In a Deep State


Kemal Kerinçsiz

The “best propaganda artist [Turkey] has ever had” is going to jail for life—and he is far from alone.[1] Kemal Kerinçsiz was among nineteen other men sentenced on August 5, 2013 for attempting to “overthrow the Turkish government” by using “violence and coercion.”[2] In the five years since his arrest, there has been little news of Kerinçsiz—aside from occasional mentions of his courtroom self-defenses—but between 2005 and 2007, he was constantly in the public eye. Recalling his goals, his methods, and the circumstances surrounding his ultimate downfall helps make sense of the Ergenekon investigation and trial, which has, in recent years, altered Turkey’s political landscape.



In 2005, Kerinçsiz was a forty-five year old right-wing politician. He was fairly high-ranking in the National Action Party (MHP), having been its candidate for mayor of Küçükçekmece, the second-largest district in Istanbul—and, despite defeat, he remained the party’s assistant leader in the district.[3] He also served as president of the National Strength Platform, a nationalist umbrella-group, and the Great Lawyers’ Union. But he entered the public consciousness through a series of lawsuits, protests, and rally speeches during the following two years that—though he saw it differently—brought Turkey into international disrepute.

 Under Article 301 of the Turkish constitution, individuals can be prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness.” As late as 2008, any prosecutor could bring these charges at his own discretion. That year, however, a package of reforms was passed, circumscribing the power of prosecutors by requiring the Minister of Justice to approve any charges involving Article 301. Though the Justice and Development Party (AKP) had been in control of the government for more than five years by 2008, such a step was necessary because the judiciary remained partially outside its control.

For decades, weak and divided governments had divvied up ministries between parties. Each of these parties appointed a slew of new officials at the top, but was only able to effect lower-level officialdom at the margins. The result was a bureaucracy with divided allegiances; networks of patrons and clients bound by ties—political and otherwise—that outlasted any given government.[4] Only after a decade in power has the AKP truly consolidated its control over much of the state apparatus. Throughout these years of consolidation, different parts of the government continued to work at cross-purposes—and, sometimes, in direct opposition.

 The most glaring example of the Turkish state’s fragmentation in the 2000s was the split between the elected government and the military. Military leaders feared an Islamist takeover and elected leaders feared a military one—something similar to what had occurred in 1997 when military leaders pushed the Islamist government of Necmettin Erbakan out of office. Though AKP leaders advocated a more moderate Islamism than their predecessors, their policies unnerved many nationalists. Rather than an exclusive emphasis on ethnicity, AKP leaders often imagined a political community bound together by Islam.[5] This vision, which AKP leaders hoped would sooth cleavages between Turks, Armenians, and (perhaps) Arab neighbors as well, appeared to many nationalists as a slippery slope toward cultural suicide.

 Nationalists, Kerinçsiz leading the way, pushed back in the courts by filing lawsuits against a number of important Turkish cultural figures. Chief among their targets were intellectuals who broached the topic of an “Armenian genocide”[6] In the summer of 2005, he and fellow lawyers began attending the trial of Hrant Dink. Dink, an ethnically Armenian Turkish citizen and the editor of the newspaper Argos, was widely reviled by Turkish nationalists for his attempts to remind the public of the country’s Armenian heritage. In 2004, for example, his paper reported that Sabiha Gökçen, Ataturk’s adopted daughter and the namesake of Istanbul’s second-largest airport, was actually named “Hatun” and born into an Armenian family.[7] The 2005 trial focused on statements Dink had made in 2002, advising his fellow Armenians to purge themselves of their enmity toward “the Turk” and “drain the blood which has been poisoned [by this hatred of the Turk], replacing it with blood based on Armenians and Armenia.”[8] The association of “Turk” and “poisoned blood” was characterized as an assault on Turkishness.

In September of 2005, Kerinçsiz and his group, the Great Lawyer’s Union, sought an injunction against a conference on Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, organized jointly by some of Istanbul’s top universities.[9] Though a judge prohibited two of the universities, Boğaziçi and Sabancı, from holding the conference, a third, Bilgi, volunteered to hold it—albeit under heavy security as Kerinçsiz and his allies showed up to protest.

The following month Kerinçsiz petitioned the Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office to open a new case against Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk was already being prosecuted for stating that “thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians have been killed on [Turkish] soil and, other than me, no one has the courage to say so,” but Kerinçsiz hoped to have him prosecuted for explaining in November 2005 that, “I don’t see the AKP as a threat to Turkish democracy. Sadly the greater threat is the army which is blocking democratic developments.” This was, Kerinçsiz argued, a show of “public contempt” for the army.[10] Prosecutors declined to pursue the case.

On November10, the anniversary of Ataturk’s death, Kerinçsiz led a coalition of Turkish nationalist groups in protest against the Greek Orthodox Church. Under the “National Strength Platform” banner, his Lawyers’ Union gathered with representatives from nationalist organizations like the Workers’ Party, Santa Claus Foundation, Fighting Veterans Foundation, New National Forces, Martyr Families Union, and Independent Turkish Orthodox Church.[11] These groups protested in front of the Fener headquarters of the Church while its bishops were meeting to choose a new Cypriot patriarch. Protesters sang patriotic songs and shouted slogans. Kerinçsiz reminded all to support a “Go Back to Greece” signature campaign and explained that, “There is a government behind this meeting,” and “We don’t want this patriarchate, which violates the Lausanne [treaty of 1923], here [in Istanbul].”[12]

