Cablegate: Turkey: Coup Thwarted or Revenge Taken?

DE RUEHAK #1217/01 1891126
P 071126Z JUL 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 001217


E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/06/2017


Classified By: Political Counselor Daniel O'Grady for reasons 1.4(b,d)

1. (C) Summary. As the shock wanes over the July 1 detention
of over 20 people, including two senior retired military
officers, in connection with the year-old Ergenekon
investigation (reftel), most Turks view the developments as a
worrisome escalation of the struggle between Kemalist
ultranationalists and supporters of the Islam-oriented ruling
Justice and Development Party (AKP). In Ankara's
supercharged atmosphere, Turks are awaiting release of the
Ergenekon indictment before deciding whether the suspects,
some held without formal charges for months, were determined
coup plotters or pawns in the ongoing battle for political
control. Many predict the detentions, portrayed by much of
the media as AKP's revenge, make the party's closure more
likely. A solid indictment will bolster government claims
the judiciary has thwarted a dangerous conspiracy to topple
Turkey's democratically elected government; a weak case will
fuel accusations that police state tactics were used
unjustifiably against AKP opponents in retaliation for the
pending closure case. While some view the Ergenekon suspects
as a disgruntled group of AKP antagonists with more will than
means to enact a coup, others portray the investigation as a
bold effort to eliminate illegal gangs that have long
obstructed Turkey's democratization. Either scenario would
burnish AKP's image, both as intended coup victim and
courageous defender of Turkey's democracy. If, however, the
outcome is a flimsy indictment and a clumsy judicial process,
it will discredit AKP and Erdogan, and disappoint those
hoping Ergenekon is not just another reckless ploy in
Turkey's political power struggle. End summary.

2. (U) The move by Istanbul prosecutors to detain senior
military officials (among others) allegedly implicated in a
coup conspiracy is hailed by many as a rare attempt to hold
coup plotters responsible. "We have today's coup plotters
because past coup leaders have not been tried," stated Sacit
Kayasir, disbarred in 2000 for pursuing charges against 1980
coup leader General Kenan Evren. All sides have called for
respect for the judicial process, though many are concerned
that charges hve yet to be filed against any of the 49
suspects detained during five previous raids since July 2007.
AKP Vice Chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat agreed those
detained should have a fair trial, and urged the prosecutor
to speed up the legal process. AKP Whip Nihat Ergin told us
the indictment has been delayed because the case is so
complicated; three prosecutors have reviewed over six million
pages of evidence linking this investigation to old, unsolved
crimes. "The indictment will clarify for the public that
this is about a criminal organization," Ergin said. An
indictment, rumored to be 2500 pages, may be filed this week,
once recently seized evidence is incorporated, according to
Ergin. Two retired generals and the Ankara Chamber of
Commerce president, all detained July 1, were arrested after
questioning over the weekend and are being held for trial,
reportedly for establishing an organizing designed to provoke
the public to revolt against the government.

3. (U) AKP leaders deny any link between the recent
detentions and the AKP closure case, maintaining Turkey's
independent judiciary moved against the Ergenekon suspects to
prevent them from launching a plan to create chaos and
overthrow the AKP government. That the high-profile
detentions occured during the chief prosecutor's July 1 oral
arguments in the AKP closure case (septel), minimizing press
coverage of the court session, was a coincidence, they
contend. Cumhuriyet columnist Cuneyet Arcayurek disagreed,
stating, "It is in no way a coincidence such things are
happening when the closure case is being heard at the
constitutional court." Whether or not a link exists, senior
AKP MP Murat Mercan told us he expects the Ergenekon
investigation will negatively impact the closure case,
particularly because some media are depicting the Ergenekon
suspects as defenders of the secular Republic. Despite PM
Erdogan's previous claim that the closure case was filed to
curb the government's determination to pursue the Ergenekon
investigation, many view the detentions as AKP's effort to
suppress its adversaries. AKP opponents were quick to
criticize Firat's call to respect the judiciary's
independence, pointing to AKP efforts to press the US, EU and
others to influence the constitutional court in the closure

ANKARA 00001217 002 OF 002

case. "I can only laugh at this statement," NTV News' Rusen
Caker reportedly said, adding, "They made all possible

4. (U) While also noting the arrests coincided with the chief
prosecutor's closure case oral argument, far-right
Nationalist Action Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli urged
his party group to await the outcome of the Ergenekon legal
process. "There are groups trying to create chaos in
Turkey," he said, adding that it is in Turkey's best
interests to remain cool-headed regarding the investigation.
Bahceli blamed AKP and the PM for not tackling Turkey's
issues with common sense and risking the country's future for
Erdogan's "whims and obsessions."

5. (U) Erdogan's comments at AKP's July 1 parliamentary party
group meeting were defiant without directly addressing the
Ergenekon investigation or the closure case. He emphasized
AKP is the only address for a change in Turkey's politics,
for Turkey's integration with the modern world and its full
membership in the EU. Those who resist EU membership and
standards cannot tolerate Turkey moving toward
democratization and cannot accept the will of the people, he
said. Turkey will develop despite all hurdles before it,
Erdogan pledged, adding AKP will strive for democracy,
justice and law. "We have to work hard and act with common
sense," he told AKP MPs.

6. (U) Land Forces Commander (and likely future Chief of
Defense) General Basbug also urged Turks to be responsible,
"imperturbable" and cautious. President Gul echoed the call,
saying he has been working to reduce the tensions and ensure
Turkey emerges from the crisis even stronger. In contrast,
opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz
Baykal charged the detentions stem from Erdogan's personal
ambitions and indicated Turkey is drifting away from
democracy and rule of law. "This process has been going on
for a year without an indictment. Is this possible in a
state of law?" Baykal asked, warning that a society of fear
is being created in Turkey. Baykal claimed the investiagtion
is politically motivated and accused Erdogan of being the
Ergenekon investigators' "spokesman" for announcing the
investigation would end soon. AKP's Firat retorted that
Baykal was acting as the Ergenekon suspects' lawyer. "Baykal
is trying to make it look like the suspects were detained
because of their opposition to the government and not because
of having participated in an illegal organization resorting
to methods outside the law," Firat said.

7. (C) Comment: Most Turks agree if the Ergenekon suspects
are guilty, they should be punished. But they want to see
the indictment before deciding whether or not this is a
genuine effort to crack down on illegal organizations or
ultranationalists within the state ready to take the law into
their own hands. Given the failure of previous attempts to
hold coup plotters accountable, the prosecutor will need the
government's continued backing and strong political will to
see the prosecutions through to convictions, a process that
could take years. Even if Ergenekon is only a house-cleaning
of a disaffected few, the case could, if handled responsibly,
strengthen Turkey's democractic process by demonstrating no
one is above the law. Such an outcome, accomplished with the
cooperation (however grudging) of the judiciary and military,
could be the government's most important reform to date.

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