“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
In the name of democracy, social justice, and legal egalitarianism, a purge of hundreds of secular opponents of Turkey’s religious-rooted, ruling party, the AKP, Turkey’s ruling party, is taking place in plain sight. It’s a made-in-the-USA witch hunt called “Ergenekon.” This travesty is worthy of comparison to other America-backed human and political rights fiascos like the juntas in Brazil (1964), Uruguay (1973), and Argentina (1976), not to mention the glorious Pinochet years in Chile, begun so ironically on September 11, 1973.(1) In terms of purges and cultural cleansings, the Spanish Inquisition also comes to mind. An inquisition Dostoevsky-style is a better comparison. As you remember in The Brothers Karamazov, Jesus returns to earth and is arrested by the religious Grand Inquisitor for misjudging human nature and giving the people too much freedom.
Tomorrow I shall find you guilty and burn you at the stake as the most wicked of heretics, and those same people who today kissed your feet will tomorrow at one wave of my hand rush to rake up the embers on your bonfire. (2)
Think Atatürk in the dock, Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, the accused, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Beyond the looking glass in the Republic of Turkey, almost a hundred suspects have been swept up in raids, predawn and otherwise, to be held without benefit of provisions of habeas corpus. Some have been held without charges for upwards of 18 months. Some died in prison, uncharged. A few were released. Ripe with the odor of a fishing expedition—documents confiscated, computers impounded and subject to being loaded with false evidence—the so-called investigation marches on, a legally blind beast of terror. So-called evidence is leaked to the public by the religious, pro-government press. Human rights? The rule of law? Not in Wonderland Turkey. Not through Turkey’s looking-glass.
But at last, in the summer of 2008, charges finally were proferred. The indictment runs a back and mind-bending 2500 pages, with an additional 150,000 pages in 450 dossiers. It’s a hodge-podge of documents—transcriptions of wire-tapped telephone conversation, secret witness depositions, and dubious linkages to even more dubious so-called evidence. But now, at last, a trial of sorts is in process, IN THE JAIL! The prejudicial nature of this venue alone would seem enough to have the whole mess tossed into the Bosphorous, even by a semicomatose judge. But not in Wonderland Turkey. In Wonderland Turkey, as in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, "fair is foul and foul is fair." And the ruling party controls a large segment of the judiciary system, a system in tatters regarding democratic objectivity and legal propriety.
Which brings us to Silivri Prison (Silivri Cesaevi), a vast penology factory, a gulag worthy of all the words Solzhenitsyn ever wrote on the subject. From the air it’s reminiscent of the aerial reconnaissance photographs of Auschwitz.(3) The general area called Silivri, about 40 miles west of Istanbul, is prime agricultural and pasture land and was once famous for its yogurt. Unfortunately, mismanagement ruined the brand. Now, the nation itself is ripe for ruination.
The prison, brand new and capacious—the largest in Europe (hardly something to brag about)—has room to incarcerate 11,000 prisoners. The freshman class of Ergenekon suspects numbering a hundred or so is small potatoes indeed. To prepare such a huge facility the ruling party must have big plans, with room for 10,900 more "suspects.” The scheme functions very well for the ruling party. To distract attention from whatever ruling party transgression happens to be raging—lawsuits, corruption scandals, economic crises—a roundup is ordered of the usual suspects for the usual scam, all followers of the principles of Atatürk. Writers, journalists, university presidents, labor union leaders, lawyers, retired army officers are all fair game. Some are in their eighties and represent a deep heritage seeded by the golden years of Mustafa Kemal’s “enlightenment” revolution. Those now jailed are the intellectual essence of the legacy of Atatürk, the “Turkish youth of future generations” to whom Kemal literally, in speech and writing, entrusted the safety and protection of the secular Republic of Turkey, a republic whose very existence is today in dire jeopardy .
The ruling party uses the Ergenekon scam for two reasons. First, "creative subversive talent,” both inside and outside Turkey, has been marshalled to bring to fruition the crackpot project of the Bush administration to make Turkey a “moderate Islamic state.” And the ruling party is an obedient creature of America and the same ruling party has particularly messy linen. When it gets hung out to dry, a smoke screen is needed. Enter Ergenekon, the monster of Turkey!
Consider, for example,the trial in early 2008 where the AKP was found guilty by the Constitution Court of being the focus of anti-secular activity in Turkey. Enter Ergenekon!.