Finally that year, Kerinçsiz brought suit against a the co-president of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission, for suggesting that the military was provoking PKK activity in order to remind the public of the protective role it played.[13]



 His pace did not slow with the new year. In early January, he led another protest against the Greek Orthodox Church. This time the target was an annual Epiphany celebration in which Christians leap into the ocean to retrieve crucifixes tossed in by the patriarch.[14] Protestors shouted, “Istanbul is Turkish and will stay Turkish,” “Patriarch out!” and similar slogans.[15] Kerinçsiz argued that lower-level orthodox clergy should be prohibited from wearing religious clothing. Given that their Muslim peers did not go around in public wearing religious dress, it “violated fairness” for the priests to do so.[16]

In February, Kerinçsiz and other nationalists[17] began attending the trial of five prominent Turkish columnists. The five had criticized the court which halted the previous summer’s Armenian Studies conference.[18] At the trial, a fight erupted when nationalist lawyers demanded that foreigners in the courtroom leave. When the judge directed police to remove the lawyers, a fight broke out with Kerinçsiz punching a policeman.[19] Within three months, the charges against the columnists had been dropped and any further involvement by Kerinçsiz explicitly forbidden by the court.

Other nationalist setbacks followed. In March 2006, a prosecutor in the eastern Turkish province of Şemdinli brought charges against the hardline head of the Turkish Armed Forces, Yaşar Büyükanıt, charging that he had sought to influence an investigation into a series of bombings in the east, allegedly carried out by undercover military officers. Though the charges were dropped and the prosecutor disciplined, it remained significant that such charges had been filed at allKerinçsiz and others gathered in Istanbul to protest. They waved posters of Ataturk and shouted, “AKP resign” and “Army and nation hand-in-hand.”[20]

Among those attending the protests was retired general Veli Küçük. Prominent in nationalist circles, Küçük had been implicated in the Sursuluk scandal of the late 1990s. The scandal had publicized the close connections between nationalists, the government, and the mafia, but few convictions had ever come of it. Küçük had been in contact with a mafia hit man, but nothing specific had been linked to him. He remained the subject of further conspiracies, however—including one that he had founded JİTEM, a highly-secretive arm of the gendarme involved in fighting the PKK.[21] Recently, he had been vocal in criticizing Hrant Dink. In the coming months he began attending Dink’s trial along with Kerinçsiz, occasionally throwing spare change at Dink and his lawyers.[22]

 As these events suggest, the judiciary in Turkey is far from a neutral entity—existing laws are often vague enough to allow prosecutions based on scant evidence. Even what qualifies as “evidence” often consists of little more than subjective interpretations of statements. Networks of lawyers, prosecutors, and judges with similar political goals can introduce prosecutions and see them through to conviction with ease. Yet, by that same token, the conflicts between these multiple networks often results in cases being dropped. This uncertainty leads individuals and groups across the political spectrum to question the authority of the courts.

On the morning of May 17th, an Istanbul lawyer named Alparslan Arslan, entered the Council of State offices in Ankara. The building contains the appellate courts dealing with Turkey’s administrative laws. Arslan sought out the judges of the Second Circuit, who had oversight of issues such as social services, agriculture, and education.[23] Finding them gathered together in chambers, Arslan declared, “We are the soldier of God, his hand. Because of the headscarf ruling, you will pay the price,” and opened fire. Five justices were injured, one died.[24]

 Arslan was arrested on the spot. A search of his cell phone records showed that he had been in contact with a number of nationalist figures—the two most notable were Veli Küçük and Muzaffer Tekin, another retired officer tied to nationalist circles, connected to various Mafioso involved in the Susurluk scandal, and vocal in protests against intellectuals like Orhan Pamuk.[25] Nationalists, like Worker’s Party leader Doğu Perinçek, denied that Tekin could be “mixed up” in such a crime, while others, like Oktay Yildirim, the head of the Istanbul Branch of the National Forces Association, suggested that this was all a “conspiracy” against those who loved the nation.[26] The media, however, suggested that these men were part of a larger network “nested within the state” called “Ergenekon.”[27] Kerinçsiz began to represent Tekin as the investigation progressed.

 Meanwhile, Kerinçsiz and his Great Lawyer’s Union kept up their pressure on groups and individuals they perceived to be harming Turkey. In June, they gathered in support of the prosecution of Perihan Mağden, a journalist who had defended conscientious objectors. Two weeks later, during a visit by the patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Church, they attempted protest in front of a (closed) Greek Orthodox Seminary on the island of Heybeliada.[28] Before they could reach the seminary, where the patriarch was meeting with his Greek counterpart, they were intercepted by the police and turned back. Undeterred, Kerinçsiz and his group tried to take a small boat directly to the seminary. They were caught by police and turned away once more.

