Journalist Adem Yavuz Arslan, author of the recently released book “Ergenekon'un Zirvesi: Dink'ten Malatya'ya Azınlıklar Nasıl Hedef Oldu?” (Ergenekon's Peak: How were minorities targeted from Dink to Malatya?), has said that if the Ergenekon case does not go deeper we are still likely to see murders targeting Christians.
“Those murders can still be repeated in Turkey. There are still people in the existing deep state structures who can indoctrinate and motivate young people to commit similar murders. Those murders could serve to destabilize the country,” he told Monday Talk.
Arslan publishes key documents in the book that may change the course of the trial in regards to the murders in Malatya, where three Christian missionaries were brutally murdered in 2007 at the Zirve Publishing House.
One such document is a plan for the Zirve murders found at Gölcük Naval Base.
“Those documents are going to be made public for the first time by the book. It is not true that Emre Günaydın and his friends committed the crime spontaneously. The murders were planned long before,” Arslan said.
‘Those murders can still be repeated in Turkey. There are still people in the existing deep state structures which can indoctrinate and motivate similar young people to commit similar murders. Those murders could serve to destabilize the country. If the ties to the Ergenekon network are not revealed then we could see more murders of Christians … The Ergenekon network has been damaged but they can still repair the mechanism and be reborn’
Meanwhile, an additional indictment prepared for the Zirve murders points to retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon as the prime suspect in the case. The indictment was submitted to the Malatya 3rd High Criminal Court on Friday. Tolon, a former 1st Army Corps commander, is currently under arrest as part of the investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal network with alleged links to the state suspected of plotting to topple the government.
The indictment accuses the 19 suspects of incitement to murder, establishing a terrorist organization, membership of a terrorist organization and working to overthrow the government. Among the suspects are retired Col. Mehmet Ülger, who served as Malatya Provincial Gendarmerie Brigade Commander in 2007; Maj. Haydar Y.; noncommissioned officer Abdullah A.; Sgt. Mehmet Ç. and Ruhi A., an instructor at İnönü University's department of theology.
As the new hearing into the Zirve murders trial is due to commence on June 18, Arslan answered our questions and elaborated on the issue.
Would you first tell us why you wrote the book?
The book is important not only because it talks about the Zirve murders but also because the Zirve murders were one of the most important achievements of the Ergenekon network. The murders were Ergenekon's peak event.
Why is that so? Would you elaborate?
Because it is almost impossible to believe that those five nice-looking young people, 17-18 years of age, would have committed that horrendous crime. Crime scene photographs show that the murders were atrocious. If you saw those photographs you'd say, “How can a human being do that to another person?” The Ergenekon network arranged to have those young people commit that horrific crime, and in the four years that those young people have spent in prison they haven't spoken about who really motivated them. They have been very successfully brainwashed. They think they were protecting the country.
There is a voice recording saying of the murders that, “We told them to scare them but they killed them.”
This voice recording was a conversation between a then-field officer in Malatya and a theologian academic who were trying to soften or undermine the act. However, the murders were not accidental or unplanned. There are documents in the book showing that the murders were planned long ago. The photographs of the people who were later murdered were on a document bearing the seal of the General Staff. There was an investigation into those people previously by the Ergenekon network. There are so many lessons to be learned there.
In what regard?
In regards to the campaign against missionaries in Malatya prior to the murders, like the campaign against Hrant Dink [a Turkish citizen of Armenian descent, late editor of Agos] before his assassination. It is amazing to see the headlines of the local press in Malatya. Where there are 30 Bibles printed in the city they blow up the number and run headlines that there were 30,000 printed. There have also been news stories claiming that 50 new churches have been opened in Malatya. The media has been used, as well as the triggermen, military men, theology professors, etc. It is a complicated murder plan. The murder was not an isolated act; it was part of a plan to create chaos in the country in order to establish grounds for a military takeover in the political turmoil of 2007.
There were several politically controversial events happening at the time, including the presidential elections.
