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Mystery group on trial in Turkey
By Eric S Margolis/ Istanbul
Bad as the violent rain storm was that lashed this city of 12mn last week, leaving 31 dead and a huge mess, Turkey is experiencing an even more violent political tempest.
Thirty-three members of a neo-fascist group called Ergenekon have been on trial, accused of murder, terrorism, and trying to overthrow the elected government. The trial was temporarily suspended after the courthouse was flooded out.
Turks everywhere are gripped by this mysterious affair. It is laying bare the working of the .deep state., a powerful cabal of retired military officers, security forces, gangsters, officials, judges, and business oligarchs. Turkey.s military denies any links to Ergekon.
The .deep state. advocates extreme Turkish nationalism and revived Pan-Turkism. Its far rightwing members are bitterly anti-Islamic, and violently oppose any admission of guilt for the mass wartime killing of the Ottoman Empire.s Armenians that occurred in 1915. They also oppose improving relations with neighbours Armenia and Greece, or making concessions to Turkey.s sizeable Kurdish minority.
Ergenekon.s plotters stand accused of plans to assassinate officials of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan.s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), a democratic, modernising movement advocating Islamic principles of fairer wealth distribution and social welfare.
The plotters reportedly hired hitmen to kill leading liberal intellectuals, including acclaimed writer, Orhan Pamuk, and may have murdered a prominent Armenian-Turkish journalist and three Christians. They also oppose Turkey.s entry into the EU as a threat to .Turkishness..
What makes this case particularly interesting is that Ergenekon may well be linked to Gladio, a secret, far right underground group created by the US and Nato during the Cold War as a .stay behind. guerrillas to resist Soviet invasion or Communist takeovers. Gladio had a network of agents and caches of arms across Europe with secret links to Nato intelligence services.
Gladio staged numerous bombing attacks and assassinations during the 1970.s and 80.s in an effort to promote far right coups in Italy, Belgium, and Turkey, where it remains active.
A cell was even recently uncovered in Switzerland.
The Ergenekon plot is one facet of the intense struggle between Erdogan.s Islamist-lite reformists and Turkey.s 510,000-man armed forces which sees itself as defender of the anti-religious, Westernised secular state created in the 1930.s by Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey.
Turkey.s rightwing generals have overthrown or ousted four elected governments. The Turkish military establishment is traditionally close to the US and Israel, with whom it.s had extensive military, arms and intelligence dealings.
Turkey.s generals are also allied to a deeply entrenched oligarchy of business barons, judges, university rectors, media groups, and the security services.
Until PM Erdogan.s election, the military was Turkey.s real government behind a thin facade of squabbling elected politicians, a fact lost on Western observers who used to urge Turkey.s political model on the Muslim world.
An intensifying struggle is under way between the two camps. On the surface, it.s .secularism. versus .Islamic government.. But that.s just shorthand for the fierce rivalry between the military-industrial-security complex and Erdogan.s supporters, many of whom are recent immigrants to the big cities from rural areas, where Islam remains vital in spite of eight decades of government efforts to stamp it out or tightly control it.
Rightwing forces recently got allies in the Appeals Court to lay spurious corruption charges against Turkey.s respected President, Abdullah Gul.
The Erdogan government struck back by levying a $2.5bn tax fine on the powerful Dogan media conglomerate that has been a fierce critic and enemy of the prime minister. Both acts injure Turkey.s image as a modern democracy.
Erdogan has been Turkey.s best, most popular prime minister. He has enacted important political, social, legal and economic reforms, and has drawn Turks closer to Europe.s laws and values. He stabilised Turkey.s formerly wild finances and brought a spirit of real democracy to Turkey. The EU keeps warning Turkey.s generals to keep out of politics.
Europe clearly wants an obedient Turkey to protect its eastern flank, not an equal partner. After 50 years of trying, Turkey still can.t get into the EU.