The following month, Kerinçsiz convinced the Istanbul prosecutor’s office to reopen a case against novelist Elif Şafak. In her novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, Şafak had included a character—an Armenian-Turk living in California—who accuses Turks of genocide.[29] On this basis, Şafak opened herself up to charges of insulting Turkishness.[30] Yet, within three months, the case had been dropped. Other trials too were resulting in failure and dissatisfaction. Hrant Dink was convicted to a six-month suspended sentence (which both he and Kerinçsiz appealed) and the case of Orhan Pamuk, whom Kerinçsiz had been suing for 38,000 YTL in compensation for his quotes, was also dropped. This latter dismissal—and the Nobel Prize, which came a month later—infuriated nationalists. Kerinçsiz suggested suing the committee. National Forces Association leader (and member of Kerinçsiz’s National Strength Platform) Oktay Yildirim explained to reporters outside the courtroom that, “This gentleman [Pamuk]—and its hard to bring myself to say, ‘Gentleman’—by saying that 30,000 of our countrymen were murdered by state officials, implicates us all; all of my friends whom I have buried in the earth.”[31]



 With less support from the courts, Kerinçsiz and other nationalists began turning to more violent tactics. In early July, Kerinçsiz showed up with a group of nationalist allies at TESEV, a well-regarded research institute that receives 20% of its funding from the Soros Foundation and has a prominent Jewish Turk, Ishak Alaton, on its board.[32] The institute was premiering a new report discussing the effects of the massive forced relocations of Kurds during the 1980s and 1990s.[33] As the researchers spoke, the nationalists shouted, “Turkey will stay Turkish,” “You are Soros’ spokesmen,” and “You are Ali Kemal’s descendants, we are the descendants of Mustafa Kemal [Ataturk].”[34] Though Kerinçsiz himself remained calm through out, members of his group became more aggressive, ultimately assaulting both the father of the reports’ author and another TESEV director before the conference was called off and the protesters were removed by police. Asked about the violence afterwards, Kerinçsiz explained, “Don’t pin this violence on us. This isn’t an inquisition where you can execute people without due process. The things TESEV said in that conference were the same things the PKK says in their declarations. Naturally, these countrymen’s actions were just reactions.”[35]

 Nationalists also took offence at the assertion by Pope Benedict XVI in September that Islam was inherently irrational in comparison to Christianity.[36] In response to the pope’s visit in late November, various nationalist groups gathered in Çağlayan Square. Amid a crowd waving placards reading, “We Don’t Want the Pope in Istanbul,” and “Ecumenicalism Isn’t a Copenhagen Criteria [for EU membership],” Kerinçsiz argued that the pope’s visit was but one step in the process of “establishing a Vatican-like religious state in Istanbul.”[37] Less than a year after a Catholic priest had been shot dead by a sixteen-year old gunman in the heavily nationalist city of Trabezon, accusations of the Catholic church’s devious intent could prove especially inflammatory.

Another burst of nationalist violence followed in January when Argos editor Hrant Dink was murdered outside his offices by another gunman from Trabezon—this one eighteen. The killer, Ogün Samast, was new to the city, but had been helped by several acquaintances from his city’s nationalist circles, now living in Istanbul. The murder provoked a tremendous public outcry and massive protests in solidarity with Dink and his causes. Critics of Dink, like Kerinçsiz, were put on the defensive, accused of creating an atmosphere where such killings tacitly encouraged. Many Turks saw the killing as merely another in a series of murders carried out with impunity by the “deep state” and its allies.[38]


Protests After the Dink Assassination (Signs Read: “We’re All Hrant, We’re all Armenian”)

Three months later, another set of murders—this time in the southeast city of Malatya—shocked the Turkish public. A group of four young Turkish men and a woman, all students at the local university, attacked a Christian publishing house. They slit the throats of three workers. Two were Turkish nationals, Muslims who had converted to Christianity; one was a German national. All five were quickly captured by the police—another five accomplices were later arrested. The leader, Emre Günaydın, a nineteen-year old taekwondo instructor, had begun planning the attack after one of the missionaries had attempted to convert him on the street, using threats of eternal damnation.[39] The group release a joint statement that, “We were all prepared. Our religion is escaping from us. Let this be a lesson to those who are enemies of our religion.”[40]

For his part, Kerinçsiz had been involved in an ongoing prosecution of two Christian missionaries in Istanbul. These Turks, Christian converts, were members of the Turkish Protestant Church in central Istanbul. According to the Istanbul prosecutor’s office, these men had been attempting to convert Turks by offering books, CDs, and free courses—and then keeping files on them.[41] At the trial, Kerinçsiz appeared and demanded to cross-examine the defendants. After the trial, he railed against the European Union harmonization process from which missionaries “gained strength.”[42] He went further to observe, “Christian missionaries working almost like terrorist groups are able to enter into high schools . . .They deceive our children with beautiful young girls.”[43]



2007 was the year that nationalist elements rallied against the ruling AKP and came up short. Since its election five years earlier, the government’s power had been tempered by a secularist president. When his term ended in May and the AKP sought to replace him with one of its leading figures, opposition parities resisted. The army issued threats on its website and mass protests, many (though not all) organized by nationalist groups like the Ataturk Thought Association, took to the streets. In response, the AKP called a snap election in July. It increased its support from the previous election and pushed forward its candidate for president in August, leaving the army and nationalists cowed.

 Yet the political realm was but one area of conflict. Early morning on June 12, 2007, police officers, acting on a tip from the Trabezon gendarme, raided a house in the district of Ümraniye. They found hand grenades and other explosives paraphernalia. The grenades were quickly linked to similar ones, recently tossed at the offices of the newspaper Cumhurriyet. The police immediately arrested the owner and his nephew who had been living there. Based on the statements they gathered from these two, the police proceeded to arrest retired army officers Muzaffer Tekin and Oktay Yildirim. The following week, a businessman and another retired officer were arrested. At the officer’s house, the police found semi-automatic rifles and C3 explosives.[44] Now under the oversight of Istanbul Public Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, the investigation progressed rapidly.[45] Numerous arrests followed, including the head of the National Forces Association (of which Yildirim had only been a branch president).

