Latest turn in Ergenekon trial rocks the political scene in Turkey

Yazan: HaberVs

Niyazi Dalyanci When the picture of a very frail and terminally ill Prof. Turkan Saylan speaking from her balcony to a group of people who came to support her on the street below after a team of police officers searched her house and carried off her computers and other personal belongings, hit the front pages […]

Niyazi Dalyanci

When the picture of a very frail and terminally ill Prof. Turkan Saylan speaking from her balcony to a group of people who came to support her on the street below after a team of police officers searched her house and carried off her computers and other personal belongings, hit the front pages of the Turkish newspapers, the two-year old Ergenekon case, or the trial of more than 200 people charged with planning military coups, murders, bombings and fomenting social strife took a critical turn.

Saylan, a professor of medicine, is the head of Association for Supporting Contemporary Living (CYDD), a secular organization run by volunteers to provide scholarships and hostels especially for female students all over Turkey, has also been conducting a campaign for girls who were being kept at home by their fathers because of conservative family values in rural regions, to be sent to school.

Early Monday morning police teams raided 83 homes and offices including the central offices and branches of Association for Supporting Contemporary Life (CYDD) seizing computers and files on the orders of the prosecutor conducting the investigation about the so-called Ergenekon Terror Organization (ETO).

By the end of the week 8 people, including 5 university professors, some acting as rectors and three members of CYDD were formally arrested by court.

The move is part of the investigation that has been going on since 2007 under which a total of 114 defendants are presently under arrest, including four retired generals, police chiefs, army officers, journalists and people from various walks of life. So far two indictments have been issued and the third one is said to be in the works. Defendants who are set free after interrogation pending trial number about 105 at present.

During the course of investigation several weapons caches were found buried under ground and in hideouts used by some of the suspects. Also remains of couple of “disappeared” persons were found in the southeastern provinces.

The Ergenekon trial began when a number of hand grenades and weapons were found in a hut in a slum district of Istanbul in 2007 and then testimonies of suspects led to the arrests of further suspects in a chain reaction reaching up to top level generals like Hursit Tolon and Sener Eruygur who had retired from commands of military branches such as the land forces and the national gendarmerie.

The trial was expected to uncover the misdeeds of the Turkish deep state, including murders and plans to stage a coup against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan who has been in power since 2002. The alleged motive of the defendants was that the government had strayed away from the founding principles of the Turkish republic and it was leading Turkey towards the rule of Islamic Sharia law.

While the suspects are accused of plotting to create turmoil in the country by murders, bombings and social unrest to lay the ground conducive to a military coup, criticism from the opponents, namely tough Kemalist and secular sections of the Turkish society, claimed that the government is using the trial as a tool to silence the secular opposition.

Latest round leads to protests

The treatment meted out to Prof. Saylan drew protests from several sectors of the Turkish society, including artists, writers, actors and musicians. Turkey’s internationally famous pianist Fazil Say announced that he would organize a series of concerts and donate all the revenue to Saylan’s association. The association announced late in the week that although their computers were gone, they learned from various banks that donations jumped up to 120,000 TL ($70,000) within three days of Saylan’s house search.

CYDD has opened 28 female student hostels and was providing a total of 7,156 girls with scholarships since the campaign was launched on April 23, 2005 with the donations of some 110,000 supporters.

Tijen Mergen, Saylan’s associate in the campaign to persuade fathers to send their daughters to school was also taken under police custody but then released after her interrogation. Mergen is also one of the coordinators of the Dogan Media Group and she was conducting the campaign through the group’s daily Milliyet.

Her arrest also brought to mind Prime Minister Erdogan’s insistent campaign against the group and his calls for a boycott of Dogan newspapers.

Procedural irregularities

Although nobody objects to bringing putschists and members of secret organizations to court, legal experts point out that the prosecutors of the Ergenekon trial have led to numerous irregularities in the procedural rules.

“According to the procedural rules you are not supposed to send police teams early in the morning to the houses of public personalities who would come and testify when invited to come to court,” says Turgut Kazan, the former president of the Istanbul Bar Assoiciation.

“If they resist, then the prosecutor can resort to issuing a warrant to police to bring the person in question to court by force,” he adds.

“Police cannot carry off personal belongings, documents and computers indiscriminately at house searches. The prosecutor’s warrant should clearly state what kind of evidence is sought related with the case in question,” Kazan explains.

During the investigation of the Ergenekon case, police seized music discs, personal letters and belongings not related with the charges leveled at the suspects.

Saylan said, her tango CDs were also seized by the police. “I hope they did not take my love letters,” she said jokingly after her house was searched.

Former president Demirel shows solidarity with rector

One of the professors arrested was Prof. Mehmet Haberal, the rector of Baskent University in Ankara. As he was accompanied by police to the airport to be flown to Istanbul, Turkey’s 9th president Suleyman Demirel arrived in his limousine there to show solidarity with him. The two men shook hands and Demirel said a few words to encourage the detained Haberal.

It is understood that five professors who were formally arrested later in the week and sent to prison were named in the testimonies of some of the suspects and their names were found on some of the documents implicating them with the charges.

Baykal: “The case is politically motivated.”

The objective of recent arrests and house searches in the Ergenekon trial is to “create an empire of fear” in Turkey, said Deniz Baykal, the leader of the opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP).

“The aim is to prevent anybody from supporting modern education, putting an end to campaign for sending girls to school, stopping people to provide scholarships. It has become a crime to support education that is not under the control of religious sects,” said Baykal.

With all the recent developments, it seems that the Ergenekon trial will continue to deepen the political dichotomy that Turkey is witnessing between the secularists and the supporters of the Erdogan government.

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