Orhan Kemal Cengiz: Trying coup plotters is a revolution

Orhan Kemal Cengiz, the chairman of the Human Rights Agenda Association and a jurist-writer, says the country has come a long way since the time when naming schools and streets after Kenan Evren — the leader of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état — and celebrating the military coup of May 27, 1960 like a festival were common.

“There are still some people who consider the May 27 coup as a modernist revolution against reactionaryism. In fact, trying coup plotters is a revolution in a country like ours,” he said.

So after three coups and two postmodern coups, it seems that Turkey has finally managed to bring coup plotters to court for the first time in its history.

The diaries that allegedly belong to former Naval Forces Commander Adm. Özden Örnek, in which he is said to have kept notes between 2004 and 2006 about plans for two coups code-named Ayışığı (Moonlight) and Sarıkız (Blond Girl), have recently been incorporated into the ongoing Ergenekon trial — a trial against 142 suspects charged with plotting to overthrow the government — according to Cengiz.

After two years and a series of operations, Turkey has finally sent three retired generals and the numerous civilians referred to in the Ayışığı and Sarıkız coup plans to trial. Even if the generals are released without being sentenced, this will be regarded as a turning point for Turkish democracy.

Ever since the 1960s, Turkey has been unable to take civilian initiatives against anti-democratic interventions — until the launch of the Ergenekon investigation. As a result of the operations that began in February 2008 former Gendarmerie Commander retired Gen. Şener Eruygur and retired 1st Army Corps Commander Gen. Hurşit Tolon were arrested at a social facility owned by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) for planning the coups code-named Ayışığı and Sarıkız.

The arrests were a great achievement for proponents of democracy in Turkey, says Cengiz, and he explains more about the process:

The second indictment of the Ergenekon case was made public. Let’s interpret the picture anew in light of the latest information: What is Ergenekon, what is its objective, what has it done?

Ergenekon is an organization created by those who deem themselves superior to the law and all rules. The organization is the last of the inheritors of the conspiracy mindset bequeathed by the Byzantine and Ottoman empires and from there to the republic. Ergenekon is the last representative of the deep structure behind all the political assassinations and manipulations in Turkey.

What are the connections of this structure?

What we are holding in our hand is only one tentacle of the octopus. We are liquidating one branch of the Turkish Gladio. Those who play a key role in Ergenekon also played a central role in JİTEM, an illegal unit formed inside the gendarmerie. When you include JİTEM in the case, you also merge the Sauna and Atabeyler gangs, the Santoro, Dink and Malatya assassinations and many others into the case. You would also link assassinations by unknown assailants — by prominent assailants — and all the other assassinations to this network. If the investigation goes further, Hizbullah and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) cooperation with Ergenekon will be exposed as well.

What has the second indictment added to the Ergenekon case, which was triggered by the seizure of 27 hand grenades in a shanty in Ümraniye and steered by the discovery of weapons depots, assassination plots and attempts to create chaos?

I don’t base the case simply on the second indictment. Some recent developments are as important as the second indictment.

Which developments?

Uncovering the BOTAŞ [Turkish Pipeline Corporation] wells and placing the JİTEM colonel under arrest indicates that the Ergenekon case is heading for the east of the Euphrates, where it must be actually steered. This is crucial. The second indictment also brings the stages of a coup to light.

The coup plotters’ picture was shot

That is, what we already knew has been documented…

We always knew that settings favorable for a coup were prepared. The second indictment shows us how it was to be done as in a recipe. We understand how the media instigated coups and how members of the press considered coups to be a means of prosperity.

Is it of prominent significance to the case?

It is of tremendous significance. It has already swept a curtain away. The details of nasty works that we smelled and heard became visible. There is no way back. We have finally discovered the truth. Society has woken up. If the case progresses and moves in the right direction and the perpetrators are duly punished, then it will pave the way for further developments.

What kind of developments?

The military guardianship system in Turkey would receive a deadly blow. A sense of justice would be restored; it would also lay the foundation for a democratic state that respects the rule of law.

It should not be reduced to just a coup plot

Some claim that the case should be demarcated; otherwise, the process will be hindered. What is the imminent threat, demarcation or extension of the case?

Şamil Tayyar is a colleague who expended tremendous effort in the uncovering of Ergenekon; however, he advocates the demarcation of the case, which is extremely misleading. Have a glance at the Susurluk report, Kutlu Savaş made a crucial point in the report when he said, “Dealing with interconnected incidents and networks in separate court cases has made it impossible to understand what Susurluk actually is.”