Over the course of the year, prosecutors developed the case—at one point requesting police provide them with case files relating to the last five years worth of assassinations and racially motivated murders. In the media—especially in outlets controlled by businessmen sympathetic to the AKP[46]—conspiracies were swirling. Today’s Zaman suggested that the men detained thus far were linked to drug running[47], journalists[48], the Council of State shooting, coup plots[49], and Hrant Dink’s assassination[50]. Attributing disparate events to “Ergenekon”—or “Counterguerrila,” “the deep state,” “stay behind operations,” and so forth—was nothing new. Yeni Şafak connected the weapons in Ümraniye to “Ergenekon” right out of the gate.[51] In most of these articles, evidence of a connection between individuals and/or crimes often boiled down to the timing of phone calls and subjective interpretations of transcripts.

Throughout 2007, as his acquaintances were being rounded up, Kerinçsiz continued with his usual endeavors: blocking Orthodox Church synods and accusing Argos lawyers of slander.[52] He even brought suit against Erdoğan who, discussing the struggle against the PKK in 2000, had told an Australian interviewer that, “Mr. Öcalan will pay for the scalps he has taken.” Kerinçsiz successfully argued that referring to a terrorist leader as “mister” and to Turkish citizens’ heads as “scalps,” was disrespectful to the families of the deceased. The court agreed and fined Erdoğan a symbolic 3 lira.[53]

Kerinçsiz’s luck came to an end in late January 2008, when he was arrested for his alleged involvement in Ergenekon. In addition to Kerinçsiz, the head of the Independent Turkish Orthodox Church, another leader of the National Forces Association, a journalist, a mafioso long-suspected on involvement in “deep-state” activities, and two retired officers were also arrested. Of these two, the most notable arrest was Veli Küçük. Two months later, further arrests netted Workers’ Party leader Doğu Perinçek, Cumhurriyet editor İlhan Selçuk,[54] and Kemal Alemdaroğlu, the former rector of Istanbul Univeristy. Police raids also targeted a newspaper and television station tied to the Workers’ Party. In these raids—as in previous raids—computer files and CDs were discovered full of plans to foment coups and assassinate various public figures.[55] Even more arrests came at the beginning of July, including the leader of the Ataturk Thought Association, several prominent secularist journalists, more army officers, and Erol Mütercimler, the pundit who had first introduced the idea that an “Ergenekon” existed over a decade earlier.[56]

Yet, although Mütercimler and others had spoken of “Ergenekon” for years, and although newspapers spoke of its existence as a given, there was not then—nor now—any evidence that an organization calling itself “Ergenekon” ever actually existed. For all the connections between subjects that did exist, none were predicated upon a shared sense of involvement in anything that could be termed “Ergenekon.” Suspects were connected by phone calls—some of which did reference Ergenekon, in the context of the investigation itself—but none spoke of it as a truly existing entity. Much of the evidence that Ergenekon existed came from a witness named Tuncay Güney, a part-time journalist, part-time counterfeiter of automobile registrations, one-time devout Muslim, later convert to Christianity, currently living in Toronto under the name Daniel Güney, serving as a rabbi, not recognized by any mainstream Orthodox community or organization.”[57] Many of the documents seized from the house of this very troubled man in a 2001 police raid—organizational charts,[58] plans for future action, lists of names—served as the basis for the Ergenekon indictment.

Beyond these documents, remaining evidence tended to prove connection, though not for any proven purpose. One suspect claimed that the offices of Turkish Left magazine had served as a meeting place for Kerinçsiz, Tekin, and others.[59] At these meetings, he explained, participants voiced their support for a military coup.

 In addition to coups, the Ergenekon case became linked with several other cases. In late January 2008, a day-planner was found sitting at the Malatya bus station. On the very first page, police found notes detailing the missionary murders six months earlier. Further pages contained notes about Ergenekon and phone numbers including Kerinçsiz, Tekin, and Veli Küçük’s. The book belonged to Varol Bülent Aral. A resident of Malatya, Aral had been involved with various left-wing extremist groups for nearly a decade and also may have been spying for the security services.[60] Then again, he may also have been working for right-wing extremist groups.[61] Whatever the case, Emre Günaydın, the nineteen year old taekwondo teacher-cum-missionary murderer claimed that Aral had convinced him to carry out the attack with promises of “state support.” As for Aral, he admitted that the day-planner found in the bus station was his and that the writing was his own, but that the notes about the murder and Ergenekon were merely notes for a fictional book he was planning to write called, “Details.”[62] Largely on the basis of the day-planner, the Malatya case was merged into the larger Ergenekon case. [63] Likewise, based on phone-call data, the Council of State case was also merged into Ergenekon.



What specifically was Kerinçsiz charged with? The first Ergenekon indictment was several thousand pages in length; it consisted of transcripts from wiretaps, witness and suspect statements, and the contents of files seized during various raids.[64]  Kerinçsiz’s own section runs over sixty pages. Despite his claims to know Veli Küçük “primarily from the press,” prosecutors presented evidence of repeated contact with Küçük and other suspects; his number came up repeatedly in suspects’ phone records; documents discovered during raids envisioned seizures of power and included Kerinçsiz as someone who could take control the bar association; large movements in his bank accounts were questioned; his decision to represent Muzaffer Tekin was characterized as an attempt to ensure Tekin kept his story straight. All this evidence suggested to prosecutors that, “Kemal Kerinçsiz [held] a special duty inside the Ergenekon armed terror organization’s hierarchy” and had “acted to achieve its goals.”[65] Whether or not anything called “Ergenekon” existed was beside the point.[66]

The trial itself began in late 2008, conducted under Turkey’s Anti-Terrorism Law, which allows for secret witnesses. The proceedings were held at Silivri Prison on the outskirts of Istanbul. When the sheer number of family, friends, and interested spectators proved too much for existing buildings to accommodate, a new courtroom was constructed and caps were placed on the number of visitors per day.


