New arrests link Ergenekon to generals' coup attempts
Twenty people, including two former army commanders, a journalist and the leader of a business group, were detained in operations in Ankara and İstanbul Tuesday morning as part of an investigation into a powerful and illegal organization suspected of plotting to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
Retired Gen. Şener Eruygur, retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon, Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO) Chairman Sinan Aygün and Ankara bureau chief of the radically secularist Cumhuriyet daily Mustafa Balbay were among those taken into police custody early in the morning.
Eruygur was a leading figure among the organizers of so-called republican rallies organized ahead of July elections last year in protest of the AK Party government. His name was also mentioned in documents leaked to the press proving the existence of two failed coup attempts called Ayışığı and Sarıkız, plotted when Eruygur was yet a member of the army. Tolon was known for making frequent appearances at symposiums and conferences organized by ultra-nationalists. This is the first time generals of such high ranks are being detained in Turkey.
Eruygur is also head of the secularist Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD), named after the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Birol Başaran, former head of the ADD's Kadıköy chapter and chairman of the Nationalist Businessmen's Association (USİAD), and ADD Kadıköy's current Chairman Coşkun Gürel, a former colonel, were also detained.
İstanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office ordered the detentions, reports said. The police also carried out searches at the Ankara office of Cumhuriyet, the ADD's İstanbul office and ATO's headquarters building in the capital.
The editor-in-chief of the ultra-nationalist Tercüman daily, Ufuk Büyükçelebi, and writer and strategy expert Erol Mütercimler were also detained in Tuesday's raids. The dailies' offices were searched by police teams looking for former AK Party deputy Turhan Çömez and former Gendarmerie General Command Intelligence Department Chairman Levent Ersöz, also on suspicion of links to Ergenekon.
A newspaper had reported Tuesday morning that Çömez was out of the country to study English abroad.
The Ergenekon investigation under which Tuesday's arrests were made began in the summer of 2007 when a house filled with arms and ammunitions in İstanbul's Ümraniye district was uncovered. As the investigation expanded, a structure suspected of responsibility for a number of politically motivated murders, including that of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January 2007, and attacks at newspapers and judicial agencies to invoke chaos and engineer a military takeover. Forty-nine people including former army members, journalists, drug lords and academics have been detained in the operation so far.
Analysts say the Ergenekon group is part of the shadowy "deep state," code for hard-line nationalists in Turkey's security forces and state bureaucracy ready to take the law into their own hands to accomplish their own agenda.
Meanwhile, reports yesterday said the chief prosecutor on the Ergenekon case, Zekeriya Öz, said he was very close to completing his indictment and expected to submit it to a court by the end of this week.
The investigation has greatly increased political tension in the country. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has previously said a closure case against his party on charges of anti-secularism was a response to the government's determination in the Ergenekon operation, while some others have claimed that the government uses the Ergenekon investigation to suppress its opponents.
Cüneyt Arcayürek, a columnist of the Cumhuriyet daily held a press conference at noon to comment on their bureau chief's detention. "It is in no way a coincidence that such things are happening at a time when the closure case is being heard at the Constitutional Court."
A lawyer for the Cumhuriyet daily here said the police seized two laptops and dozens of CDs.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded to press members' questions at noon on the news of the recent detentions in front of Parliament. "We hope that the investigation will be concluded as soon as possible he said," adding. "We wish that the darkness will be illuminated at the end of this investigation," he said.
The detentions came hours ahead of the hearing in the case in which a chief prosecutor is seeking to have the ruling AK Party shut down for Islamist activities. The prosecutor is due to make an oral statement to the Constitutional Court -- another part of Turkey's secularist establishment. The AK Party denies the prosecutor's charges, saying they are politically motivated.
Novelist Orhan Pamuk, who was prosecuted under a law banning insults to Turkish identity, and members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party - seen by nationalists a threat to national sovereignty- reportedly were on the Ergenekon hit list.
The Ergenekon investigation began as the continuation of an investigation into a house used as an ammunitions depot in June of last year. Revelations emanating from the investigation thus far have shown that many of the attacks attributed to separatist or Islamist groups or seen as hate crimes against minorities were actually "inside jobs" by people connected to Ergenekon.
People such as the lawyer of Yasin Aydın, one of the suspects charged in the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, have appeared before courts as suspects in the Ergenekon operation.
The investigation into the gang has exposed links between an attack on the Council of State in 2006, threats and attacks against people accused of being unpatriotic and a 1996 car crash known as the Susurluk incident, which revealed links between a police chief, a convicted ultranationalist fugitive and a member of Parliament as well as links to the plans of some groups in Turkey's powerful military to overthrow the government.
Some of the nearly 50 suspects under arrest and awaiting trial so far include Veli Küçük, a retired major general who is also the alleged founder of an illegal intelligence unit in the gendarmerie, the existence of which is denied by officials; İP leader Perinçek; controversial ultranationalist lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, who filed countless suits against Turkish writers and intellectuals at odds with Turkey's official policies; Fikret Karadağ, a retired army colonel; Sevgi Erenerol, the press spokesperson for a shady group called the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate; and Sami Hoştan, a key figure in the Susurluk investigation. Ali Yasak, a well-known gangster linked to the figures in the Susurluk incident, was also detained in the operation.
Ayışığı and Sarıkız
A Turkish political newsweekly was shut down in April in 2007 after its owner said he couldn't handle police harassment after the magazine printed reports revealing that former force commanders had plotted to overthrow the AK Party.
The March 29, 2007 issue of Nokta magazine had printed lengthy excerpts from a diary allegedly written by former Navy Forces Commander Adm. Özden Örnek. According to the diary, some former force commanders had planned two separate coups with the codenames Sarıkız (Blonde Girl) and Ayışığı (Moonlight).After the story, the magazine's offices were raided by the police for three days as part of an investigation by the public prosecutor's office in İstanbul's Bakırköy district, acting on a complaint filed by Adm. Örnek.
Initially, Adm. Örnek had admitted that the diaries belonged to him. However, following the widespread public attention and reactions against the reports of the coup attempt, Örnek later said the diary was not his.
The magazine's editor in chief, Alper Görmüş, was tried risking up to seven years in prison for "publicly slandering and insulting Adm. Örnek" but he was acquitted.
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