A verdict that is bound to be divisive

A verdict that is bound to be divisive

The Ergenekon verdicts had not come through yet when this piece was being written. But whatever the outcome – the full details are in today’s Hürriyet Daily News – it was bound to be controversial. The fact is that those on one side of the fence, namely the supporters of Prime Minister Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), believe that this case is about justice for past misdeeds by the military against the democratic order.

Those on the other side of the fence, namely the Kemalists and secularists, on the other hand, believe that this case is all about vengeance wrought for the sake of Islamists who were kept down in the past by the secular regime and its guardian the military.

There is no way out of this acrimonious debate which will rage on whatever the verdict given out to nearly 270 defendants may be. A trial that could have been a historic opportunity for Turkey to enhance both its democracy and the quality of its justice system, by bringing these closer to European standards, has in effect turned into a political battlefield.

Apart from this, the so called “Ergenekon Case” has also been marked by legal irregularities and oddities that are reminiscent of courts set up in Turkey under anti-democratic military administrations of the past. While the West never had much sympathy for the Turkish military and its interventions in the political domain, as well as the Kemalist classes that supported the military, even Western legal experts and diplomats acknowledge the irregularities concerning a host of issues ranging from pretrial detentions to the manner in which the trials themselves were conducted.

The bottom line is that the Ergenekon verdicts, whatever they turn out to be, are very unlikely to serve either democracy or enhance the quality of justice in this country. Prime Minister Erdoğan said recently, in connection with the Gezi Part protestors who have been arrested, that they – meaning the Islamists – had been legally hounded in the past and now it was the turn of the other side to suffer this.

This of course is pure vindictiveness, which explains why many people in Turkey will believe that it is vengeance rather that justice that has been served through the Ergenekon case. But public doubts about the Ergenekon Case, and the similar Balyoz (Sledgehammer) Case which is ongoing, do not end here, as a discussion I had with the proverbial taxi driver yesterday showed.

This nationalist taxi driver – who said he was a follower of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – expressed his belief that the Ergenekon case has nothing to do with either justice or vengeance, but is part of a shady deal struck between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

“The way I see it, the government is holding the Ergenekon defendants, including former chief of the General Staff General Ilker Basbug, as a hostage for the sake of its Kurdish treachery. The idea is that these generals are going to receive tough prison sentences with a view to being amnestied later. That amnesty however will also include Öcalan” he told me. He was referring to Abdullah Öcalan the PKK leader who is in prison in Turkey serving a life sentence.
Government circles will no doubt say this and absurd conspiracy theory. How justified they will be in saying this however is questionable because the government itself, starting from Prime Minister Erdoğan, is not immune to ridiculous conspiracy theorizing.
This we saw during the Gezi Park demonstrations when Erdoğan and members of his government were accusing “imperial powers” and a shady “interest rate lobby” for supposedly organizing these anti-government demonstrations. Given this situation, one Turk’s conspiracy theory is as good as another one’s.
Whatever the Ergenekon verdicts turned out to be, it is clear that this not the end of the story, but merely the beginning of a new phase which will divide Turkish society even more.

*An earlier version of Mr. İdiz's column was missing parts due to a technical error. Daily News regrets the error and apologizes to its readers and Mr. İdiz.