Police Guarding the Ergenekon Courtroom


Even from the beginning, there were accusations that the trial was violating suspects’ human rights. Trials were not to be conducted at prisons; much of the wiretap evidence had been conducted illegally; and those arrested in June of 2007 had waited nearly a year before accusations were fully formulated.[67] One year, however, paled in comparison to the nearly five years over which the trial continued.

There were numerous reasons for the trials’ length, including its ever expanding scope. But certain requirements of Turkish law also played a part: Judges have the discretion to schedule hearings at their leisure, breaks lasting upwards of nineteen days. Defendants, meanwhile, have few limits on the length of the speeches they can give in their own defense. Indictments can be read aloud—a process that would have taken around 280 hours in this case. It was only after a dozen sessions of reading the indictment text that suspects and their lawyers agreed to summarize and focus only on main points.

The courtroom in the Ergenekon case also slipped into a state of soap-opera-level drama and chaos as defendants shouted at witnesses. Other times the court became bogged down in procedural issues as lawyers and suspects objected to various points of order. In one instance, Workers’ Party leader Doğu Perinçek stood up and demanded that a prosecutor reading his indictment refer to him by his full name or his last name.[68] In another, a lawyer and a judge argued over observing a moment of silence for Ataturk on his birthday, when, according to the judge, it had already been done earlier in the day.[69] That same day, Kerinçsiz declared in court that, “I can’t call these [prosecutors] ‘jurists.’ I don’t believe that secret witness testimonies before cameras were transcribed correctly. I demand that all footage be given to the court and that the secret witnesses testify before the court. I think there is a nauseating and despicable relationship between the secret witnesses and the prosecution.” In response prosecutors argued that Kerinçsiz was “exceeding his bounds as a defendant” and requested that other prosecutors file a complaint against him.[70] For their part, defendants filed lawsuits asking for 480,000 TL in compensation for their long stays in prison.[71]

 In this manner, the case sprawled. Old cases, like one against the gendarme’s intelligence unit JİTEM, were added to the mix. More arrests came too. To take a tangential example: Zihni Çakır, a journalist focused on conspiracies, was prosecuted for his book, Erkegenekon’s Downfall, in which he had discussed the development of Ergenekon as well as discussing how an important War of Independence general had shipped Armenian children off to military schools. At the request of Ergenekon prosecutors, Çakır was charged and convicted of publicizing secret information connected to an ongoing case. He was sentenced to eighteen-months in prison.[72] Despite convicting him, Judge Hakkı Yalçınkaya spent time in his ruling arguing that Ergenekon was “a national legend,” nothing more. Within days, phone taps of Kerinçsiz revealed that he and Yalçınkaya were in contact—or, as pro-government Today’s Zaman phrased it, “Judge suspected of Ergenekon membership.”[73] In a conversation from December 2007, Kerinçsiz had greeted him as “my judge,” to which Yalçınkaya had replied, “Brother . . .do you have an order [for me]?” Questions about the judge’s connections and ruling did not secure Çakır an early release.

In April of 2009, Kerinçsiz testified in his own defense.[74] His statements spread across twelve hearings, over the course of two weeks. They leapt in focus from the evidence:

 “It is natural for these people to know each other, to come together at panel discussions, press conferences and television programs because they show sensitivity toward a cause. However, their ties have been handled to portray them as being involved in an illegal organization.”[75]

To denunciations of the prosecutors:

Prosecutors should not trust themselves so much. They shouldn’t say that they are backed by the Justice Ministry, the government or other powers. They shouldn’t think that no one will be able to ‘touch’ them. The power behind them will fade away one day. The only power that lasts forever is the power of the Turkish nation. A signature you put on a document today will be in front of your children.”[76]

He even commented on current events.[77] By the end, he had spoken for sixty hours. During the following four years, he doubled that number, bring his total speaking time to 136 hours. But, despite arguments that the laws were being interpreted vaguely and that evidence (such as his name on the Council of State gunman’s SIM card) should not be admitted, Kerinçsiz was unable to sway the judges.

A year into the trial, Kerinçsiz complained to the court about photos from 2008 showing the Ergenekon judges, prosecutors, and several police officers breaking their Ramazan fast together:

 The revelation of pictures showing scheming security officials, investigating lawyers, and trial judges all together cannot be squared with independent and unbiased judicial thought, nor with social conscience. From my perspective as a suspect, my belief in both of these had been destroyed, and my sense of trust in justice has been irreparably shaken.[78]

Three and a half years—and many more arrests—lay between this speech and the trial’s end. When it came, Doğu Perinçek, and the president of the National Forces Association were given aggravated life sentences. Veli Küçük, Muzaffer Tekin, and Council of State gunman Alparslan Arslan were given twice that. The head of the Independent Turkish Orthodox Church was given life. Erol Mütercimler, the man who had coined the term “Ergenekon” on a talk show was given nearly nine years.[79]

Kerinçsiz was sentenced to life.


[1] Mehmet Ali Birand, Çiçek may have been right,” Hürriyet Daily News, 9/23/06. Accessed 8/12/13. 

