“It is impossible to do it without the media. The plan has worked. There is now a considerably large segment of the middle class that believes that illegitimate powers and the military should intervene to stop a class of people who are represented by the [Justice and Development Party] AK Party government from rising to political power,” he told Today's Zaman for Monday Talk.
“It started with the Feb. 28 process but has since continued and has become a mentality, the Ergenekon mentality. The Ergenekon organization has been weakened by investigations and trials, but the Ergenekon mentality is well and alive,” he added.
Former Nokta news weekly Editor-in-Chief Görmüş published in the weekly’s March 29, 2007, issue lengthy excerpts from a diary allegedly written by former Naval Forces Commander Adm. Özden Örnek. According to the diary, some former commanders had planned two separate coups, codenamed Sarıkız (Blonde Girl) and Ayışığı (Moonlight). The diary also revealed that the coup plans were abandoned because they did not find support in the lower ranks of the military or in the United States. Nokta’s owner shut the magazine down after a police raid of its offices following the diary’s publication. Its last issue was on April 19, 2007. Indicted for slandering and insulting Örnek in the print media, Görmüş faced one to six years in prison but was acquitted in 2008.
Answering our questions, he elaborated on the active role of some media outlets in laying the groundwork for military coups and more.
You talk about the “big media” in your book as you refer to some newspapers, especially Hürriyet and Cumhuriyet and also Radikal and Birgün. What is it that makes it big?
Actually, the term “big media” does not fully tell what I intend to tell by calling it “the big media.” At the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s two big media groups, Doğan and Sabah, were dominating the media scene. The media was really big at the time but today it is more fragmented. Since the ruling AK Party came to power, the government has felt threatened, rightly so, by that big media and then created its own media -- which has its own problems since it cannot be as critical of the government as it should be -- to guard against big media that considered the AK Party an enemy to be killed. In the end, the media scene has changed; there is now deep polarization in the media. Having a pro-government media has advantages and disadvantages, and it probably has more advantages in reference to our understanding of what Ergenekon is and the role of military coups in our lives.
What are the characteristics of the big media that you refer to?
According to my analysis, the big media consists of a number of newspapers -- because the old media structure has changed -- that are geared toward the needs of the state in its coverage rather than the needs of people. In a democratically developed country, you would expect media to be a part of society, to emerge within the society; it would take messages from society and convey those messages to state authorities so that the authorities would make policies to respond to the demands of people. This is the normal way of things in a normal society. However, in Turkey, the way things work is the opposite in that regard; the big media works according to the sensitivities of the state, not the people. That’s what I mean by the big media.
Yes, you are critical of that kind of big media in Turkey. Would you elaborate on the other reasons why?
I am critical because its criticism of the government is not based on justified, normal reasons. It is not critical of the government because the government needs to be criticized in some respects; that media’s criticism of the government is hostile rather than constructive. According to the perceptions of that media, some people in the society are not privileged enough to be in the government. I always give the example of Cumhuriyet daily’s columnist Oktay Akbal’s article “Carthage should be destroyed.” When the AK Party first came to power, another Cumhuriyet columnist, İlhan Selçuk, had written a somewhat balanced article about the new situation in government and had said that he will make his evaluations based on the job the government does. Akbal’s article came after that in order to criticize Selçuk’s approach. Akbal defended the idea that before this government goes, nothing good can ever happen in the country, even if some of what the government does is good for people. This kind of thinking is possible if only you see the AK Party as an enemy to be destroyed.
‘Hostile media tries its best to discredit Ergenekon case’
On the other hand, there is another group of media organizations that are supportive of the government, as you said. What are the issues there as you referred to advantages and disadvantages of having pro-government media?
The government had to create that media in order to protect itself from hostility and suffocation. It was a necessity for the government. However, those media organizations cannot be critical of the government in a way that they should be. This is a problem. At the same time, Ergenekon would not be understood in society without the presence of these media organizations. Anti-government, hostile media would try its best to discredit the Ergenekon investigation and trial processes, and it would probably be successful.
Therefore, I am critical of the pro-government media, but at the same time I find it important. It has been important to expose the main problem with the Turkish democracy: the state’s tutelage over society.
You also refer to a development in the way the military acts when it plans interventions in politics, and you say that the military has had a new approach, starting on Feb. 28, 1997.
Until Feb. 28, the military used its alliances in the state to interfere in politics. Those alliances could be found in the judiciary, universities and the bureaucracy. However, in the mid and late 1990s, when there was the Refah-Yol government, the military decided to change its strategy based on realities. First of all, the world was not the same with the end of the Cold War; the West, including the United States, desired to see a more democratic Turkey. In addition, democratic movements started to develop inside Turkey. A classical, old-style military intervention was not possible anymore, so they started to develop a new strategy based on a new concept: They would use their unarmed forces. Then-Naval Forces Commander Adm. Güven Erkaya called for unarmed forces to work harder. Unarmed forces would include as many civilians as possible against the Refah-Yol government. This was the new concept, and that’s why the Feb. 28 military intervention was dubbed as a “postmodern coup.”
There were deep fears in society at the time, a fear that Shariah would prevail if the government stayed in power.
They pumped fears into society that their lives would change; all women would have to be covered, they would not be able to go out, it would be like in Iran, etc. This fear significantly influenced a portion of the middle-class and made them become politically foolish.
And the media played a big role in that effort.