Consider the Deniz Feneri scam which drained millions of euros from a so-called charitable foundation in Germany. Indeed 41 million euros of contributions from pious Turks living in Germany were stolen, 17 million of which was hauled to Turkey. Some of the loot was reportedly given to a media company friendly to the ruling party—the prime minister’s son-in-law being one of the operators. According to the German prosecutor, the money importation reached high levels of the current government—no names given, of course. The prime minister, perhaps protesting a bit too much, handled the news by ordering a boycott on the newspapers that dared print the story. Zahid Akman, a party insider and manager of the Turkish government’s television and radio system (RTÜK), was fingered by the court as the bagman. The Turkish legal authorities have yet to act, waiting patiently for the German court’s dossier to arrive. Akman remains diligently at his post, protecting public morality by resolutely blurring offending scenes of cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption from all TV programs. Enter Ergenekon!
Beyond the looking glass in the Republic of Turkey there is a Constitution prevailing that the religious-monger ruling party cannot abide. The first line is enough to make the pious party membership seethe. It states that the essence of the nation is 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, […] affirms the existence of the Turkish nation and motherland and the indivisible unity of the Turkish state. (4)
There’s that name—Atatürk—military hero, anti-imperialist, political and social reformer, an intellectual (his personal library was enormous) (5), and scrupulously honest. No wonder he’s despised by Turkey’s ruling party, whose primary reading fare is the holy book and whose primary social initiative is the veiling and diminishment of women. Contrast this with Atatürk who gave Turkish women full voting rights in 1934, well before France (’44), Italy (’45), Greece (’52), Belgium (’60), and Switzerland (’71). The government’s Atatürk-phobia runs deep, and is no longer under cover.
Sadly, little is known about Atatürk in the west. The New York Times journalist-propagandist, Sabrina Tavernise, dismisses him as a “former army general” (6). Earlier in the year she had echoed the ruling party’s anti-Atatürk line and criticized him for “imposing a radical secular reformer on a poor devout country.” (7) Short shrift for the man who founded the most profound, sweeping western revolution in the 20th century. Tavernise trotted out this same disparaging theme in another pro-government article six months later. Therein she quoted Dengir Firat, then vice chairman of the AKP, who said that Atatürk had “traumatized” the people. “Overnight they were told to change their dress, their language. Their religious ways were dismantled.”(8) Firat’s allegations are nonsense, as Tavernise could have readily determined with a little reading of history.
Firat, a slick man with a built-in sneer, sports a diamond pinky ring along with a gold wristwatch the size of an avocado. He, like his party, is on a mission to destroy the concept of Atatürk. Unfortunately for him, he was caught up in the aforementioned Deniz Feneri embezzlement, coupled with allegations of drug racketeering. It proved too much, even for Prime Minister Erdoğan who sacked him from his job as deputy head of the party. But not from the party. Firat remains happily sitting in parliament, enjoying immunity from prosecution, as do all parliamentary deputies in Turkey.
Other politicians, in other climes, might have been pressured by their constituency to resign. Or have resigned as a matter of conscience, or from a sense of personal honor. Not in Turkey. Not any more. Not since the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who as the accused now stands in the dock.
End of Part I
Next episode: The Arraignment
Cem Ryan, Ph.D. Istanbul, Turkey 8 January 2009
(1) For details on these and numerous other America-induced political and social catastrophes read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, Penguin Books, New York, 2007.
(2) Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov, Penguin Classics, New York, 1993, page 287.
(4) Excerpt from Constitution in Turkish: Türk Vatanı ve Milletinin ebedî varlığını ve Yüce Türk Devletinin bölünmez bütünlüğünü belirleyen bu Anayasa, Türkiye Cumhuriyetinin kurucusu, ölümsüz önder ve eşsiz kahraman Atatürk’ün belirlediği milliyetçilik anlayışı ve O’nun inkılâp ve ilkeleri doğrultusunda.
(5) “The library at Atatürk’s Mausoleum contained 3114 different publications which he had read. Atatük had underlined passages and scribbled notes on a number of pages he had found particularly interesting. Of those publications I studied 278 of the books dealt with the history of various civilizations.” Tufekçi, Gürbüz D. Universality of Atatürk’s Philosophy, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1981, page 9.