[2] For a list of all the sentences see Serpil Kırkeser and Cem Tursun, İşte 503 sayfalık Ergenekon kararından notlar,” Hürriyet, 8/6/13. Accessed 8/12/13. For a wonderful site to view local election results, see Ihlas Haber Ajans.

[3] Konferansı yasaklatan avukattan tartışılacak sözler,” Hürriyet, 9/23/05. Accessed 8/12/13. For good over views of the MHP, see M Hakan Yavuz, “The Politics of Fear: The Rise of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) in Turkey,” Middle East Journal, 56 (2), Spring 2002, pp. 200-221 and Jacob Landau, “The Nationalist Action Party in Turkey,” The Jounral of Contemporary History, 17 (4), October 1982, pp. 587-606.

[4] See Gareth Jenkins, Between Fact and Fantasy: Turkey’s Ergenekon InvestigationCentral Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, August 2009, pp. 27-29. Accessed 8/12/13. 

[5] Jenny White, Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks, Princeton Univerisy Press, 2013, p. 12.

[6] Interestingly, earlier this year [2013], MHP-affiliated groups held a demonstration in front of Galatasaray Lycée to draw attention to the “Silent Genocide” which, they argue, was carried out by Armenians against Azeris in the Nagorno-Karabahk region in 1992. The awareness campaign is part of a larger anti-genocide counter argument that avoids arguing the reality (or unreality) of an Armenian genocide and instead asserts that Armenians are equally capable of crimes against humanity.

[7] Ersin Kalkan, Sabiha Gökçen mi Hatun Sebilciyan mı,” Hürriyet, 2/21/04. Accessed 8/13/13. 

[8] Mutlu Koser, Suç mu, değil mi?,” Hürriyet, 7/09/05. Accessed 8/13/13.

[9] Turkish lawyers blast Armenian conference organizers, warn universities,” Hürriyet Daily News, 9/23/05. Accessed 8/12/13. 

[10] Kerinçsizden Orhan Pamuka da Suç Duyurusu,” Bianet, 11/25/05. Accessed 8/12/13. 

[11] The Santa Claus Foundation (Noel Baba Vakfı). Fighting Veterans Union (Muharip Gaziler Derneği). The name of the New National Forces (Yeniden Kuvayı Milliye) is a reference to the irregular local militias that resisted the Greek invasion after WWI. Martyr Families Union (Şehit Aileleri Derneği). The Workers’ Pary (İşçi Partisi), led by Doğu Perinçek, combines Maosim with hardline Kemalism; its official newspaper, Aydinlik, should be familiar to anyone who gets the Metro from Taksim Square, where there is always an old man hawking it. The Independent Turkish Orthodox Church (Bağımsız Türk Ortodoks Kilisesi) was started in 1923 by Orthodox Christians who sided with Ataturk’s forces against the Greeks in the 1920s; it grew more nationalist overtime and, by the 2000s, consisted solely of the descendants of the man Ataturk had named patriarch in the 1920s (Jenkins fn. 39).

[12] Fener Rum Patrikhanesi önünde protesto,” Haber10, 11/10/05, Accessed 8/14/13.

[13] Investigation launched against Lagendijk,” Hürriyet Daily News, 12/28/05. Accessed 8/12/13. And Lagendijk’e de 301’den soruşturma,” Hürriyet, 12/28/05. Accessed 8/12/13. 

[14] For pictures (from the 2012 celebration) see Billy Hallowell, “Orthodox Christians Plunge . . .” The Blaze, 1/6/12. Accessed 8/14/13. 

[15] Patrikhane’den denizden haç çıkarma töreni,” Hürriyet, 1/6/06. Accessed 8/14/13.

[16] Turkish Press Yesterday,” Hürriyet Daily News, 1/7/06. Accessed 8/14/13. 

[17] The friends included his own lawyer, Ahmet Ülger, who had gained some renown in the late 1990s for helping represent police officers charged with beating a left-wing journalist, Metin Göktepe, to death. Ülger would later represent Ergenekon suspects until his death from a heart attack in 2009.

[18] These academics were Radikal’s İsmet Berkan, Murat Belge, Haluk Şahin and Erol Katırcıoğlu, and Milliyet’s Hasan Cemal.

[19] Esma Çakır, “Ermeni konferansı davasında arbede,” Hürriyet, 2/7/06. Accessed 8/16/13.

[20] Demonstration to support Turkish army,” Hürriyet Daily News, 3/10/06. Accessed 8/16/13Kerinçsiz would later request criminal charges be filed against the lawyer, Ferhat Sarıkaya.

[21] Moreover, Murat Belge, one of the columnists being prosecuted for criticizing the courts Armenian conference decision, claims that he was tortured by Küçük in 1972. (Cemil SüphanVeli Küçük bana Ziverbey`de işkence yaptı,” Rizgari, 9/8/08. Accessed 8/24/13)

[22] Mehmet Altan, Portrait of a brigadier general,” Today’s Zaman, 12/16/08. Accessed 8/24/13. And Dink: Türklüğü aşağılamak ırkçılıktır,” Hürriyet, 5/16/06. Accessed 8/24/13.

[23] For more information on the Coucil of State see HERE

[24] In sadly typical fashion for Turksh newspapers, this quote of Arslan’s (Hürriyet, 5/17) is altered by the same newspaper the very next day to read, “I am God’s soldier” (Hürriyet, 5/18).

