A new wave of detentions last week from the clandestine terrorist network Ergenekon has revealed that the group was planning to assassinate Alevi and Armenian community leaders, the prime minister and members of the Supreme Court of Appeals, acts that would have dragged Turkey into chaos if they had been carried out.
Nearly 40 individuals were detained last week in simultaneous police operations staged in six cities as part of the ongoing investigation into Ergenekon, a shady clandestine network of groups and individuals accused of plotting to overthrow the government. The new detainees include military officers, an academic with left-wing political activist background, the former head of the Police Special Operations Unit, seven retired generals and the former head of the Higher Education Board (YÖK).
The prosecutors, who made public the rationale for the detention warrant, indicated that the police, who had been monitoring the suspects’ phone conversations for months, had found evidence that Ergenekon was engaged in preparations for a number of assassinations. The group was plotting to kill prominent Alevi community leaders such as Ali Balkız and Kazım Genç as well as Sivas Armenian Community President Minas Durmaz Güler along with a number of journalists.
The prosecutions states that the police have established that two grenade attacks on the Cumhuriyet daily in May 2006 and a shooting at the Council of State in 2006 that left a senior judge dead and two others injured were acts of the Ergenekon terrorist organization. The warrant further noted that under the investigation an Ergenekon house full of munitions and 27 hand grenades was discovered in June 2007, along with another arms depot in Eskişehir, also in June 2007, and it in addition referred to the existence of top-secret information concerning state security and plots to assassinate journalists, members of the high judiciary, the prime minister and journalists.
The warrant further said that technical monitoring on the part of the police revealed that Ergenekon was preparing to assassinate a prominent figure who is a member of the Armenian community in the city of Sivas and that those detained in the recent wave of detentions were taken in on suspicion of membership in Ergenekon, carrying out activities in accordance with the organization's purposes and acquiring weapons to facilitate the implementation of the sensational assassinations.
Ergenekon's munitions inventory
Meanwhile, two separate arms depots were found during last week's operations. On Friday the police discovered a weapons cache buried in a forest in Ankara's Gölbaşı district through a map found in the home of one of the newest suspects. Searches in five other areas were also launched based on evidence seized by police during sweeps of homes and offices of the suspect. These searches yielded no results.
In Gölbaşı, officers discovered 30 hand grenades, three flame-throwers, many plastic explosives, ammunitions for Uzi machine guns and other ammunition buried close to a road near the capital, officials said.
Weapons were also seized in the home of Lt. Col. Mustafa Dönmez in İstanbul's Sapanca district. Long-range Kalashnikov rifles, bullets, hunting rifles, binoculars, bayonets and a pair of car license plates were also discovered. Twenty-two hand grenades were found in Dönmez's laundry basket. Dönmez himself escaped and is now considered a suspect at large.
Details of Eregnekon's coup plans
Evidence gathered from last week's searches have shed light on Ergenekon's coup plans for the year 2009. The munitions were found based maps discovered in the home of the former deputy chairman of the police department's special operations unit, İbrahim Şahin, who was detained last week. The Gölbaşı weapons are significant and provide important clues as to what last week's detainees would have done had they not been captured. The police also established that the maps were professionally drawn up at the time of the Council of State attack in 2006. The investigators are now looking for the person who drafted the maps, unlikely to have been created by Şahin himself, given their precision and level of professionalism.
Evidence and the prosecution's opinion indicate that the group could have dragged Turkey into chaos. Şahin and the retired generals were detained after months of surveillance established that they had organized meetings to plot a coup to overthrow the government in 2009. Indeed, during the Ergenekon trial, in which 86 suspects are already being indicted, it became obvious that suspect Ümit Sayın was expecting a coup to take place every morning.
The lower-ranked military officers currently on active duty detained on Wednesday, such as Bekir Ç., Ersin D and Oğuz B., were supposed to carry out some of the operations, including the assassination of an Armenian leader in the city of Sivas. Flamethrowers, grenades and TNT found in Gölbaşı, the police believe, will not only expose the future plans of the organization but will also illuminate some incidents of the past.
Some sources close to the investigation believe that former Mayor of İstanbul Bedrettin Dalan, who is also on the run in the US, is the head of Ergenekon's financial department. Also, the prosecution now has reason to believe that a coup plan, called Glove, was put into motion two months ago. Ergenekon's plans for the coup were so detailed that the organization had already decided who would be prime minister and president. The coup, planned shortly before or after the local elections scheduled for March, 29, 2009, would be a small-scale takeover aimed at disabling the government. Sources allege that retired Gen. Tuncer Kılınç in Ankara and retired Gen. Kemal Yavuz in İstanbul were leading and training the military cadets who would participate in the takeover. The police now have records of every coup meeting.
The first step would be the killing of important non-Muslim community leaders in Sivas. Two hand grenades were found in the house of Oğuz Bulut, assigned the job of killing Sivas Armenian Community leader Minas Durmaz Güler. Bulut is the former president of the Sivas Idealist Clubs, youth groups formerly closely associated with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), although the party has made significant efforts under its current leader, Devlet Bahçeli, to distance itself from them.
A similar case in Italy
Meanwhile, analysts point out that when Italy was cleaning out in "its own Ergenekon," known as Gladio, which was set up in the 1950s with the support of the US and UK intelligence services under the Italian Defense Ministry but which then became an independent group, carrying out hundreds of terrorist attacks, the same kind of high-profile detentions took place as in Ergenekon terror organization case. So far, slightly more than 100 people are suspects under the Ergenekon investigation, compared to a total of 7,417 against whom criminal complaints were filed in Italy during the Gladio operation. More than 2,990 public servants were brought before the judiciary during the course of the investigation. At least 900 businessmen appeared in court over links with Gladio. The higher-ups who were convicted included 12 former ministers and deputies. The president was forced to resign.
Recent developments in the latest detentions
Ten out of 21 of those who were referred to a court after the police investigation, including former Deputy Chairman of the Special Operations Unit Şahin, were arrested by court order. Former Secretary-General of the National Security Council (MGK) retired Gen. Tuncer Kılınç and another retired senior member of the army were released without condition by the court, despite the prosecutor's recommendation to free the two with travel restrictions. Seven others were also released by the court on Saturday. The interrogation of three others was incomplete as of Sunday.
Gürüz, the former head of YÖK, was also released yesterday by the prosecution, without referring him to court.