On Ergenekon and fresh human rights defenders

No matter how insincere you are when you are using human rights rhetoric, it inevitably starts to penetrate your mind after a while. It starts to change the way you think, the way you conceive of matters. I have observed this happening many times. For example, I observed police chiefs who first used human rights arguments as mere rhetoric and then witnessed how their mindset was reconstructed by this “virus.”

A recent event, however, made me very suspicious about my own assumptions. Could it be possible that some people are immune to this virus? Can some just use human rights rhetoric without being influenced by it? I do not know. This is the first time I have been confused and suspicious about it. Let me explain to you how I arrived at this strange position. Everything started with a popular television program. A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by a private TV station for a discussion on the Ergenekon case. I did not know who else was invited, but the anchor told me that “top lawyers” were going to be among the guests. I thought he was trying to seduce me onto his program through this peculiar terminology. I was wondering who these “top lawyers” were while I was on my way to the studio. There were six lawyers at the İstanbul studio and there were two in Ankara. Apart from me, all of them were either retired or current judges and prosecutors. The ones in the Ankara studio were the former chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals and the current prosecutor at the same court. They are also very well-known figures because of their passionate nationalist approaches.

The anchor first gave the floor to the jurists in the İstanbul studio; there were some criticisms of the Ergenekon case, but these were moderate and in balance, taking into account both the positive and negative aspects of the case. However, when the floor was taken by Ankara, I was caught by an eye-opening surprise. Honestly, I could not believe what I heard at first. It took some time to grasp what these two prosecutors were saying from Ankara. According to them, the Ergenekon case was nothing but a fabrication of some people. There was no such organization. Everything was just a fabricated story. Besides, the whole investigation was a gross violation of human rights standards and legal procedures. They kept talking and talking about human rights standards, and the Ergenekon case, according to them, was itself a gross violation of human rights.

Ergenekon before the European court

Let me take you to another scene. We are now before the European Court of Human Rights. A fact-finding hearing is in progress. Kurdish villagers appear before the delegation sent by the European court. The library in the Ankara courthouse is now specifically designated for this “fact-finding” hearing. Judges, clerks, translators, applicants’ lawyers and representatives of the Turkish government are all present, and hectic activity is taking place. A villager who does not speak Turkish is giving his testimony in quite a peculiar way. He speaks in Kurdish, his statement is simultaneously translated into Turkish and English. Next, an albino Kurdish boy appears before the delegation. There is heavy silence in the courtroom. The delegation cannot believe what they are seeing and hearing.

First the scene. The boy appears before the court on crutches. He tells the story of how he lost his legs. He is now 18 years old, but when he was arrested he was just 13. He was taken from his village by soldiers and put in a cell with no windows and no heating. When he and other detainees from his village were arrested, all of the “proper” custody centers were packed and there was no room for them. Instead they were put in these cells. They spent many days in these rooms under harsh winter conditions, with freezing cold weather and, of course, many of them suffered from frostbite. This hearing took place before the court in 1998. The events took place five years prior to the hearing. These people had not been able to find any prosecutors willing to listen to their story and pursue legal action in Turkey and the time, and thus the court hearing was the first time that an authority was listening to them.

The case I am talking about is Ahmet Özkan and Others v. Turkey. It was only one of many village destruction cases. During the late ’80s and early ’90s, almost 3,000 villages were forcefully evacuated and 17,500 unresolved political murders took place in the Southeast. If you just have a glance at the judgments of the European court and the reports of the European Commission of Human Rights, which at the time conducted all such fact-finding hearings for the court, you always see the same names and same concepts. These are JİTEM (Gendarme Intelligence Agency), the very existence of which has always been denied by the Turkish authorities, Susurluk, Veli Küçük, the deep state, etc. Exactly the same JİTEM commanders are now on trial in the Ergenekon case. Küçük, the founder of JİTEM and now a retired general, was the mastermind behind thousands and thousands of political murders in the Southeast, he was the main figure in the Susurluk scandal, in which the mafia and the state’s dark relations were revealed, and he is one of the main actors in the Ergenekon case. Before this case, he was untouchable. No prosecutor had ever dared to take his statement. Even parliamentary commissions could not summon him.

Fresh human rights defenders

Let us return to our first episode, to the debate on television. Finally, I lost my temper. I started shouting at these prosecutors: “Here I am, listening to you in complete shock. You are and you were at the top of the judicial system in Turkey. You were confronted by thousands and thousands of torture allegations when torture was widespread and systematic in this country. You never took any action. The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey countless times just because of your decisions, your actions, and you never changed the way you acted. Here you are, all of a sudden becoming fierce human rights defenders. I wonder why!” Of course then it was their turn to be caught by surprise. Because they are not used to being questioned at all.

I do not want to lose my belief that human rights rhetoric is a virus and whoever uses it is influenced by it. But this is the first time in my life that I am about to lose my faith in this belief. Please tell me that I am wrong. Do you think these prosecutors really have changed? The Ergenekon case was the first occasion that they remembered that human rights are really important. I could not believe this. Do you know why? Because I did not see them mention the content of this case, which concerns the dark past and history of this country, full of unsolved murders, endless social provocation, coup d’états, etc. I did not see them pay any attention to the fact that since the Ergenekon case began, no politically motivated murder has ever taken place. Yes, human rights are a virus, but I think some people are completely immune to it.