New detentions link generals to Ergenekon network
The detention of four retired high-ranking generals yesterday along with dozens of others has extended an investigation into an illegal organization to include two failed coup attempts allegedly devised by currently retired force commanders against the current government in 2004.
Twenty-one people, including two former army commanders, a journalist and the leader of a business group, were detained in operations in the cities of Ankara, İstanbul, Antalya and Trabzon yesterday morning as part of an investigation into a powerful and illegal organization suspected of plotting to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
Retired Gen. Şener Eruygur, retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon, retired Gen. İlker Güven and former Gendarmerie General Command Intelligence Department head Levent Ersöz as well as Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO) Chairman Sinan Aygün and the Ankara bureau chief of the radically secularist Cumhuriyet daily Mustafa Balbay were among those taken into police custody early in the morning.
The four generals are being mentioned as potential accomplices in a diary allegedly kept by a former navy commander detailing failed plans to overthrow the AK Party. Eruygur was a leading figure among the organizers of so-called republican rallies held ahead of July elections last year in protest of the AK Party government. His name was also mentioned in documents leaked to the press proving the existence of two failed coup attempts called Ayışığı and Sarıkız, plotted when Eruygur was still in the army. Tolon was known for making frequent appearances at symposiums and conferences organized by ultranationalists. This is the first time generals of such high rank are being detained in Turkey.
Eruygur is also head of the secularist Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD), named after the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Birol Başaran, former head of the ADD's Kadıköy chapter and chairman of the Nationalist Businessmen's Association (USİAD), and ADD Kadıköy's current Chairman Coşkun Gürel, a former colonel, were also detained.
The İstanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office ordered the detentions, reports said. The police also carried out searches at the Ankara office of Cumhuriyet, the ADD's İstanbul office and ATO's headquarters in the capital.
The editor-in-chief of the ultranationalist Tercüman daily, Ufuk Büyükçelebi, and writer and strategy expert Erol Mütercimler were also detained in yesterday's raids. The dailies' offices were searched by police teams looking for former AK Party deputy Turhan Çömez, also on suspicion of links to Ergenekon.
A newspaper had reported yesterday morning that Çömez was out of the country to study English abroad.
The seven individuals detained in Ankara, including three of the generals, ATO Chairman Aygun and journalist Balbay, two detained in Antalya and one person detained in Trabzon were brought to İstanbul in the evening for interrogation.
The Ergenekon investigation under which yesterday's detentions were made began in the summer of 2007 when a house filled with arms and ammunition in İstanbul's Ümraniye district was uncovered. As the investigation expanded, a structure suspected of responsibility for a number of politically motivated murders, including that of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January 2007, and attacks at newspapers and judicial entities to foment chaos and engineer a military takeover. Forty-nine people including former members of the army, journalists, drug lords and academics have been detained in the operation so far.
Analysts say the Ergenekon group is part of the shadowy "deep state," code for hard-line nationalists in Turkey's security forces and state bureaucracy ready to take the law into their own hands to accomplish their own agenda.
Meanwhile, reports yesterday said the chief prosecutor on the Ergenekon case, Zekeriya Öz, said he was very close to completing his indictment and expected to submit it to a court by the end of this week.
The investigation has significantly increased political tension in the country. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had previously said a closure case against his party on charges of anti-secularism was a response to the government's determination in the Ergenekon operation, while others have claimed that the government is using the Ergenekon investigation to suppress its opponents.
Cüneyt Arcayürek, a columnist at the Cumhuriyet daily, held a press conference at noon yesterday to comment on the Ankara bureau chief's detention, saying, "It is in no way a coincidence that such things are happening at a time when the closure case is being heard at the Constitutional Court."
A lawyer for Cumhuriyet here said the police had seized two laptops and dozens of CDs.
Erdoğan responded to questions from the press over the news of the recent detentions at noon in front of Parliament. "We hope the investigation will be concluded as soon as possible," he said, adding, "We hope the darkness will be illuminated at the end of this investigation."
The detentions came hours ahead of a hearing in the case in which a chief prosecutor is seeking to have the ruling AK Party shut down for alleged Islamist activities. The prosecutor is due to make an oral argument to the Constitutional Court -- another part of Turkey's secularist establishment. The AK Party denies the prosecutor's charges, saying they are politically motivated.
Novelist Orhan Pamuk, who was prosecuted under a law banning insults to Turkish identity, and members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) -- seen by nationalists as a threat to national sovereignty -- were reportedly on the Ergenekon hit list.
The Ergenekon investigation began as the continuation of an investigation into a house used as an ammunitions depot in June of last year. Revelations emanating from the investigation thus far have shown that many of the attacks attributed to separatist or Islamist groups or seen as hate crimes against minorities were actually "inside jobs" by people connected to Ergenekon.
People such as the lawyer of Yasin Aydın, one of the suspects charged in the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, have appeared in court as suspects in the Ergenekon operation.
The investigation into the gang has exposed links between an attack on the Council of State in 2006, threats and attacks against people accused of being unpatriotic and a 1996 car crash known as the Susurluk incident, which revealed links between a police chief, a convicted ultranationalist fugitive and a member of Parliament as well as links to the plans of some groups in Turkey's powerful military to overthrow the government.
Some of the nearly 50 suspects under detention and awaiting trial so far include Veli Küçük, a retired major general who is also the alleged founder of an illegal intelligence unit in the gendarmerie, the existence of which is denied by officials; Workers' Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek; controversial ultranationalist lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, who filed countless suits against Turkish writers and intellectuals at odds with Turkey's official policies; Fikret Karadağ, a retired army colonel; Sevgi Erenerol, the press spokesperson for a shady group called the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate; and Sami Hoştan, a key figure in the Susurluk investigation. Ali Yasak, a well-known gangster linked to the figures in the Susurluk incident, was also detained in the operation.
Ayışığı and Sarıkız
A Turkish political newsweekly closed in April in 2007 after its owner said he couldn't handle police harassment after the magazine published reports revealing that former force commanders had plotted to overthrow the AK Party.
The March 29, 2007 issue of Nokta magazine had published lengthy excerpts from a diary allegedly written by former Navy Forces Commander Adm. Özden Örnek. According to the diary, some former force commanders had planned two separate coups with the codenames Sarıkız (Blonde Girl) and Ayışığı (Moonlight). After the story, the magazine's offices were raided by the police for three days as part of an investigation by the public prosecutor's office in İstanbul's Bakırköy district, acting on a complaint filed by Örnek.
Initially, Adm. Örnek had admitted the diary belonged to him; however, following widespread public attention and reactions against the reports of the coup attempt, Örnek later said the diary was not his.
The magazine's editor-in-chief, Alper Görmüş, was tried, risking up to seven years in prison for "publicly slandering and insulting Adm. Örnek," but was acquitted.