It is equally, even more, relevant to Ergenekon…

That’s right, as long as you deal with the interconnected incidents and cases separately, you can neither understand what Ergenekon actually is nor can you fully liquidate this structure. Coup plots are significant; yet reducing the case to such coup plots would weaken it. By doing so, you would create more room for the insidious propaganda which claims that the case targets AK Party [Justice and Development Party] opponents. Let’s keep in mind that Ergenekon is a gigantic organization, and it is at the center of many shadowy deeds in Turkey.

What is in the past, what will the future bring?

A document seized from one of the accused says “The Special Forces are the apple of Ergenekon’s eye.” The Special Forces are the continuation, or inheritor, of the Special Warfare Department. Gen. Sabri Yirmibeşoğlu, one of the former heads of the department, once said that the Sept. 6-7 [pogrom] was a spectacular deed done by the Special Warfare Department. When you trace the ties, you would be appalled to see the extent to which Ergenekon goes.

You have an explanation about the lawyers, elites, and gunmen of the Ergenekon structure. Who are they?

Those who hope [to get] something out of the coups; who scare the public away because they are afraid of the people; those who think that they are the chief politicians in Turkey although they would not last in politics even for three days in any democratic country; those who are frightened by democracy, as if it were a monster.


Those who actually do not deserve — but owe to the military guardianship — the position that they occupy. Those who think insulting people means progressivism; who think their memorized knowledge is intellectual power. Those who sit at the center of Ergenekon and pretend to be journalists, politicians and bosses.


They are well known. We know them from [the] Susurluk [incident]. [They are] those who created the “death-triangle” around Sapanca-Adapazarı-Hendek; those who abducted people and threw their bodies in the wells; those who shot Dink in the head; those who showered the Council of State with a rain of bullets and then pretended to be pious Muslims.
There is an explicit example with the case of the Şemdinli prosecutor; it speaks for itself. The Şemdinli prosecutor has been turned into the living dead. After this example, actually it is a miracle that an investigation such as Ergenekon has been launched.

What is the forward-looking face of Ergenekon?

It is confiscating Turkey’s future, blocking the EU process, disconnecting Turkey from the world and setting up an authoritarian-fascist regime.

The indictment is centered on a coup. This is the first time that generals have been tried on coup charges.

It is sort of a revolution for Turkey. We named schools and streets after Kenan Evren. We celebrated May 27 like a festival. There are still some people who consider May 27 a modernist revolution against reactionaryism. In fact, judging coup plotters is a revolution in a country like ours.

The circumstances favorable for a coup are created by ensuring media support, creating favorable public opinion, deactivating politics, drawing attention to the dangers threatening the homeland and convincing the command echelon or bypassing it when the former cannot be achieved. Is this how they acted?

Weren’t all the coups staged in that way? We caught the coup plotters red-handed for the first time. Their masks dropped for the first time. We saw their bare faces for the first time. If an army intends to stage coups when circumstances are ripe, some people both inside and outside that army will eventually create such circumstances.

Does the process consist of the liquidation of the history of coups and the deep state?

It is too early to call it the liquidation of the deep state. Ergenekon is centered on what we call a deep state structure. If all the cases connected to Ergenekon are merged, a glimpse of hope will emerge for fully purging the state of gangs.

They would have cracked   down with an ‘iron fist’

What do the [coup] diaries tell you?

The diaries tell how deeply the Ergenekon mindset is rooted and how the system functions. It sheds light on why we have been living under military guardianship for so long.

I already knew of the Sarıkız, Ayışığı, Yakamoz and Eldiven coup plots, and now the “Iron fist” has popped up.

I heard it for the first time, too. Coups are iron fists that crack down on this country. They seem to have named it correctly. If they had not been captured, they would have knocked out democracy with an iron fist.

Increasing numbers of people say they are convinced [that Ergenekon exists]. Has the Ergenekon case gone beyond the stage where it has been diluted?

It is tragicomic that we still debate whether or not it actually exists. A certain media group’s incredible efforts to blur the issue and use subtle disinformation tactics led to this situation. It is shameful. However, despite these efforts, people can sort out what is what.

Why does the İstanbul Bar Association give explicit messages of support to Ergenekon members?

