The Ergenekon coup plot trial, which is considered as the most important legal battle in recent Turkish history, reached an end yesterday (05.08.2013) after Istanbul’s 13th High Criminal Court handed down severe punishments, including a life sentence for former Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ. The verdict trial, which decided the fate of 275 suspects at the end of the 5 year process, resulted in hundreds of years of imprisonment in total and several aggravated life sentences for a series of the country’s high-ranking army members, famous journalists, politicians, civil society leaders and academics. In addition to Başbuğ, the court sentenced journalist Tuncay Özkan, retired Colonel Dursun Çiçek, lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, Workers’ Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek, retired Colonel Fuat Selvi, Hasan Ataman Yıldırım, retired Generals Hurşit Tolon, Nusret Taşdeler, Hasan Iğsız and Şener Eruygur to aggravated life imprisonment. Retired Brigadier General Veli Küçük, Captain Muzaffer Tekin and Council of State shooter Alparslan Arslan got consecutive life sentences in the trial. The court acquitted a total of 21 of the 275 defendants in the trial that had been ongoing since 2008, after the discovery of a weapons arsenal in an İstanbul district. After the news coming from the court, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called the court’s decision as “illegitimate”. Nationalist Action Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli also joined Kılıçdaroğlu in voicing strong criticism against the verdict, which he described as a “murder of law”.
Ergenekon trials has often been analyzed by Turkish journalists and academics in two extreme ways; first as a good effort to destroy Turkey’s so-called the “deep state”, and the other as a way to suppress oppositional voices against the Islamist-oriented ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In my point of view, the reality could be at somewhere between these two extremes, that is to say that Ergenekon trial was started as a good effort against Turkey’s ultra-nationalist deep state but soon turned into a witch hunt reminding the McCarthyism days in USA. Gareth Jenkins from Johns Hopkins University Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Silk Road Studies Program, wrote in 2011 that “Although the JDP has undoubtedly benefited politically from Ergenekon and Sledgehammer –not least because they have made many of its opponents reluctant to criticize the JDP for fear of being arrested– the government appears to be allowing the cases to proceed rather micromanaging or actively driving them. Exactly who is behind the cases remains a topic of often heated debate, but most critics blame the Fethullah Gülen Movement”. Jenkins pointed out the problems related to evidences in the case and wrote “not only is the evidence in both cases deeply flawed, there are also increasing indications that much of it has been fabricated”. Author Claire Berlinski and academic Dani Rodrik also have already pointed out some inconsistencies and “back to the future” anomalies related to Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) cases. The problem with these cases is that there are no clear evidences for a secret organization and the case looks like a “goulash” soup in which the government tried to put everything. It is no surprise to see that most of the Turkish people do not seem convinced related to correctness of these cases but they still take sides according to their political views (pro-Islamist or pro-secular).
Whether it is full of contradictions or not, Ergenekon and Balyoz cases represent a major shift for the Turkish state and symbolize a clear victory of Erdoğan and Gülen’s Islamist visions over Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s pro-western and pro-secular orientation. It is no coincidence that these trials started after Turkey’s problems with USA after the refusal of 1 March memorandum in 2003, a bill for the deployment of American troops in Turkey before the Second Gulf War. The reluctance of Turkish Armed Forces, a NATO ally for USA, about the 1 March memorandum was probably perceived as a betrayal by the USA and from that point the role of Kurds and moderate Islamist groups in Turkey clearly increased in the plans of Americans. This event was also coincided with the increasing liberal democratic consciousness in Turkey against the negative effects of the military coups because of terrible past experiences (27 May 1960, 12 March 1971, 12 September 1980 and 28 February 1997). Erdoğan and AKP used this opportunity very cleverly to establish a new regime based on Islamist rhetoric and majoritarian interpretation of democracy. It would probably be shocking for an international observer to hear that the leader of the past coup (General Kenan Evren who made the coup on 12 September 1980) is still welcomed and shown high respect by the AKP government, while in Ergenekon and Balyoz cases generals are convicted for a coup that did not take place. This shows clearly that for Erdoğan and political Islamists in Turkey coups are bad only if they are against them but a pro-Islamic coup like 12 September could be easily welcomed. Thus, from this perspective Ergenekon and Balyoz cases do not really give hope to real democrats in Turkey and are considered as a way for Islamists to take power and change the regime without using violence.
It seems like Turkey has even more difficult days ahead because of rising polarization in the country especially after the protest wave that started with the Gezi Park events. Another potential problem for the country is the emergence of a second independent or autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria after Turkey’s “epic fail” foreign policy vis-à-vis Syrian crisis. Hot days are coming for Turkey…
Assist. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ
 “17 sentenced to life in Turkey’s Ergenekon coup plot trial, including ex-military chief”, Hürriyet Daily News, Retrieved on 06.08.2013 from http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/17-sentenced-to-life-in-turkeys-ergenekon-coup-plot-trial-including-ex-military-chief.aspx?pageID=238&nID=52034&NewsCatID=339.
 “Long sentences for Ergenekon suspects, life for ex-army chief”, Today’s Zaman, Retrieved on 06.08.2013 from http://www.todayszaman.com/news-322781-long-sentences-for-ergenekon-suspects-life-for-ex-army-chief.html.
 “Ergenekon trial rulings ‘illegitimate,’ says main opposition leader”, Hürriyet Daily News, Retrieved on 06.08.2013 from http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/ergenekon-trial-rulings-illegitimate-says-main-opposition-leader.aspx?pageID=238&nID=52071&NewsCatID=338.
 McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. It also means “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism”. The term has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from 1950 to 1956 and characterized by heightened fears of communist influence on American institutions and espionage by Soviet agents. Originally coined to criticize the anti-communist pursuits of Republican U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, “McCarthyism” soon took on a broader meaning, describing the excesses of similar efforts. The term is also now used more generally to describe reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character or patriotism of political adversaries. See; “McCarthyism”, Wikipedia, Retrieved on 06.08.2013 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism.
 See; http://www.silkroadstudies.org/new/inside/staff/staff_web/jenkins.htm. Retrieved on 06.08.2013.
 Gareth Jenkins, “Ergenekon, Sledgehammer, and the Politics of Turkish Justice: Conspiracies and Coincidences”, MERIA Journal, Volume 15, Number 02 (June 2011), Retrieved on 08.08.2013 from http://www.gloria-center.org/2011/08/ergenekon-sledgehammer-and-the-politics-of-turkish-justice-conspiracies-and-coincidences/.
 See; “Interview with American Author Claire Berlinski”, Uluslararası Politika Akademisi, Retrieved on 06.08.2013 from http://politikaakademisi.org/interview-with-american-author-claire-berlinski/.
 Karen Kaya, “The Turkish-American Crisis: An Analysis of 1 March 2003”, Retrieved on 06.08.2013 from http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/The-Turkish-American-Crisis.pdf.
 Ozan Örmeci, “Turkish Spring: Occupy Gezi”, Uluslararası Politika Akademisi, Retrieved on 06.08.2013 from http://politikaakademisi.org/turkish-spring-occupy-gezi/.