TOPICS > Politics

Suspects on Trial for Planning to Incite Coup in Turkey

BY Admin  October 23, 2008 at 2:05 PM EDT

Demonstrators outside courthouse; AP photo

The lawsuit names 86 people allegedly connected to a secret ultranationalist organization known as Ergenekon after the legend describing the re-emergence of the Turks who defeated their enemy using the cunning of a gray wolf. Forty-six of the 86 defendants are in custody.

A 2,455-page indictment says the group was behind the murders of a prominent judge, a priest, Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and three Christian publishing house employees, and the bombing of newspaper Cumhuriyet’s offices in Istanbul in 2006.

Prosecutors claim the group was planning to target other prominent figures, including Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk, in order to spur a military takeover of the government in 2009.

The investigation began in July 2007 after police found hand grenades and other explosives in a house in Istanbul. The case has riveted the Turkish public’s attention because it feeds into the belief that a “deep state” of military, intelligence and judiciary elements are working behind the scenes to manipulate the country’s political, business and education elite.

The trial opened Oct. 20 in a heavily guarded courtroom on the outskirts of Istanbul and is expected to take months to complete.

Critics say the case is politically motivated and is being used by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party to silence its opponents.

The defendants include retired Brig. Gen. Veli Kucuk, nationalist Workers’ Party leader Dogu Perincek, Cumhuriyet columnist Ilhan Selcuk, former Istanbul University rector Kemal Alemdaroglu and nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz.

Lawyers for the defendants are questioning the ties that prosecutors are making between people from different and often opposing backgrounds, the New York Times reported.

According to Turkish-born professor Henri Barkey, chairman of the Department of International Relations at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, the suspects involved could be considered “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight” for operating under the assumption that if you create a little bit of violence, the army will intervene.

Although Turkey has had four military coups since becoming a republic in 1923, the likelihood of Turkey experiencing another coup is diminishing as it seeks to attract foreign investments and become an international player.

“There is no question that if, for example, tomorrow there were to be a military coup in a traditional sense in Turkey, the Turkish economy would collapse,” Barkey said. And now with the global economic crisis, chances of a coup are even less, he added.

Still, the trial itself could have some serious implications, said Barkey, and depending on which way the verdict goes, the case could puncture the military’s untouchable persona. In a country where the military is generally held in high regard, several four-star and two-star generals, along with other military officers, are being tried by a civilian prosecutor in a civilian court for the first time, he said, and that could transform civil-military relations.