Unfortunately, it is not only the İstanbul Bar Association. The executive boards of some bar associations are now dominated by groups who call themselves the “neo-nationalists” (ulusalcılar). They have actively rolled up their sleeves to act as the advocates of Ergenekon. Who knows, maybe it is extremely scary for some people to see that in a country where Ergenekon has collapsed everyone will have to duly fulfill their duties, that this country will enter the EU, etc.

It is stupidity to call what has been written a ‘crime of thought’

There are some people who elaborate on the thesis of “it is not an offense to think about a coup, but it is an offense to put it into action.” Are these efforts aimed at legitimizing Ergenekon?

But we are not talking about a single man who just sat down and dreamed about a coup. The same guy goes and acts like the mentor of the coup plotters.

You are talking about the diaries of Mustafa Balbay…

Of course! If some call this a crime of thought, I doubt their intelligence and good will. And the others, in their own corner, act like coup provocateurs. Those who consider this to be freedom of expression are actually those who — subconsciously — do not see a coup as a crime. Otherwise, I believe everyone knows that “praising an offense and instigating an offense” in and of itself constitutes a crime. The Ergenekon case is a historic opportunity for the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK].

There is the impression that the TSK is protecting some retired generals. GATA [Gülhane Military Academy of Medicine] is a typical example. How will the civilian judiciary versus the military judiciary influence the Ergenekon case?

In Turkey, we have a military judiciary with tremendous jurisdiction. In other parts of the world, there is either no such thing as a military judiciary or even if there is, it is merely reserved for issues related exclusively to the military profession. Around us, there is this weird mentality which thinks that a coup attempt is a military offense.

In the Şemdinli case, we saw what would happen if the issue is dealt with by the military judiciary. The accused, who were to be tried by the civilian courts for a crime with a sentence of up to of 30-40 years, were handed over to a military court and released the next day. If this is a fait accompli, this is a strong insult to society.

What is the position of the TSK towards the Ergenekon case?

Ambivalent. It seems as if it does not prevent detentions; but on the other hand, their manner regarding the “headquarter houses” issue is thought-provoking. [We now know that the] MİT [National Intelligence Organization] informed [them] in 2005, but military prosecutors did not take any action. The old days, when silence was golden, are now far behind. The Ergenekon case is imposing a brand new institutional culture on the army, a new model of structuring. The case, which is a pain in the neck for some, is actually presenting the military with an opportunity to get rid of the rotten eggs in the basket.

Instead of getting rid of the rotten eggs and saying the “era of coups is over,” why does the General Staff insist on saying “do not damage the reputation of the TSK”?

The military somehow was unable to engage in self-criticism. But this, in fact, inflicts significant damage on the military.

Opened up to civilians in 1999

Where is the place that Ergenekon took its first steps? Where is the epicenter?

Looking at the documents in the dossier, you will see the expression “Ergenekon, established under the TSK.” Being a military structure until then, Ergenekon was opened up to civilians in 1999 and was restructured. Before that date, perhaps it had some contact with civilians, but after 1999, it branched out considerably, reaching out to the judiciary, security organizations, the media, politics, the business world, universities. … The gunmen have sustained a blow, the masterminds are out there.

To what extent has the core structure been touched in Ergenekon? What is the rest [of the structure] doing now? Are they seeking revenge?

In fact, it is obvious that they have touched the operational side of the structure. Look how the murders stopped at once after the case was launched. This means that the gunmen have been deactivated. If this operation had not been undertaken, we would have seen blood flowing all around the country. They would have attacked the Alevis, shot the intellectuals and non-Muslims. But the masterminds of Ergenekon are still out there. Some say, “I was involved in all the coups”…

I don’t think they have surrendered. What kind of moves can they make in the coming period?

Of course this structure has not been liquidated completely. If they were capable, and if they had the chance, they would assassinate the prime minister. We should be extremely careful: We have to be ready for a second closure case and start to roll up our sleeves to ward it off today. We sense a devious plan. They realized that the first closure case was prevented by the EU’s opposition. Now there is a tremendous effort to erase that support. They are trying to convince the West that the AK Party is taking Turkey towards “Moderate Islam.” We should not fall into this trap. The AK Party should launch a new series of efforts towards the EU, and it should succeed in eliminating these conspiracies. No one should be so naive as to think that Ergenekon has been completely liquidated. We are just setting off on the road.