[25] Toygun Atilla, “Susurluk izi,” Hürriyet, 5/23/06. Accessed 8/24/13. Moreover, like many former military officers who have recently been prosecuted in Turkey, Tekin has his own website available HERE

[26] Orhan Saat, Tekin’in ofisi Kıbrıs hatıralarıyla dolu,” Hürriyet, 5/25/06. Accessed 8/24/13. It is worth noting that Yildirim was the head of the National Forces Association (Kuvayı Milliye Derneği), obviously not to be confused with the New National Forces (Yeniden Kuvayı Milliye). For a decent list sampling the hodge-podge of nationalist organization c.2007, see HERE

[27] Perinçek: Muzaffer Tekin’i tanırım, böyle bir saldırıya karışmış olamaz,” Hürriyet, 5/25/06. Accessed 8/24/13. And Toygun Atilla, “‘Ergenekon’ yapılanması,” Hürriyet, 5/24/06. Accessed 8/24/13. 

[28] The Seminary was closed in 1971 on the grounds that religious education cannot be conducted outside the supervision of the state. According to Patriarch Bartolomeos, however, the closure is part of a larger attempt by the Turkish government to strangle the Church. Turkish law requires religious leaders in the country to be Turkish nationals—yet without facilities to train its leaders, the Church will experience a decline in personnel. (Patriarch Bartolomeos publishes his childhood memoirs in Turkish,” Hürriyet Daily News, 7/2/06)

[29]> Susanne Fowler, Turkey, a Touchy Critic, Plans to Put a Novel on Trial,” The New York Times, 9/15/06. Accessed 8/24/13 and “Author Faces Trial for ‘Insulting Turkishness,’” NPR, 7/22/06. Accessed 8/24/13.

[30] In addition, Şafak herself had attended the Armenian conference almost a year earlier.

[31] Orhan Pamuk aleyhine açılan tazminat davasına ret,” Hürriyet, 7/28/06. Accessed 8/24/13.

[33] You can read the report, Dilek Kurban, et al.“Zorunlu Göç” ile Yüzleşmek: Türkiye’de Yerinden Edilme Sonrası Vatandaşlığın İnşası [We Will Come to Know Each Other Through “Forced Migration”: Building Citizenship in Turkey After the Displacement], Istanbul: TESEV Yayınları, 2008 HERE

[34] İsmail Saymaz, “Bu zorbalara kim dur diyecek?” Radikal, 7/7/06. Accessed 8/25/13. Ali Kemal (1867-1922) was a liberal intellectual during the late Ottoman Empire. In the late 1890s, he joined the Young Turk movement, helping found its Paris cells. When not exiled (a fairly often occurrence for him) he wrote and published various newspapers. In 1919, after the Ottoman defeat in WWI, he served the pro-sultan (anti-Ataturk) government, he served again in 1922. After the Greek defeat, however, he was arrested by the new republican government and executed.

[35] Emine Özcan, Kerinçsizler Bu Kez Göç Toplantısındaydı,” Bianet, 7/6/06. Accessed 8/25/13. 

[36] Speaking at a university in Regensburg, Germany, the pope had read portions of a dialogue between a 14th century Byzantine emperor and an Islamic scholar wherein the emperor castigated Islam as a violent religion and pointed to the inconsistency between its calls for peace and calls for forcible conversion, saying the Christian god abhors physical violence because relgion is not physical, but spiritual. The pope then quoted a modern theologian who, also considering this dialogue, had observed that Islam treats god as “transcendent” and unbound by his own contradictions—in short, not bound by reason.

[38] Jenkins pp. 18-21. 

[39] Court charges suspects over Malatya murders,” Hürriyet Daily News, 4/24/07. Accessed 8/28/13. 

[40] Murder in Malatya; missionary activities targeted,” Hürriyet Daily News, 4/19/07. Accessed 8/28/13. 

[41] Ender Onderoğlu, Misyonerlik Davası’nda Tanıklar Dinleniyor; Kerinçsiz Yoktu,” Bianet. 3/14/08. Accessed 8/28/13. 

[42] Misyonerlere ‘Türklüğü aşağılama’ davası,” HaberTurk. 11/23/06. Accessed 8/28/13. 

[43] Barbara G. Baker, Trial of 2 Turkish Christian converts makes news prior to pope’s visit,” Baptist Press. 11/28/06. Accessed 8/28/13. This quote bothers me a bit since I cannot find the Turkish version. That only a religious, English language website would have caught it surprises me a bit.

[44] As always, for the best detail on this investigation, which I am simply condensing, see Jenkins, pp. 37-43. 

[45] Zekeriya Öz quicly became a controversial figure as the Ergenekon investigation grew in scope (at least to those not working at Today’s Zaman!). Yet, at the time, he would have seemed to be a good choice. Among his previous major cases were the prosecution of Islamists who had carried out the 2003 bombings of the British Consulate, HSBC, and two synagogues. Though, for a nice take down of Öz from Aydınlık, see HERE.

[46] In 2007 Sabah was owned by the Çalık Group, which had recently bought the paper with assistance from the prime minister;  Zaman and Today’s Zaman were (and are) owned by Ali Akbulut, who is allegedly close to the pro-government Gülen Movement.

[47] Ex-army officer involved in international drug trafficking,” Today’s Zaman, 8/16/07. Accessed 8/28/13. 

[48] SMS links journalist Özkan to Tekin one day before he was arrested,” Today’s Zaman, 7/13/07Accessed 8/29/13. 

[49] Lale Kemal, Turkey should urgently tackle crime gangs,” Today’s Zaman, 7/31/07. Accessed 8/29/13. 

[50] Probe links former army officers to political murders,” Today’s Zaman, 7/6/07. Accessed 8/29/13.

