Ergenekon case through the eyes of Turkey’s European friends by Orhan Kemal Cengiz

March 11, 2011, Friday/ 16:48:00

I am writing this piece from Vienna, where I have been invited to talk to Austrian political circles. Austria is quite well known for its firm stance against Turkey’s accession to the EU.

The British Embassy here in Vienna together with the European Stability Initiative (ESI) organized an event in which they brought together Austrian decision makers, politicians and journalists along with some Turkish intellectuals to discuss why Turkey should join the EU.

If I had not been invited to this event, I would not know that the UK is lobbying behind closed doors on Turkey’s behalf. This invitation gave me little hope for Turkey’s EU adventure. I would like to thank both the British Embassy in Vienna and the ESI for organizing such an interesting event for Turkey’s benefit.

While I was discussing this event through e-mails with Gerald Knaus, executive director of the ESI, we also started to exchange our opinions on recent developments in Turkey and how they are looked at from the European perspective. I found some of Gerald’s observations quite interesting, and I would like to share them with you. And I also hope that they will be read by governmental circles in Turkey. Gerald wrote to me:

“I wonder whether Turkey’s leaders are aware just how dramatic the shift is which is occurring among Turkey’s supporters in Europe. I just spent a few days in İstanbul and Ankara as part of a delegation from the European Council on Foreign Relations, meeting many people, from President [Abdullah] Gül to NGO activists, from TUSKON [Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists] to the Foreign Ministry. This was before the arrests on Friday, but already there was some confusion and uncertainty among these Turkey observers from across Europe concerning the path of its democratization, a confusion that stood in stark contrast to the situation even a year ago. Then, on Friday, people were shocked by the news of the arrests. These are, importantly, friends of Turkey; advocates of its European accession, not Islamophobic Europeans with militarist sympathies. People are asking if they have been betting on the wrong horse, giving Turkey, the prosecutors and the government the benefit of the doubt.

“The initial reasons why so many in Europe have supported the Ergenekon investigations and trials remain valid: to end the military guardianship system, to clarify who stood behind the political murders of the recent past, the judge in 2006, to find out who killed Hrant Dink, who stood behind the killings in Malatya and overall to see Turkey come to terms with the crimes committed or supported by parts of the state in the recent past. But one can have serious doubts that the ongoing court cases will achieve this unless there is a real change in the way this is pursued. The way these trials are currently being carried out they might never end, create new injustices and not help the victims of past crimes either.

“On the one hand there should be more focus, more resources to really investigate the recent murders from 2006 and 2007. On the other hand, when it comes to the role of the senior military and links to pro-coup media or academics, criminal justice might not be the best tool to deal with this. Having a credible truth commission mechanism, with the resources to really investigate, with subpoena powers, how various institutions possibly involved in illegal activities operated, setting the record straight and changing the structures would be more promising than criminal justice cases. People deserve to learn how the military guardianship system really worked, so that it never returns. But in doing so no new injustices must be created. A truth commission might well be more promising than pursuing a judicial process which is quickly losing credibility. Perhaps a new consensus in society might emerge around this. There are many experiences of how other countries in Europe or South America dealt with authoritarian legacies. The ultimate goal should be to shed real light on the past, what in German legal language is called the duty to clarify past wrong-doing (Aufklaerungspflicht). The other major goal should be to create credible new institutions and rules for the future, and if this requires getting people to admit to crimes committed by the state in return for some form of amnesty then this should be considered. ... It is certainly better than a judicial process that could be seen as a continuation of political justice.”

Gerald made me think a lot, and I hope to write more about our conversations and my observations in Vienna soon.