Ergenekon is a terrorist organization accused of working to topple the democratically elected government in Turkey. Its existence was discovered when the police found a number of hand grenades in a shanty house in the Ümraniye district of İstanbul in 2007. Suspects, who include members of the military, businessmen and journalists, appeared before a court for the first time in 2008 in what many described as the “trial of the century.” The suspects were sentenced to lengthy prison terms by the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court in August 2013, but their sentences have not been appealed at the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Speaking to the press, İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court chief judge Hüseyin Özkese said the court had finished writing the reasoned decision about the Ergenekon case and had uploaded the documents to the National Judicial Network Project (UYAP), which allows relevant institutions to immediately see court rulings and detention and arrest warrants.
The chief judge, however, said that the reasoned decision was yet to be shared with defense lawyers and convicted defendants due to lingering technical problems resulting from the fact that case judges cannot sign the reasoned decision as the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court’s authority to sign such documents was removed after the abolishment of the specially authorized courts (ÖYM).
Although they wrote and concluded the reasoned decision — a necessary step that enables defendants to appeal the case in a high court — judges were initially unable approve it in the UYAP system, meaning that defense lawyers and defendants were unable to see the documents.
The problem, however, was solved and judges were able to sign the documents in the UYAP system on Thursday.
Facing criticism over being late in issuing the reasoned decision, which extended the detention period for defendants — a factor that prompted the Constitutional Court to rule that one former army chief’s right to a fair trial was violated and eventually led to the release of the general and dozens of other Ergenekon defendants — judge Özkese said a detailed and carefully crafted reasoned decision cannot be completed within a short period of time.
The reasoned decision describes Ergenekon as an organized crime network that plotted against the governments of former prime ministers Bülent Ecevit and Abdullah Gül and incumbent Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The lengthy reasoned decision consists of 16,600 pages and is divided into three volumes.
According to the decision, Ergenekon was illegally formed within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and has members from various circles, including military members and civilians.
The court also complained that there are ongoing efforts to create the impression that the Turkish military has been subjected to a smear campaign due to the Ergenekon investigation and that many people have been acting as if no military coup had been staged in the country before. “Painful incidents that occurred in the run-up to coups and the traces of events that followed coups have not been fully erased. Who can ignore this reality?” the court asked in its reasoned decision.
The court was referring to remarks by Yalçın Akdoğan, the prime minister’s senior political adviser, who stated in an op-ed he wrote for a Turkish newspaper in late December of last year that the convicted officers had been framed by groups within the judiciary.
Following Akdoğan’s remarks, Parliament passed a law that abolished the ÖYM and decreased the maximum period of detention before a final verdict to five years. Dozens of suspects in the Ergenekon case, having already spent five years in prison without their sentences being appealed at the Supreme Court of Appeals, were released from prison in March. Among those released were retired generals İlker Başbuğ, Veli Küçük and Nusret Taşdeler. They will be sent to jail again if their sentences are upheld.
The İstanbul court also stated that the operations known as Sarıkız (Blonde Girl), Ayışığı (Moonlight), Yakamaz (Sea Sparkle) and Eldiven (Glove) were failed coup attempts plotted by the Republican Work Group (CÇG), a clique nested within the Gendarmerie General Command (JGK), against the AK Party government.
“The plots intended to use force to render the government unable to carry out its activities. A huge amount of evidence seized [as part of the Ergenekon investigation] was confirmed by the diaries kept by former the Naval Forces Commander [retired Adm. Özden Örnek] and the Ergenekon suspect [journalist] Mustafa Balbay,” the court said.
Documents found on the computer of Cumhuriyet newspaper bureau chief Mustafa Balbay as part of the Ergenekon investigation revealed plans for a military coup in 2009. The documents include a detailed diary kept by Balbay, who took notes on his past meetings with army generals.
A similar diary belonging to Örnek, which also talked about coup plans, was exposed by the now-closed Nokta magazine in 2007. Örnek’s diary revealed that former Land Forces Commander Gen. Aytaç Yalman, former Air Forces Commander Gen. İbrahim Fırtına and former Gendarmerie Commander Gen. Şener Eruygur were making preparations to stage military coups in 2004 codenamed Ayışığı and Sarıkız.
In its decision, the İstanbul court also said Ergenekon launched its “second round” of efforts to overthrow the AK Party government with a grenade attack on the offices of the Cumhuriyet daily in 2006 and a deadly shooting at the Council of State in 2007. Cases into both attacks were merged with the Ergenekon investigation. “The main objective of the two attacks was to prevent the election of a figure close to the AK Party as president.”
According to the court, some Ergenekon suspects waged psychological warfare against the government by drafting anti-government plans and launching anti-government websites after the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals launched a closure case against the AK Party in 2008. “The websites made broadcasts that contained psychological elements promoting the closure of the AK Party. They disseminated propaganda to provoke the public to bring about the closure of the party,” the court said.
Gölcük documents confirm existence of Ergenekon
The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court went on to state that a number of documents found under floor tiling at the Gölcük Naval Base in 2010 confirmed the existence of the Ergenekon terrorist group.
İstanbul police searched the Gölcük Naval Command base in early December of 2010 and a large number of confidential documents were discovered under the floor tiles of the intelligence department. An examination of the documents revealed that they largely relate to the Sledgehammer plan, a suspected coup plot devised at a military gathering in 2003 that allegedly sought to undermine the government and lay the groundwork for a military takeover.
According to the court, among the documents discovered in Gölcük was an “Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism,” which outlines a systematic TSK plan to damage the image of the AK Party government and the Hizmet movement — inspired by internationally respected Turkish scholar Fethullah Gülen — in the eyes of the public.
The Gölcük documents also included a copy of the Cage plot, a suspected plan that was exposed in 2009 in which prominent non-Muslim figures in Turkey were to be assassinated with the aim of fomenting chaos in society and leading to a coup d’état against the AK Party government.
The court said the police discovered huge amounts of ammunition hidden in various parts of the country as part of the Ergenekon investigation.
In addition, the court noted that the case against Ergenekon contains more evidence than the case into a car accident in 1996, known to the public as the Susurluk accident, which exposed links between the Turkish state, the criminal underworld and Turkish security forces. “The evidence in the Ergenekon case is too big, strong and varied to bear comparison with the evidence in the Susurluk case.”
The former chief of general staff, retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who was sentenced to life imprisonment last year in the Ergenekon coup trial and later released following the İstanbul 20th High Criminal Court’s ruling on March 7, criticized the court’s reasoned decision, saying that he does not take the court seriously. “Do not waste your time,” Başbuğ said to the court, adding that panel of judges sitting in the court bench would not be able to defend the decision even if they wrote 116,000 pages in explanation.