It is impossible to do it without the help of the media. The plan worked. There is now a considerably large segment of the middle class that believes that illegitimate powers and the military should intervene to stop a class of people who are represented by the AK Party government from rising to political power. It started with the Feb. 28 process but has since continued and become a mentality, the Ergenekon mentality. The Ergenekon organization has been weakened by investigations and trials, but the Ergenekon mentality is alive and well. I am talking about a mentality that cannot be put on trial. It has become powerful and widespread. Liberal and democratic people need to be harshly critical of that mentality. Instead this Ergenekon mentality has been increasingly legitimized in society. This is a very disturbing development.
‘Dink and Ergenekon cases will eventually be combined’
On the one hand, as you said, there are signs that Ergenekon is still active, especially as a mentality, even though the organization might have been weakened. On the other hand, we see that the struggle between the government and the military is going on. Is this wrangle going to go on?
We see that everywhere. There are people in the government who try to shed light on the dark past of the state, and there are people who do not want to do it. We’ve seen it in the case of Hrant Dink. For a long time, we haven’t been able to learn the identities of the National Intelligence Organization [MİT] officials who threatened Hrant Dink in 2004 at the İstanbul Governor’s Office. It is very interesting that the Prime Minister’s Office did not allow further digging in that regard, but then presidential body officials from the State Audit Institution [DDK] decided to hear out Dink’s widow and lawyers in a recent key visit. The family has been very pleased with that development. It is obvious that there are forces within the state constantly wrangling with each other. Similar things have happened regarding the Zirve case. There is now an attempt to combine Zirve and the Dink cases with the Ergenekon case.
What do you expect will happen if those cases are combined?
We will learn much more about suspected people’s and organizations’ links with each other. There have been deliberate attempts not to combine many such cases.
Would you elaborate on that idea?
OK, let’s look at the Hrant Dink case. It is now obvious that Dink was called to the governor’s office in 2004, he felt threatened there and expressed it, and then he was killed in 2007. One of the intelligence officers at the meeting at the governor’s office was Özer Yılmaz, who is now a defendant in the Ergenekon case. Yılmaz is allegedly the person who warned an Ergenekon suspect, Bedrettin Dalan, to flee the country because Dalan was going to be arrested as a suspect in the Ergenekon case. Yılmaz is a defendant in the Ergenekon case as the seventh indictment of the case has accusations against him with regards to his assistance to the Ergenekon gang. Yılmaz is apparently the person who threatened Dink, and there are signs that the anti-missionary and anti-Christian campaigns between 2004 -- the year Dink was threatened -- and 2007 -- the year Dink was killed -- were executed as part of the Ergenekon organization’s plans. This is a serious development that requires linking the Dink and the Ergenekon cases as the Dink family lawyers also indicate, and I think this will eventually happen.
‘West’s perception of freedom of press in Turkey not complete’
There are problematic developments regarding freedom of the press in Turkey. What is the picture in that regard?
There are more than a thousand cases against journalists, and most of them are in relation to the Ergenekon case, accusing journalists of violating the secrecy of investigations and influencing due process. The Western perception is that those journalists are doing anti-government reporting and that’s why they are in trouble. On the contrary, most of those are journalists who work in the pro-government press. In addition, I do not want to undermine the problems related to freedom of the press in Turkey, but the Western view, which lacks some important nuances, is not a complete view. I liken this situation to the anti-Christian and anti-missionary campaigns in Turkey at the beginning of the 2000s. When you look at it from the outside without seeing nuances in the Turkish political landscape, you’d think that those activities increased because of an Islamic conservative government, but in fact the campaigns were the organized activities of the Turkish neo-nationalists [Ulusalcı]. The West would simplistically think that Turkey’s Islamists were against Christians in Turkey. Actually, this shows us the success of the neo-nationalists’ campaign.
The operation led by the Ergenekon case prosecutor, which resulted first in a raid on Odatv and then the arrests of names such as Kaşif Kozinoğlu, Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, has led to debates reaching the West. When this happened, you wrote to the prosecutor conducting the Ergenekon investigation, telling them he had made a mistake. What was your motivation in penning that letter?
It was a great mistake by the prosecution to ban Ahmet Şık’s unpublished book. The prosecutors should have seen the reactions that would come following that decision. This issue has been used; it has led to perceptions that this book must have had some daunting information about the community [the Gülen community], so it has been banned by the police, which according to some people are a tool of the Gülen community. When the book was published on the Internet, we all saw that the book has nothing new or earthshaking about the Gülen community. The Ergenekon case needs public support, so the prosecution should have made better calculations before banning the book. When it comes to Ahmet Şık, whom I worked with, I can’t imagine that he would be involved in the Ergenekon organization.
Former editor-in-chief (2006-2007) of the now-defunct Nokta newsweekly, Görmüş worked for the Aydınlık daily in 1977-1980. He also worked for Nokta from 1986 to 1990, and later was the editor-in-chief at the newsweekly Aktüel from 1991 to 1995. He taught at İstanbul Bilgi Univesity’s department of communications and did media criticism for the acclaimed Internet site Medyakronik. He was acquitted of charges of libel in April 2008 for running a story that featured excerpts from a diary, allegedly penned by a former naval commander, revealing plans by some generals to stage a military intervention. Görmüş said he was not satisfied with the court’s decision, even though he was acquitted of all charges because he was not given a chance to prove his publication’s claims. Together with Israeli journalist Amira Haas, Görmüş became the first recipient of the International Hrant Dink Award in 2009, given in the name of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist who was murdered in 2007. In his own words, Görmüş is living a “slow and simple life” in a village near the Mediterranean Sea in the south of Turkey. He writes columns for the Taraf daily and Aktüel.