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February 18, 2013, Monday

As the Ergenekon case winds down

Six years ago, when 27 hand grenades were found in a ramshackle home in Ümraniye, it was thought to be just a simple criminal episode of some sort. And so, the Ergenekon investigation, which began on October 20, 2008 with the “Şafak” (Dawn) Operation, was not taken too seriously by many people at the time. Though the reverberations from the investigation increased with time, it remained a case that was viewed with great suspicion by many different factions in Turkey. It was often said that one of those who approached the investigation with great suspicion was, in fact, the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Wave after wave of arrests and some of the evidence leaking to the press worked to create a set of expectations surrounding the investigation. At the same time, the public became divided and the political spectrum of the country reorganized itself according to the case. The leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP) defined himself as a “lawyer for Ergenekon,” while the Prime Minister was portrayed as a prosecutor.

There are currently 276 suspects on trial in the Ergenekon case. A full 576 hearings have already been held, and for these hearings there have been 39,000 pages of notes taken. When the case first began, it was alleged already predicted that due to the number of witnesses and the sheer volume of the allegations and the related documents, the case would go on for  years. For Turkey, it was a comparatively very short period of time between when the list of allegations was announced and the prosecutor's office began to investigate the claims. The speed surprised everyone.

The case is one in which people from the armed forces General Staff headquarters to active generals are being accused of being “members of a terror organization.” The phrase “terror organization” refers to attempts to use armed forces for political purposes, the aim being to carry out coups d'etat. The vehicle in question is the armed forces. The terror organization being referred to here is essentially the junta, put together to carry out a coup.

It appears that the Ergenekon case has allowed Turkey to close the door on its era of coups. But has it really? Before court decisions could even be rendered, the Ergenekon case has elicited political results. The recent visit by the prime minister to retired Gen. Ergin Saygun, convicted of being part of a coup plot, as well as the expectations created by the upcoming 4th Judicial package, are proof that state power has passed entirely into the hands of the democratic authority in this country. As for the shifting balances in the polarization caused by this case, these have reflected the changes taking place in Turkey itself. As for the suspects in the Ergenekon case, they no longer hold any hope other than the possibility of the ruling government issuing amnesty.  As for the ranks of the military, coups are no longer an attractive option. We now have a military which would never even think of carrying out a coup. All of which means that the power struggles within the Turkish state have changed. The main arena now includes only democratic actors.

All of which is why there is not a great deal of interest and curiosity about the formal study by the prosecutor's office on the essence of the case. The justice system has signed off on an incredible piece of work. A cold-blooded piece of justice, work and trial was carried off in the face of factions of the public that support coup-making military members, as well as certain political parties and societal leaders.  And despite the heavy pressures that were created, no one took any steps backwards.

Six years ago, when we were all debating the April 27 e-memorandum from the military, we thought military intervention into the political arena could only be prevented through a tough stance by the ruling powers. It turned out not to be enough. What we have learned through the course of the Ergenekon trial has been that the real power lies with the justice system. And as this Ergenekon trial approaches its end, the courts are what will wind up putting the final note on the nearly 50 year era of coups in Turkey.

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