ISTANBUL – A Turkish court on Monday found 254 of the 275 defendants in the
“Ergenekon” case guilty of one or more of the 23 charges listed in the case that
has gripped the public’s attention for the past five years.
personnel, accredited journalists and members of the opposition party were
allowed into the courtroom to hear the judge hand down unusually harsh sentences
for the defendants, many of whom are high-profile politicians, academics,
journalists, writers and army officers.
According to the court, they all
banded together in a conspiracy that aspired to form an armed group and
overthrow the government.
The security situation was extremely tight,
with a temporary no-fly zone imposed over the jail and courthouse complex in
Silivri, just west of Istanbul. Relatives of the accused and supporters of
various ultra-nationalist opposition groups rallied behind the line of gendarmes
holding riot shields and spraying tear gas about a kilometer outside the
complex, while a number of people protested inside the courtroom.
those sentenced to life imprisonment is retired Gen. Ilker Basbug, who was the
military’s chief of staff until 2010.
Basbug, who has rejected the
allegations, responded to the verdict by stating, “The nation will say the final
word. Let no one forget that there is divine justice.”
main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroglu, issued a statement on Monday, in
which he said, “In democracies, people are judged by independent courts that
believe in the superiority of the law, and not by ‘special authority courts’
that are dependent on the political authority. Hence, verdicts by special
authority courts as such are not legitimate – neither legally, nor politically
The decision has also generated reactions abroad.
response to the verdict, Peter Stano, the spokesperson for EU Enlargement
Commissioner Stefan Füle, said, “The EU does not comment on the substance of
individual court rulings, but on the way the judicial process is carried out in
Turkey, as a candidate country, in the light of European standards.
this context, the commission has indicated on a number of occasions its concerns
over the rights of the defense, the lengthy pre-trial detention and the
excessively long and ‘catch-all’ indictments.”
Stano added that he
believed that “judicial proceedings need to be sped up and the rights of the
defendants should be properly ensured in the proceedings to increase Turkey’s
compliance with EU standards and, more importantly, the public’s trust in the
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who would have been the
main target of the alleged coup, had not commented by press time, but his deputy
Bülent Arinc issued a statement Monday evening.
Assuming a conciliatory
tone, Arinc said, “We are not happy that anyone is convicted. We won’t clap. But
there is a court decision here, and the politicians should be more careful in
Over the course of the investigation, the existence
of the alleged “Ergenekon” organization has been called into question by many of
those involved in the case, which gave way to speculation about a possible
political motive behind the case.
The first crackdown on the group came
in 2007 as a result of seemingly serendipitous events, including an
investigation into a simple racketeering scheme involving cars and the discovery
of a hidden cache of explosives in a makeshift apartment in the conservative
working-class neighborhood of Umraniye on Istanbul’s east bank.
year, a great number of documents emerged about hidden caches of weaponry across
the country and details on relationships among various public intellectuals and
army officers. Eventually, the prosecution linked the shadowy group to criminal
cases that had polarized the nation over the last decade, including a fatal
attack on Constitutional Court judges, the bombing of the Kemalist newspaper
and the murder of three Christians at a bookshop in the eastern town
of Malatya. According to the prosecution, these crimes were false flag
operations blamed on Islamists in order to create justification for a coup
against the government led by Erdogan’s AK Party.
As serious as the
charges are, many in the public remain convinced that the prosecution intends to
erode political opposition in the country. A separate case involving the
so-called Sledgehammer Affair resulted in the conviction of about 330 officers in
September for similarly plotting to overthrow Erdogan’s
Ergenekon and Sledgehammer have obliterated the army’s
long-standing influence over state affairs.
Coming on the heels of
massive street protests against the government, the verdicts in the Ergenekon
case are virtually certain to create more friction in the political
Erdogan has repeatedly accused the organizers of the widespread
demonstrations of trying to overthrow him undemocratically, saying that the AKP
“will continue to walk this road with our coffins in hand,” a statement that
implies that Erdogan has no intention of backing down from his political agenda
due to fear of the secular establishment.
The AKP’s back story is
particularly relevant to the Ergenekon case because many of the party’s founders
were targeted by the army’s latest intervention 16 years ago. At the height of
its popular support, AKP predecessor the Welfare Party was declared
unconstitutional following the army memorandum, and was then shut down by the
Constitutional Court on the grounds of undermining the pillars of the
In the process, Erdogan, who was a prominent member of the
Welfare Party, was imprisoned for four months for reciting a poem that,
according to the court, “incited committing an offense and religious or racial
His tenure as prime minister also witnessed attempts to topple
him outside of the ballot box. In 2008, the AKP very narrowly averted a similar
closure case by the Constitutional Court on the same legal grounds. Now, many of
Erdogan’s opponents argue that he has opted for the same tactic of using the
legal system as a tool to suppress political dissent.
While the special
court for Ergenekon has reached its verdict, a number of legal experts have
stated that, in all likelihood, there will be a lengthy appeal process for some
of the sentences, and several of the experts have argued that the government
might eventually consider a general amnesty for the convicts as a political
maneuver ahead of the general elections in 2015. Taken together, these
predictions suggest that this case is far from over.The writer is a
business development executive and a freelance journalist. His blog can viewed