Turkey: Government Now Claims Trials That Helped it Consolidate Power Were a Sham
The massive Ergenekon and Balyoz trials, which helped send a large number of high-profile Turks (numerous generals among them) to jail on charges of planning a coup, were hailed by many as an important step in finally confronting the troubling history of Turkey's "Deep State" and in finally breaking the military's unhealthy hold on political life.
Those were certainly noble objectives, but from the beginning of those cases there were those who asked if the evidence in the trials really held up. Already in 2009, analyst Gareth Jenkins issued a highly critical report about the Ergenkon case, writing: "Despite its extraordinary length, the indictment produced no evidence that the Ergenekon organization it described even existed, much less that the accused were all members and engaged in a coordinated terrorist campaign to overthrow the government."
Economist and blogger Dani Rodrik (whose father-in-law was one of the generals caught up in the Balyoz (or "Sledgehammer") investigation) was also an early and constant critic of the cases and Istanbul-based journalist Alexander Christie-Miller produced some very good pieces noting the profound problems with the evidence used in the trials (take a look at this article in The Times (London) from 2011).
Supporters of the cases and the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) regularly dismissed the cases' critics, saying the evidence was not just solid but overwhelming. Now, though, there's a new critic of the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials -- the AKP government itself.Reports the New York Times' Tim Arango:
A series of sensational trials that shook the Turkish military in recent years achieved what many regard as the most important legacy of Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s more than a decade in power: sending the army back to its barracks and out of politics.
Now, though, Mr. Erdogan is acknowledging what many legal and forensics experts have long said: that, in a word, the trials were a sham. He has reversed himself not because of any pangs of guilt, analysts say, but for the simple reason that the same prosecutors who targeted the military with fake evidence are now going after him.
One document that was portrayed as laying out the details of a planned coup was discovered by an expert forensics witness to have been written with a version of Microsoft Office that did not exist at the time of the supposed plot. Some of the officers said to have been in the coup-planning meeting were in fact in Israel or England, or out at sea. A pharmaceutical company supposedly set to be taken over by the army after the coup was listed under a name it adopted years later.
Yet all of this — as well as plenty of other dubious evidence — was judged in recent years by a court here as sufficient to convict hundreds of military officers and other officials of conspiracies to overthrow Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials A.K.P.
But now, as a sweeping corruption investigation focuses on Mr. Erdogan and his inner circle, a centerpiece of his strategy to survive politically is to discredit those military trials.
The trials certainly were useful for Erdogan, helping the PM consolidate power in a way that has not been seen since perhaps the days of Ataturk. Now that they have served that purpose -- and Erdogan finds himself locked in a battle for survival with the Gulen movement, which was instrumental in pushing the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases along -- the PM is finding another use for the trials, utilizing them to portray himself as yet another victim of a politicized Turkish judiciary, just like the generals jailed in the Balyoz case.
Needless to say, it's the height of cynicism. More disturbingly, it's a tactic that not only fails to deal with whatever real problems might exist within the judiciary but actually ends up further undermining Turkey's already shaky state institutions and whatever little confidence the public has in them.
Writing about the Ergenekon case in his 2009 report, Gareth Jenkins presciently predicted the predicament Turkey would end up in. "A more pressing concern is not the wasted opportunity for Turkey to confront its past," he wrote, "but what the Ergenekon investigation might be saying about its future and the disturbing questions it raises about the prospects for democracy and the rule of law in the country."