Turkey (Crescent and Star, 2001) by former NYT correspondent Stephen Kinzer:

“The dictionary says it means “state”, but it also means something much uglier. Devlet is an omnipotent entity that stands above every citizen and every institution. Loyalty to it is held to be every Turk’s most fundamental obligation, and questioning it is considered treasonous. No one ever defines what devlet means; everyone is supposed to know. Its guardians are a self-perpetuating elite – the generals, police chiefs, prosecutors, judges, political bosses and press barons who decide what devlet demands of the citizenry. This elite has written many laws to help it do what it perceives as its duty, and when necessary it acts outside the law.” (p. 26)

The institutional foundation of devlet was (and is) the Turkish constitution of 1982. It was drafted under the supervision of the Turkish military that had taken power following a coup in 1980. The very first sentence of the preamble of the constitution spells out its underlying philosophy:

“In line with the concept of nationalism and the reforms and principles introduced by the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Atatürk, the immortal leader and the unrivalled hero, this Constitution, which affirms the eternal existence of the Turkish nation and motherland and the indivisible unity of the Turkish state …”

A few paragraphs further down the constitution spells out what this means:

“… no protection shall be accorded to an activity contrary to Turkish national interests, the principle of the indivisibility of the existence of Turkey with its state and territory, Turkish historical and moral values or the nationalism, principles, reforms and modernism of Atatürk …”


Ankara - Ataturk Mausoleum

Ankara – Ataturk Mausoleum

There were many other provisions, in the constitution and in other laws, that buttressed the military’s vision of the national interest in post-coup Turkey: the military-controlled National Security Council, acting as a shadow government, the Higher Education Board controlling universities, laws on political parties (that made it easy to dissolve them) and on associations and foundations (to control these). The outside world was viewed as full of enemies, plotting to bring Turkey down and always looking for and finding domestic traitors to work with. As Stephen Kinzer wrote in 2001:

“Writers, journalists and politicians who critizice the status quo are packed off to prison for what they say and write. Calls for religious freedom are considered subversive attacks on the secular order. Expressions of ethnic or cultural identity are banned for fear that they will trigger separatist movements and ultimately rip the country apart.” (p.12)

This repression was not hidden, however: it was the public face of the state. In fact, the architects of this system and its guardians were unapologetic about the necessity to protect devlet by limiting individual rights and democracy.

What, by contrast, is derin devlet? It is those elements of the state which went even further than the repressive laws already put in place to fight the enemies of devlet with illegal methods.

Again, some things are known about how this worked. There were hundreds of mystery killings in South East Anatolia in particular during the 1990s. A particularly radical group such as (Turkish, no link to the Lebanese organisation) Hizbullah was one of the instruments used. This became clear when hideouts used by Hizbullah, containing bodies of people kidnapped and turtored, were found across Turkey. As Kinzer put it, “the true lesson was even more sinister. Hizbullah had not been a band of outlaws but an arm of the Turkish state. Security agencies in southeastern provinces had made common cause with these terrorists. … Hizbullah thugs were turned loose to kidnap and kill their enemies in the knowledge that the police would not investigate them.” (p. 100)

Then there was the famous car accident in Susurluk in 1996: the people who died in the car crash, sitting in the same Mercedes, included a top-ranking police commander, who had been involved in counter-guerilla operations against the PKK; Abdullah Catli, one of the most famous gangsters in Turkey; and a pro-government Kurdish clan chief and parliamentarian. Evidence emerged that linked Catli to numerous crimes since the 1970s, and that showed that he had in fact been recruited by government security agents as an assassin.

However, even such discoveries did not change the culture of impunity in the security apparatus. Politicians who dared to confront the security apparatus did not get far in the late 90s, and nor did prosecutors. A parliamentary investigation, which led to a thick report in 1997, was prevented to question some key suspects, who could have shed light on events and links between state institutions and the underworld. One of these suspects who were not investigated further was Veli Kucuk, who had been a high level military officer in South East Anatolia allegedly in charge of a special and secret military unit and who had last spoken to Catli before the accident. Kucuk is today once again a central figure in the current Ergenekon investigation and was arrested in January 2008.

In fact, much has changed in Turkey since 2001: torture is no longer tolerated, the formal role of the military has been reduced, the Penal code and laws on associations have been reformed. Many more changes are expected and required, should Turkey’s EU accession process continue successfully. There have also been many changes to the constitution, and following the election victory of the AKP in the summer of 2007 work started on drafting a new constitution - with a new preamble – to turn away from the tradition of devlet embodied in the 1982 document.

And yet other things have not changed. There are still those within the system who believe that there is an immutable concept of nationalism that has to be protected, if need be by illegal instruments, against its enemies. Fast forward to 2006, 2007 and 2008 and it becomes clear that the challenge posed by both the surviving authoritarian state tradition and the threat of deep state structures remains serious. This was never more clear than this week in March

To be continued …

Filed under: Turkey — Tags: , , , — Gerald @ 1:56 am
Rumeli Observer

Social Widgets powered by AB-WebLog.com.