Yes, presidential elections, Republic meetings, attacks on the head of Council of State, attacks on the head of the Board of Higher Education, Dink's murder, raids of security posts in the southeast of the country, etc. I list all of that in the book under the headline: “Ergenekon'un Zirvesi: 2007” (Ergenekon's Peak: 2007). There are also documents in the book showing that the Malatya Zirve murders were not an isolated act but part of a bigger plan to create chaos in the country. The other acts in the plan included the murder of Dink and the murder of Father Santoro; all of those were mentioned in the Cage [Kafes] Action Plan, which detailed secret plans by a unit within the military to attack and intimidate non-Muslims. The Cage Action Plan indictment has already been added to the Malatya case file. Those Christian people were not really killed because they were missionaries or Christians; they were killed as part of a bigger plan.
And you indicate that the plan goes back to 2003. Would you explain that?
There were more than 100 attacks on non-Muslims in 2003-2007. It was 2003 when there were plans targeting Father Santoro, who was murdered in 2006. Since 2008 -- when retired Gen. Veli Küçük, accused of being one of Ergenekon's leaders, ultranationalist lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz and Sevgi Erenerol, who bears the title "media and public relations officer of the Independent Patriarchate," were detained as suspects in the Ergenekon case -- such attacks have significantly declined and there have certainly been no more murders of Christians. In the Sledgehammer [Balyoz] Plan, a suspected coup plot formulated in 2003 at a military gathering, the military was to systematically foment chaos in society through violent acts. The plot allegedly sought to undermine the government in order to lay the groundwork for a military takeover. Former Naval Forces Commander Adm. Özden Örnek, currently on trial for his role in the plot, allegedly detailed plans in his journal to stage a coup d'état against the government. Using nationalistic ideas to foster animosity against non-Muslims was a good way of doing that in Turkey, while there was also propaganda by some sources that the government had an Islamist agenda. According to Turkish traditions and laws, when the NSC [National Security Council] indicates a threat then all institutions take it seriously and start working on it. According to the MGK, missionaries were considered a threat.
You stress the NSC's role in the bigger picture. There have been some books stressing the role of the police in not preventing the murder of Dink. There have also been books stressing the gendarmerie's role. There have even been books emphasizing the role of the media in smear campaigns against non-Muslims and some non-Muslim figures. The group, known as Hrant's Friends, pointed out after the court's verdict in the Dink trial that there are “untouchables” in various institutions, from intelligence agencies to police, from the gendarmerie to the military and from the governor's office to the ministries.
Why? Because when the NSC indicates a threat all institutions are alarmed, and when the threat is “missionaries” institutions are in general agreement that they are “threatening.” There is of course a historical background to that widely accepted belief in the state; some losses of the Ottoman Empire are blamed on the actions of non-Muslims.
Although missionary activities are legal in Turkey, when somebody talks about the “missionary threat” most people tend to think that there is a real and big “threat.”
This tendency has been very well used by some deep state elements. The ultranationalist base can be mobilized by this idea of “missionary threat.” In the Ergenekon indictment there are details about how “lumpen youth” will be found, educated, organized and prepared to conduct assassinations. Those young people have been described as easily rising to bait, with weak family ties. You know there were documents related to Ergenekon found under floor tiling at Gölcük Naval Base. Among those documents are plans related to the Zirve murders. Those documents are going to be made public for the first time in the book. It is not true that Emre Günaydın and his friends committed the crime spontaneously. The murders were planned long before.
If we go back to the issue of “untouchables,” there are different types. One group has been quite conscious of their actions; they are planners. The other group consists of people vulnerable to seeing non-Muslims as a “threat” or “missionary threat.” They have ultranationalistic ideas.
But when it comes to achieving justice in these trials many observers agree that justice has not been done. This was obvious in the Dink trial, in which a verdict was given and caused outrage. Many observers indicated that the government should have stayed behind the case in order for it to be resolved in the court. Why do you think the government has not shown the necessary support, despite the military's influence in governance and politics having been significantly reduced?
First of all, the military's guardianship role has not yet ended, and those murder cases, Malatya and Dink, have not been deepened enough. Nor has the Ergenekon case. If it had been deep enough they would have gone back to the structures of counter-guerilla JİTEM [an illegal network inside the gendarmerie] in Turkey, and even back to the Committee of Union and Progress. The fortunate thing in the Zirve trial was that there was a secret witness who revealed some important documents. Why can't the government stand behind such trials? Because the deep state structure is still very strong.
