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20 Oct, 2008 07:57

Terror trial to begin for ‘Turkish Taliban’

Eighty six suspected members of a powerful right-wing group described as the ‘Turkish Taliban’ are to face trial on Monday. Known as Ergenekon, or Deep State, the defendants are members of the military and secret service elite. They are accused of plottin

Among those on trial are retired army generals, journalists, businessmen and known criminals.

The Turkish government claims they’re trying to unseat it and they work behind the scenes like a state within a state.

The case is helping Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. But while on the one hand it does show a more transparent country, critics warn the trial could become a witch-hunt against those who don’t support the government.

“We think it could be a political project to show to the European Union and to the Turkish people that this government is doing something for transparency and democracy,” said Sahin Mengu of Republican Peoples’ Party. “It also keeps public opinion away from the main problems facing the ruling party like corruption and the Islamist agenda.”

The two-and-a-half thousand page indictment could take years to deal with.

Anti-communist creation

In the 1970s Turkey, NATO’s only Muslim ally, was politically divided. A brutal regime and high unemployment pushed many to look across their borders and embrace communist ideas.

Worried it would lose Turkey, the West got involved.

“Anti-communist paramilitary groups were trained in the United States 40 years ago,” says Eray Ozer, editor of Taraf newspaper. “We know that, we are very sure of that. They got their education in the Cold War against communism, but after the 1980 coup, they became a little mafia.”

Journalist Erol Mütercimler was the first to openly speak out about the Ergenekon. In a 1997 interview he quoted retired general Memduh Ünlütürk, who told him of the secret organisation, which according to him resembled the Gladio – a CIA sponsored secret network, designed to oppose the Soviet expansion into Europe.

«Ünlütürk said that he himself was a part of Ergenekon, the chief staff of which is above government, the bureaucracy and law,» Mütercimler has said. “It was founded on the initiative of the CIA and the Pentagon after the first military coup on 27 May 1960 to serve the people of Turkey, eliminating red tape. But in fact what they did was treason.”
Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, the group eventually turned their muscle against those who trained them – the United States.

“These were the times when communism was a real danger so America supported such a rightist organisation. But now, the interests of Ergenekon and the U.S. clash,” says Dagan Gulpinar from the Young Civilians’ Pro-Democracy Organistion.

The investigation was launched last year after a police raid on an Istanbul house uncovered a cache of explosives.

It gave grounds for suspicion that Ergenekon could be behind such events as an armed attack on the Turkish Council of State in 2006 that left a judge dead, plans by some groups in the Turkish Armed Forces to overthrow the present government, as well as threats and attacks on people accused of being ‘unpatriotic’.

According to the investigation, Ergenekon had a role in the 2007 murder of Hrant Dink, the 2006 assassination of a priest, Father Andrea Santoro in Trabzon, and brutal murders of three Christians, one a German national in the province of Malatya in 2007.

With a landmark trial on the alleged Ergenekon members due, Mütercimler, whose accusations triggered it, was also detained, but released the same week.

Now considered a terrorist organisation by Turkish courts, Ergenekon has an as yet unknown number of members and associates, although Mütercimler has said: “There are 325 officers available in the organisation, not including the journalists, businessmen, and ordinary people.”