A new report documents links that have emerged between murders committed in Malatya in April 2007 and ultranationalists elsewhere in Turkey who have since been arrested for plotting to overthrow the government, for which, prosecutors have argued, they had formed a terrorist network called Ergenekon.
The report, released on Jan. 12 by the European Stability Initiative (ESI), which is a Berlin-based nonprofit research and policy institute, recalled that a gruesome triple murder took place in the eastern province of Malatya where three Protestant Christian missionaries, two Turks and one German, were tortured, stabbed and strangled. Five young men, armed with knives and covered in blood, were found at the scene of the crime only moments after it happened.
“What made the Malatya killings different from an ordinary murder case was the suspicion, present from the outset, that this was not an isolated attack by a group of nationalist youngsters. As the investigation unfolded, serious questions began to emerge which have not yet been answered.
Were anti-government elements of the Turkish state -- or, more specifically, secret networks within the Turkish gendarmerie and ultranationalists linked to them -- involved? Was the murder of missionaries in Malatya an operation by Turkey’s so-called ‘deep state’ to destabilize an elected government by targeting Christian ‘enemies’ of the Turkish nation?” the report asked.
The ESI report also noted that there has been an ultranationalist campaign against Christian missionaries as they were seen as threatening elements supporting separatism by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. The report said: “To be identified as a PKK sympathizer could be a death sentence. Note that it was the claim (however tendentious) that missionaries were supporting separatists in Turkey, more than their religious activities, which was at the heart of the ultranationalist campaign against them in recent years.”
The report also stated that witnesses in Malatya explicitly linked the murders of the missionaries to an infamous institution much discussed in Turkey in the 1990s as being responsible for a series of mysterious assassinations: the secret Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counterterrorism Department (JİTEM) together with one of its alleged founders, a Turkish ultranationalist and retired gendarmerie general Veli Küçük.
“Kücük himself played a leading role in anti-Christian campaigns in İstanbul which preceded the assassination of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Both in Malatya and in İstanbul the local branches of the ultranationalist Grey Wolf youth organization (Ülkü Ocakları) had also organized demonstrations against Christians. In 2008 both Veli Küçük and Levent Temiz, the head of the İstanbul branch of the Ülkü Ocakları, who had personally threatened journalist Hrant Dink, were arrested and put on trial, charged with being members of Ergenekon,” the report stated.
Another point that the report made is that the lawyers representing the Malatya victims’ families have also pointed to similarities between different attacks on Christians in 2006 and 2007 as Dink was killed in İstanbul in early 2007, shortly before the Malatya murders, by another young ultranationalist, who had in fact been under permanent observation by the gendarmerie and police.
“The alleged instigator in the Hrant Dink murder case, Yasin Hayal, who is currently on trial, had numerous links to the gendarmerie. Yasin Hayal paid regular visits to the Trabzon branch of the gendarmerie intelligence department, whose branch director supposedly described Hayal as ‘a solid boy, a clean one, [who] will do good work in the future.’ This notwithstanding the fact that in 2002 Yasin Hayal had beaten the Catholic priest in the Santa Maria Church in Trabzon so badly that the priest was in [a] coma for days (in 2006 the successor priest in Santa Maria Church, Italian Andrea Santoro, was killed by another ultranationalist youth),” the report read.
The lawyers representing the Malatya victims families demanded from the court in April 2010 that the missionary murder case to be merged with one of the Ergenekon trials as they also pointed to the Cage Operation Action Plan, an alleged plot prepared by parts of the Turkish military to intimidate and assassinate non-Muslims in Turkey in order to create an atmosphere of chaos. The plan, which was made public in 2009, refers to the killings of Father Santoro in Trabzon in 2006, the murder of Dink in 2007 and the Malatya murders as “operations.” The judges in Malatya have not yet made a decision on this request by the lawyers.
As the next hearing will take place on Jan. 20, the ESI report highlights the seriousness of the charges and how little attention has been paid to the Malatya trial in recent months in the Turkish and international media.