After the Zirve murders in 2007 in Malatya some other operations against Christians were prevented, as you indicate in the book. Would you tell us about those?
I have included documentation in the book showing more operations were planned in Diyarbakır, Van and Samsun in 2007 against Christians but were prevented at the last minute after the Zirve murders. The purpose was to generate fears that Christians are a real danger to Turkey. However, those murders can still happen in Turkey. There are still people in the existing deep state structures who can indoctrinate and motivate similar young people to commit similar murders. Those murders could serve to destabilize the country. If ties to the Ergenekon network are not revealed then we could see more murders of Christians. The case needs to go deeper. That's why I wrote the book. At this point the court is clear that it was an operation as it was detailed in the Cage Operation Action Plan, a suspected Naval Forces Command plan targeting Turkey's non-Muslim communities. An indictment regarding the Cage Operation Action Plan has been added to the case file on the Zirve Malatya murders. However, similar murders are still a possibility in Turkey, as I said. The Zirve murder case needs to be merged with the Ergenekon case, which has not been deepened yet. It is a fact that the Ergenekon network has been damaged but they can still repair the mechanism and be reborn. There are also documents which leave no doubt of the role of the Malatya Field Office's involvement in the planning of the murders. But this is not just about this plan, finding gunmen and indoctrinating them. There is a bigger structure behind all this.
The interesting thing is that what you do in the book should have been done by the court.
Yes. For example, the book reveals that the NSC's plan has been implemented by the intelligence forces. This is what the court should have revealed. The court documents show that the person who introduces himself as “Mehmet” is indeed Varol Bülent Aral. Who is he? He is a key figure in the Zirve murder, because the chief suspect in the murder case, Emre Günaydın, was indoctrinated by Bülent Aral. Aral's life story is really interesting. In his criminal records he has been associated with marginal left groups, but he has also been known as an Islamist and anti-missionary. As I was working on the book I found out that Bülent Aral is working for the National Intelligence Organization [MİT]. At the 20th hearing of the Zirve case on 21 August 2009 Aral was asked if he was working for the MİT. He denied it. There is a document in the book showing that Varol Bülent Aral is a paid employee of the MİT.
How was that revealed?
Malatya 3rd High Criminal Court probed the issue and asked all state institutions to submit documentation in relation to Aral to the court. As a result, a document from 1995 reached the court. This document was sent to the court with the designation “Top Secret.” This document was not found easily; indeed, it was forgotten on the dusty shelves. According to the document, Aral was working inside the DHKP-C [Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front, an armed left-wing group]. Aral was captured by the police while he was stealing guns from a shop that sells hunting gear in Malatya. While he was being questioned at the police station, the MİT officials demanded his release because he was working for the MİT. The police and the MİT officials argued about it, but after a phone call from Ankara, Aral was released. It is good that the police documented this. This document is going to be important in the course of the trial. In addition, Aral was captured in Adıyaman in 2007 carrying a Kalashnikov. Although he is an Alevi, he was voicing quite radical Islamist views when he was detained. Aral was imprisoned as a suspect in the Zirve murder case in 2008.
Would you remind us what the secret witness told the court at the end of 2010? You revealed in your previous book that he was a member of the Malatya gendarmerie intelligence but pretended to be a Protestant pastor.
Just like the murder of Dink, the Zirve murders were going to be ascribed to a few young people, but a secret witness, İlker Çınar, whose name was revealed to the public by media members, changed the course of the trial. He spoke to the Ergenekon prosecutors on Dec. 24, 2010. He said that upon orders from a gendarmerie commander he appeared on television in 2005 and explained how he had become “enlightened” about the evil activities of Protestants in Turkey, so had decided to become Muslim.
Adem Yavuz Arslan
Currently Bugün daily's Ankara representative, Arslan started his career in journalism as a court reporter in İzmir. Although he has worked in all areas of journalism, from photography to war reporting, he specializes in terrorism, security, organized crime and the military. He produces and moderates the television program “Temsilciler Meclisi” (House of Representatives). His first book was “Bi Ermeni Var: Dink Operasyonunun Şifreleri” (There's this Armenian: The Codes of the Dink Operation) in 2011.