[51] Ertan Kiliç, “Bilgisayarlardan Ergenekon çikti,” Yeni Şafak, 6/20/07. Accessed 8/29/13. 

[52] The lawyer referred to Kerinçsiz and other nationalists in the courtroom as “scoundrels” (alçak herifler).

[53] In the actual quote—“Sayın Öcalan şu anda, almış olduğu kellelerin hesabını veriyor”—“kelleler” more precisely means “heads.” It is the word used for heads of animals—for example, sheep’s head soup. Perhaps, “skulls” might be a better translation—though lacking the right idiomatic sense . . .

[54] Since Cumhürriyet had been both attacked by the grenades and been (allegedly) part of the conspiracty, it was represented as both a victim and a perpetrator in the trial.

[55] According to Today’s Zaman, “A copy of an indictment file against the AK Party for its closure, prepared by none other than [Chief Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman] Yalçınkaya, was also found on a computer inside the [Workers’ Party offices], supporting claims in the media that the closure case against the AK Party was in retaliation to the crackdown on Ergenekon. The indictment had been saved on the computer two days before the case was filed.” (“Neo-nationalist party leader Perinçek arrested ,” Today’s Zaman, 3/25/08)

[56] You can see it HERE, at 13:40.

[57] For a more detailed explication of just how bizarre a primary witness Tuncay Güney is, see Jenkins, pp. 50-55. 

[58] İşte o belge!” Radikal, 5/4/2008. Accessed 8/29/13. 

[59] Büşra Erdal, ‘Leftist magazine served as network’s rendezvous point,’” Today’s Zaman, 7/29/2008. Accessed 8/29/13. 

[60] Zirve sanığı MİT ajanı çıktı,” Hürriyet, 6/11/12. Accessed 8/29/13. 

[61] Yakup Cetin, Zirve suspect worked for left-wing publication after fight with nationalists,” Today’s Zaman, 1/16/13. Accessed 8/29/13. 

[62] Katliamın ipucu tuvalet duvarında,” Radikal, 10/16/08. Accessed 8/29/13. 

[63] A lawyer for the victims suggested additional connections with Ergenekon: an alleged friendship between Workers’ Party leader Doğu Perinçek and the Malatya gendarme commander, as well as speeches given in the area by the leader of the Independent Turkish Orthodox Church. (Malatya murder case lawyer says prosecutor Öz’s removal ‘scandalous,’” Today’s Zaman, 4/4/11)

[64] A nicely organized version is available at Vikikaynak HEREA good summary put together by the Federation of American Scientists is available HERE

[65] For Kerinçsiz indictment, see HERE.

[66] Harvard economist Dani Rodrik is a chief exponent of the notion that the evidence—especially the CD evidence—is forged. Though open to some charge of bias (his father-in-law was a highly-placed Turkish general jailed in a similar case), his evidence is convincing. (Seth Daniel, Key Evidence in Major Turkish Trial Blown to Pieces by Chelsea Company,” Chelsea Record, 4/26/12. Accessed 8/30/13. He and his wife kept a blog HERE during his faher-in-law’s trial. . A good summation of his argument can be read HERE. For a strong defense of Ergenekon’s basis in reality and the legality of its wiretaps and detentions, see “Ergenekon is Our Reality,” July 2010, a document put together by the organizations Young Civilians and Human Rights Agenda. Based on the conclusions of a conference attended (largely) by members of media outlets that had been pushing Ergenekon since day-one, the document gives a good sense of how defenders of the trial perceive it. 

[67] H. Akin Ünver, “Turkey’s ‘Deep-State’ and the Ergenekon Conundrum,” The Middle East Institute Policy Brief, April 2009. Accessed 8/29/13. 

[68] Ergenekon suspect angry over first name address,” Today’s Zaman, 11/7/08. Accessed 8/29/13.

[69] As indictment reading ends, defense begins in Ergenekon trial,” Today’s Zaman, 11/11/08. Accessed 8/29/13.  On the aniversary of Ataturk’s death, at the precise minute, Turks observe a moment of silence/horn-honking. This observance would have occured earlier in the day. NB. The dozens of suspects were represented by dozens of different lawyers. This particular lawyer, Bozkurt Nuhoğlu, had been a famous left-wing radical in the 1960s and 70s.

[71] Metin Arslan, Coup suspects demand TL 468,000 from 18 judges as compensation,” Today’s Zaman, 11/19/08. Accessed 8/30/13.  

[72] Nevzat Çiçek, “Hindistan Türk’tür,” Taraf, 11/19/08. Accessed 8/30/13.  

[73] Büşra Erdal, Şişli judge suspected of Ergenekon membership,” Today’s Zaman, 11/24/08. Accessed 8/30/13.  

[74]> Notes of his defense were recorded by OdaTv (itself the subject of a massive investigation) and are available HERE. They run to nearly 200 pages. 

[75] Kerinçsiz: 1982 Constitution keeps nation together,” Today’s Zaman, 4/14/09. Accessed 8/30/13. 

[76] Ergenekon suspect threatens prosecutors during defense testimony,” Today’s Zaman, 4/1/09. Accessed 8/30/13.  

[77] Ergenekon suspect hails Çiçek’s remark about DTP,” Today’s Zaman, 4/4/09. Accessed 8/30/13. 

[78]> “Ergenekon savcısı, Öcalan dosyasını istedi,” Zaman, 11/8/09. Accessed 8/30/13. 

[79] For full lists of the sentences, see HERE  and HERE.