The Ergenekon case began four years ago, as an ambitious legal investigation seeking to reveal plots against Turkish democracy.
It would supposedly uncover the misdeeds of Turkish state officials who were part of an alleged ultra-nationalist plot that planned to overthrow the ruling AKP government and introduce martial law.
Last week’s arrests of Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, two highly respected journalists, threw doubts on the validity of the case.
For more than a decade Şık and Şener, both self-proclaimed human rights reporters, have reported on the Turkish state’s human rights violations.
The majority of the violations they have documented since 2000 were committed by military forces, whose high-ranking members are still waiting trial in the Ergenekon case.
For many journalists and opinion leaders who supported the Ergenekon investigations from the beginning, Şık and Şener’s arrests are absurd and plainly wrong. It would be like Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward being imprisoned for taking part in the Watergate scandal.
Ahmet Şık was a reporter for the political journal Nokta in 2007, when it published a cover story entitled ‘Darbe Günlükleri’ (Coup Diaries) that led to the opening of the Ergenekon investigation itself. Nokta published extracts from diaries, which it claimed were written by the retired vice-admiral Özden Örnek.
The extracts detailed meetings which were said to have taken place between high-profile military chiefs, allegedly plotting a coup to overthrow the democratically elected government using illegal means, while collaborating with certain nationalist members of the Turkish media in disinformation campaigns against hand-picked, high-profile figures. Örnek has denied the allegations and says that he has never kept a diary.
The Ergenekon organisation were said to have planned to assassinate the novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, as well as prominent Kurdish politicians Ahmet Türk and Osman Baydemir. Ahmet Şık assiduously reported on the story.
Nedim Şener won the 2010 Oxfam/Novib PEN Freedom of Expression award. His most recent book Red Friday – Who Broke Dink’s Pen was published last month and is a brilliant exposé claiming that Turkish security forces were aware of a plot to assassinate Hrant Dink, the Turkish Armenian editor of Agos newspaper who was murdered in 2007.
Şener’s book created tension among the security community as the trauma surrounding Dink’s murder is still very much alive in Turkey and no institution wants to bear the blame alone.
Many Turks believe that those who were arrested in the Dink case are merely the hit-men who pulled the trigger or aided the actual crime, while the real perpetrators responsible for planning the assassination are still free.
After Dink’s murder, people were shocked to see images of Turkish police and gendarmes alongside his assassin, who smiled ecstatically into the camera phones of the officers.
After these horrors, the Turkish public demanded justice but what it received in return looks nothing like it.
In his column for Taraf newspaper last week, Turkish academic Murat Belge, who was also allegedly targeted by the Ergenekon generals, wrote: “If Ahmet Şık can be arrested, then I, too, may very well be.”
Ahmet İnsel, another leftist academic-cum-journalist, warned that “the Ergenekon case is turning into Susurluk”, implying that the attempt to expose the crimes of the security forces is itself turning into a plot that hinders justice, creating an impression of a country where unfair legal acts are committed.
In the late 1990s, Turkish journalists who revealed the existence of proto-fascist groups in the state apparatus that terrorised Kurds and leftists in the country, faced similar problems regarding freedom of expression while their reports and investigations helped unveil the Susurluk gang, a mixture of former MPs, police chiefs and army personnel.
While the arrests of Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, who were among ten journalists and writers taken into custody last Thursday, provoked widespread protests and various sit-ins in İstanbul, there were also some journalists who seemed to disagree with the outrage.
They asked the public to wait for the evidence to be produced by the prosecutor, Zekeriya Öz, who may eventually connect findings from previous arrests, implicating these journalists as accomplices of the Ergenekon organisation.
A friend and colleague of many years, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu of Radikal newspaper, begs to differ. He describes Ahmet Şık as a hard working reporter and an unyielding leftist, definitely having nothing to do with the Ergenekon crew whose ideology is extremely militant in tone.
Nedim Şener, who was chosen as 56th World Press Freedom Hero by the International Press Institute (IPI) for his book The Dink Murder and Intelligence Lies, is an even more moderate figure who shares an inquisitive journalist’s perspective with Şık, asking unsettling questions about Turkey’s police organisation that may eventually help reveal its defects.
They both have reservations about Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based Muslim scholar whose community (known as cemaat) is widely agreed to be an unprecedented force in contemporary Turkish politics and daily life.
While numerous secularists see Gülen as an extremely powerful figure, whose organisation is ultimately harmful for democracy, many pious Muslims and moderates see him as a peaceful voice whose blend of democracy and Islam is vital for a regeneration of Turkish democracy.
Şık’s forthcoming book, due to be published next month, is reportedly a critique of Gülen and many fear that this was the actual cause of his arrest.
It is claimed the police department has sympathy for the Gülen community, while the Turkish media has reported that his book was the chief reason behind the raid.
On Sunday, however, prosecutor Öz denied the allegations that Şık and Şener were arrested either for their books or their ideas. In an unusual statement published by a state prosecutor, Öz defended the arrests which he said were related to hard evidence “that cannot be revealed at this stage of the case”.
Socialist, nationalist, liberal and Islamist journalists walked together through İstanbul’s crowded İstiklal Street during protests last week.
There were more than 3,000 protesters who attended the march, many of whom are known to be deeply suspicious of each other’s ideas, uneasy about walking alongside their ideological polar opposites.
Some of the protesters expressed their concerns at a crackdown on secularism and republican values while others feared a right-wing wave of raids against socialists.
Many democrats who have supported the government over the last decade now fear a loss of credibility for the Ergenekon case that started with the findings of journalists.
Two of those journalists are now in Silivri Penitentiaries Campus, alongside retired generals and military personnel, waiting for their trial, date unknown.
Kaya Genç is a novelist and journalist.