Panel on Turkish Democracy Probes Secular/Islamic Rift

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By Daphne Abeel
Special to the Mirror–Spectator

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On Tuesday, May 25, the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard’s Kennedy School hosted a forum on the future of democracy in the Republic of Turkey, which often turned emotional.

Titled “Building or Undermining the Rule of Law: Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and the Future of Turkish Democracy,” the three-person panel featured, Dani Rodrik, a prominent Turkish economist and current professor of international political economy at the Kennedy School, his wife, Pinar Dögan, a lecturer in public policy also at the Kennedy School, and Gerald Knaus, founding chair of the European Stability Initiative (ESI), who has made his home in Istanbul since 2005.

Dögan is the daughter of Çetin Dögan, a retired four-star general, arrested in Turkey with several others this past February and indicted for his alleged part in the Ergenekon, or “deep state” plot to overthrow Turkey’s government, currently led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a member of the AKP (Justice and Development Party), which enjoys strong Islamic roots. Dögan is only one of a number of generals and other military figures who have been arrested in Turkey in recent years and charged with plotting a military coup to ensure the secular character of the Turkish state, as mandated by Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. According to an article by Rodrik and Dögan published in The New Republic (“Turkey’s Other Dirty War,” 5/24/10), the arrests and indictments “have ensnared hundreds of current and retired military officers, journalists, academics and lawyers — as well as a chief prosecutor and even a former mayor of Istanbul. Many are being kept in jail for months pending trial. While some of the trials have started, none has been concluded and there has
yet to be a single conviction.”

Not surprisingly, Rodrik and Dögan mounted a strong, and, at times, emotional defense of General Dögan, asserting that there is “a pattern” to the cases brought against various military officials and others.

Stated Rodrik, “They are initiated by anonymous informants. The police get letters describing the suspects. some even bear the serial numbers of the suspects’ computers…and the letters will point to a site where ammunitions are buried, supposedly for the purpose of bombings and assassination attempts.”

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Added Rodrik, “There are extensive patterns of leaks to the media and a clear effort to indict individuals in the press. People are kept in pre-trial detention for months, and the indictments produce no additional evidence against the suspects beyond the leaks. … Evidence is very sparse. There are no cases where there are fingerprints on caches of CDs or on any weaponry. The only eyewitnesses are the anonymous informants. Tapped conversations do not show that the suspects are involved with the informants.”

In many instances, said Rodrik, there is reason to believe that the evidence is planted or fabricated. In the so-called Sledgehammer case, against Dögan, the ammunition was buried only two days before the arrests.

“There are several instances where the police and prosecutors have the evidence in hand even before the informants come forward,” he said.

Rodrik criticized Taraf, a liberal, pro-democracy paper that received various documents from the prosecutors, for giving credence to the authenticity of the claims against Dögan and others.

Rodrik went on to list other errors and inconsistencies in the government’s case and pointed to the opinion of TUBITAR, “the premier scientific and technological organization in Turkey,” according to Rodrik, which pointed out to prosecutors how easy it was to change and manipulate data on CDs.

He concluded, “We are not saying that all those who have been arrested are innocent. Our claim is that these are sham trials, kangaroo courts. Our claim is that the government is complicit and in some instances even actively involved in fabricating these cases.”

Pinar Dögan, who understandably hopes to clear her father of the government’s charges, spoke heatedly of the scant attention the arrests and trials receive in the Turkish and international press.

Knaus said, “We [the ESI] have followed the Ergenekon cases and wonder, why, if all of this is so obvious, so few, the European Parliament and the European commission, for example, see the conspiracy?”

Knaus, who has worked in the Turkey for the past five years, said, “We have followed the Ergenekon cases closely. I want to put this in context. Why, if all this is so obvious, haven’t organizations questioned the arrests? Why haven’t the European Parliament and the European Commission come forward and why do so few of them see the conspiracy?”

Knaus noted that there are 286 defendants, 97 of the suspects are active military, while 131 are former active soldiers. The first indictment was issued in July 2008 while the most recent was just a few weeks ago.

Knaus went on to say there were certain consequences springing from the government’s actions: one, it is the first time that there has been an investigation into the idea that the military are conspiring to overthrow the government; two, it is the first effort to investigate extra-judicial killings and, finally, there could be a silent revolution underway to shore up the secular pillars of the Turkish government. This last could be favored by the European Union, which favors more secular control, and which Turkey hopes to join.

Knaus quoted English historian Gareth H. Jenkins, described in the preface of his book, Between Fact and Fiction: Turkey’s Ergenekon Investigation, as “a longtime and respected observer of Turkish politics and society,” as one whose views closely resemble those of Rodrik.

The lively question-and-answer period was punctuated by at least one skeptic, Harry Parsekian, who questioned the innocence of all those arrested by the AKP. “There are a lot of guilty people in Turkey. Seventeen thousand Kurds have been killed; Hrant Dink was killed. No one has found the killers.”

Another commentator summed up what seemed to be the questions that bedevil the Turkish government’s actions towards its military. What is the baseline behavior of the Turkish judiciary and how have Turkish prosecutors handled these cases in the past?

A question was posed as to the role of the Turkish press in the arrests and indictments. Although reporters from Hurriyet and Milliyet were present, they declined to comment.

The panel was moderated by Charlie Clements, a physician and human rights
activist, who is currently director of the Carr Center.

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