Feature

Turkey: Exposing a shadowy cabal of nationalists

Turkey has put some of its most prominent citizens on trial for allegedly belonging to a secret cabal of ultranationalists&mdash;known as Ergenekon&mdash;that has been undermining the country&rsquo;s democracy for decades.</p&gt

The indictment “reads like a Dan Brown novel,” said Nicholas Birch in the London Independent. Turkey this week put 86 of its most prominent citizens on trial for allegedly belonging to a secret cabal of ultranationalists—known as Ergenekon—that has been undermining the country’s democracy for decades. Accused of trying to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the defendants are a motley group of retired generals, famous professors and journalists, and even “mafiosi.” Some of them, notably the secularist generals, are thought to oppose Erdogan because of his Islamist leanings. Others, the right-wing academics, are believed to abhor his attempts to bring Turkey into the European Union. Turkish observers are divided on the merits of the case. Supporters of the government are convinced that the group is “behind every act of terrorism in the past half-century.” The secular opposition, though, says that the government has concocted a fanciful conspiracy theory as an excuse “to neutralize its enemies.”

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, said Yusuf Kanli in Istanbul’s Turkish Daily News. Few Turks would dispute the existence of “the deep state,” a secret group that has long worked to undermine our democracy by creating instability and encouraging military coups. Yet whether all the Ergenekon defendants are really part of the conspiracy is highly doubtful—it looks like prosecutors simply indicted “whoever was a leading opponent” of the government and then tossed in a few underworld figures for “color.” The pro-government media has already helped convict the accused in the court of public opinion, by “reporting at length on alleged confessions by the defendants.” The judges, therefore, face a difficult task. Coming up with a verdict “devoid of political influence” will be a key test for Turkish justice—and Turkish democracy.

But will Ergenekon even let the judges do their crucial job? asked Mumtazer Turkone in Istanbul’s Today’s Zaman. The shadowy organization “is like a giant octopus” that has tentacles deep within the state. Many people believe that those Ergenekon members who have managed to escape prosecution “are trying to create chaos and a climate of fear in order to prevent the organization from being uncovered further and to disrupt the trial.” As long as the trial goes on, and it could be many months, Turks will see every terrorist attack and every political statement as a blow either for or against the cabal. “The prosecutor’s indictment has opened Pandora’s box.” We can only hope that putting Ergenekon on trial means that “a new era has begun in Turkey, in which unlawfulness has no place.”

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