by ORHAN KEMAL CENGİZ
Father Andrea Santoro, a Catholic priest, was killed in Trabzon in 2006. No one realized then that this was the beginning of a pattern. The militant nationalist who killed Santoro was just 17 years old. The Santoro case was completed with lightning speed.
The youngster was sentenced, but nothing was revealed. Then, in 2007, Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian and a liberal journalist, was shot dead in front his newspaper, Agos, by another militant nationalist, who was again a 17-year-old boy from Trabzon. Three months after Dink’s murder, three missionaries were brutally killed in Malatya. After the Malatya massacre there were many other attacks and murder attempts targeting Christians once again. A Catholic priest was stabbed in the stomach during a service at a Catholic church in İzmir. In Samsun, Diyarbakır and Antalya, other murder attempts were prevented by successful operations by the police.
In all these “successful” or attempted attacks, the perpetrators had traits in common. They were all very young, mostly under 18 and no older than 19. They all were ultranationalists with very obvious ties to well-known ultranationalist groups. Some good questions to ask would be: Are all these murders and attacks connected? Were these youngsters directed from one single center? And, most importantly, were these murders somehow linked to the illegal apparatus within the state?
The Ergenekon connection
As a lawyer closely watching the Hrant Dink and Malatya massacre cases (and being directly involved in the latter), I can say that all signs point to the Ergenekon gang. Some central suspects in the Ergenekon trial were also indicated in Malatya massacre and Dink cases. Some suspects had either direct or indirect contacts with Gen. Veli Küçük, the retired gendarmerie commander whose name was always involved in extrajudicial killings (also known as “unsolved murders”) carried out against Kurdish activists in southeastern Turkey. In both cases other gendarmerie officers were summoned as either suspects or as witnesses.
But if these two incidents, the murder and the massacre, were planned and orchestrated by the Ergenekon gang, what could the purpose or motivation behind them be? Without having an insight into the mental framework of Ergenekon, we can not possibly answer this question.
Ergenekon and past atrocities
Today we have such strong propaganda against the Ergenekon case (in order to whitewash its suspects) that it is almost impossible not to lose the sense of direction. The case is presented as if it were just a fabrication by the government in order to silence its political opponents. This is absolutely not the case.
I cannot go into all details about the Ergenekon case here, so I will just focus on its connection to the attacks against Christians in Turkey. Even if we just focus on this topic, we can see the “depth” of the organization.
There are many documents in the Ergenekon file produced by the members of this organization. One of these documents defines the “Special Forces” (Özel Kuvvetler) as “the eye of Ergenekon.” The Special Forces, a military unit, is the successor of the Special Warfare Center (Özel Harp Dairesi — ÖHD), another unit in the Turkish military. According to a retired commander of the ÖHD, Sabri Yirmibeşoğlu, the pogroms against İstanbul’s non-Muslims on Sept. 5-6, 1955 “were the fantastic work of the Special Warfare Center.”
Ergenekon and anti-Christian activities
This “fantastic” tradition continues under Ergenekon. Let us start with one of the organization’s meeting places: the “Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate” (TOP). TOP was established in the early ’20s with the financial support of Turkish state to fight against the Greek Orthodox Church. It is a church with no congregation. Since its inception TOP’s only work was to fight against Christians in Turkey. Recently though, the main focus of TOP has been to fight against missionary activity. Sevgi Erenol, who is the spokesperson of TOP and who is in prison now in connection with the Ergenekon case, regularly gave briefings to top officials about the “missionary threat” in Turkey.
Kemal Kerinçsiz, an ultranationalist lawyer who was suing liberal intellectuals for “insulting Turkishness” and who provoked public opinion against Hrant Dink, has also brought cases against missionaries before the domestic courts. Ergün Poyraz, who is apparently responsible for Ergenekon’s propaganda war and who wrote many books about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, accusing them having non-Muslim roots, has also published a hate-mongering book titled “Six Months Amongst Missionaries.” This latter book became the bible of the war against Protestants in Turkey. We now know from the Ergenekon file that Mr. Poyraz was actively using the archives of the gendarmerie.
The Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO) also used to publish regular paranoid reports about missionary activities. These “reports” were taken very seriously by the National Security Council (MGK), which is dominated by generals, and those reports led the MGK to declare that missionary activities were a real threat to national security in Turkey. Sinan Aygün, the chairman of the ATO since 1998, is now one of the suspects in the Ergenekon case.
Ergenekon has a long history in Turkey, and it is not possible to go into all of it in one article. However, if you want to understand what Ergenekon is and what kind of mentality it has, just look at the Committee of Union and Progress (İTC), which was responsible for the massacres of Armenians while the Ottoman Empire was falling apart. Ergenekon has exactly the same mindset; it is the last inheritor of the İTC in Turkey. Since Turkey has never faced its dark past, it has never dissolved these shadowy structures within the state. It therefore was no coincidence that when NATO sponsored “shadow armies” (widely known as Operation Gladio), they developed very strong and deep roots in Turkey. The country is simply fertile ground for these kinds of illegal structures. In fact Turkey has never attempted to dissolve them. It is the only NATO member country that has not exposed and dissolved this organization.
When it comes to the question of what the purpose of all these attacks and propaganda against Christians is, my conclusion would be as follows: Like its predecessor the İTC, Ergenekon also wants to “purify” Anatolia. With all these murders they were trying to send the message to the members of Christian communities in Turkey that they are not welcome in this country. On the other hand Ergenekon wants to give the impression to Turkey and the outside world that as soon as an Islamic-oriented government came to power, massacres against Christians started. Finally, with these and remaining unsuccessful murder attempts, they aim at creating obstacles to Turkey’s EU path.
Why were they specifically trying to create paranoia about missionary activity? I think this was aimed at making conservative Muslims more nationalist. They portray missionaries as the agents of “imperialism,” which seeks to divide Turkey. In this context, Protestants were used as a kind of scapegoat to provoke Muslims. The main purpose of Ergenekon, after all, is to create an obsessively nationalist country cut off from the rest of the world, and especially Europe. Turkey’s democratic system and the rights of its non-Muslim minorities will be only secured if this fascist gang, and its mentality, fails.