A court is delivering the verdicts one by one in the long-running Ergenekon trial of 270 people, most of them military officers, but also lawyers, academics and journalists, accused of plotting to overthrow the AKP government and creating chaos through targeted assassinations and other means in order to prepare the ground for a coup. The trial endgame is being held in a specially constructed courtroom under heavy guard in a field in Silivri. Even the families of the accused are not allowed to attend and police are shooting teargas a the thousand-strong group of supporters and protesters trying to approach the building across the field.
The trial was initially welcomed by many who wanted to remove the stultifying hand of the coup-happy military from Turkish politics, but as the net swept wider and the evidence became flimsier, the trial began to lose credibility and legitimacy. While most do not doubt that Turkey’s “deep state” was responsible for serious crimes that should be brought to justice, as the case(s) progressed many eventually came to believe that the trial had become a witch hunt by the hypersensitive AKP for its critics.
The prosecution has requested life sentences for 63 other defendants, including nine generals. The defendants face dozens of charges, ranging from membership of Ergenekon – an alleged underground terrorist network – to illegally possessing weapons and instigating an armed uprising against the AKP.
The court has so far acquitted 21 people and handed down sentences to others of up to 47 years. But the shocker was the life sentence just given to General Ilker Basbug, who led the military between 2008 and 2010. He has been accused of leading a terrorist gang. The general has rejected all the charges against him and says it is farcical to accuse a military official appointed to his position by the state with terrorism against the state he is serving. During the trial, Hurriyet newspaper, citing court papers, wrote that Başbuğ responded to the charges in part by saying “If I am being accused of bringing down the government with a couple of press statements and one or two Internet stories, this is very bitter… If I had such bad intentions, as the commander of a 700,000-strong force, there would have been other ways of doing it.”
The last coup was in 1980, but the military has tried at various times to influence Turkish politics at various times since then — in 1997 through its prominence on the advisory National Security Council it pushed out a prime minister, and in 2007 tried to derail the election of Abdullah Gul as president by means of a post on its official website that appeared to threaten a coup if he were elected. (The NSC is now under civilian control and Gul was elected without consequences.)
For posts giving a blow by blow account and analysis of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials, see the category Nationalism (Deep State/Ergenekon) at right.
The sentences issued so far have been generally quite severe. For a list of verdicts received to date, click here. Among them, Journalist Tuncay Özkan, retired general Veli Küçük and lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz were sentenced to aggravated life sentences. Özkan was also sentenced to an additional 16 years. Workers’ Party leader Doğu Perinçek received an aggravated life sentence and an additional 30 years in prison.