Turkey’s ugly tradition of forged documents

Turkey’s ugly tradition of forged documents

Mehmet Baransu, a Turkish journalist who first made a name for himself by publishing secret military documents, was arrested earlier this week. He is accused specifically of exposing the “Sledgehammer” documents that he published in daily Taraf in June 2010 to great sensation. The documents seemed to suggest that a “war simulation” seminar led by top general Çetin Doğan in 2013 was in fact a “coup plan.”

This media exposure soon led to legal prosecution. Hundreds of officers were arrested and jailed. The anti-militarist “democrats” of Turkey applauded this blow on an institution that used to be overbearing and untouchable. However some of them (including myself, I must say) felt unsure about the accuracy of the extravagant accusations and felt disturbed by the overall mood of revenge.

Soon, the daughter and son-in-law of general Çetin Doğan, Pınar Doğan and Dani Rodrik, who are both academics in the U.S., came out with a shocking thesis: They claimed that the “Sledgehammer documents,” which were given to Baransu in a large suitcase, were forged. They admitted that the content of the seminar was too political and “abnormal for a democracy,” as audio recordings, which they did not refuse, had already shown. But they presented lots of evidence suggesting that the more fantastic scenarios in the digital documents — such as bombing an Istanbul mosque, downing a Turkish fighter jet and arresting thousands of people in stadiums — were created several years after the seminar. Apparently, somebody had sexed up the evidence against the officers they wanted to see in jail.

At that time, I wrote a couple of articles - in the - pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) press - saying the arguments of Doğan and Rodrik seemed convincing. I warned about the possibility of a forgery and also opposed the imprisonment of the officers while the case was still going on. Yet almost nobody in the pro-AKP universe wanted to hear those arguments back then. Only in 2014, when the political war with the AKP and the movement of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen broke out, did the AKP side suddenly realize that “Sledgehammer” was a “conspiracy” against the military by their best-ally-turned-worst-enemy. That is how we came to the arrest of Baransu, who is widely believed to be affiliated with the Gülen movement. More arrests might be on the way.

At this point, I have two things to say: I believe that somebody really did forge the Sledgehammer documents, and they might well be elements of what the AKP now calls the “parallel state.” They should be found and put on trial. But Baransu and other journalists cannot be prosecuted for merely publishing these documents, unless it is proven that they were aware of the forgery.

The second thing is that as scandalous as the Sledgehammer case is, it is not an isolated incident. In 1998, the military itself had forged documents to depict certain liberals as paid agents of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in what is known as the “Andıç affair.” And just last month, pro-AKP newspapers published documents that supposedly proved a joint conspiracy by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Gülen to assassinate Sümmeyye Erdoğan, the president’s daughter. Nobody with a sane mind took this scenario seriously. I took it seriously only as an omen of worse days to come.

Perhaps Ahmet Altan, the former editor-in-chief of Taraf, who bears some moral responsibility for the zealous crusade he led against the military, was right about one thing: “We don’t have a dueling culture,” he once said, “We rather have an ambush culture.” The latter, I am afraid, is the reason why Turkey has an ugly tradition of forged documents.