Why I am not happy about Ergenekon verdicts

Why I am not happy about Ergenekon verdicts

The “Ergenekon” coup trial, probably Turkey’s most controversial case ever, ended the other day with very heavy sentences. Nineteen suspects were given prison for life; many others were sentenced for many years, even decades, in jail. Only 21 of the 275 total suspects were acquitted.

Of course, there are not the final verdicts. The case will go to the Court of Appeals, which might turn down some of the decisions. Then there is even the chance to appeal to the Constitutional Court, and, most importantly, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). I think, and hope, that some of the verdicts can be undone in these steps.

The reason is that I find some of the decisions simply unfair. The most obvious example is the case of retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who was the chief of staff of the Turkish military from 2008 to 2010. He got a life sentence for trying to “dissolve the elected Government of the Turkish Republic, or partially or entirely prevent its performance by using force or threat.” But, well, the man served for two years as the head of the Turkish army, and no government was ever dissolved! There is even no credible evidence that he used “force or threat” against the government, for the head of the very government in question, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, thanked him for his services.

In fact, when Başbuğ was arrested in January 2012, it was again Erdoğan who reacted to the accusations raised against his former aide, and said:

“I do not approve at all the suggestions directed at our İlker Paşa [a respectful word for a general.] I find it very ugly to call him a member of a [terrorist] organization. It is unfair to call somebody who has been the chief of staff in the Turkish military like that.”

The most shocking “evidence” against Başbuğ seems to be the fact that, under his command, the armed forces ran some websites dedicated to propaganda against “religious reactionaries,” including the AKP government itself. While this certainly is inexcusable in any democratic country, it just does not prove a conspiracy for a military coup.

Similarly, I cannot accept the 24-year-long prison sentence given to journalist Mustafa Balbay, who, at best, would be a willing propagandist of a would-be coup in 2003 or 2004.

None of this means, though, that the Ergenekon case is completely bogus, as the opponents of the case have argued for a long time. There is credible evidence to believe that the earliest suspects of the case, such as Gen. Hurşit Tolon and Şener Eruygur, were trying to form a junta within the military in the early years of the AKP government. There is credible evidence to believe that they had some civilian allies as well. Moreover, some of the suspects, such as retired Gen. Veli Küçük, have long been known as the masterminds of some of the most horrific crimes of the Turkish “deep state.”

In other words, in my view, the Ergenekon case is neither black, nor white. It is neither full justice nor complete injustice. And while the argument that it will put a definitive end to the era of military coups in Turkey might be true, it is also true that it will only help further polarize Turkish society.

Alas, I wish our justice system, legal apparatus, and political mind handled this case in a much more meticulous, objective and fair way. But, unfortunately, there is always the right way, the wrong way, and the Turkish way.