On 22 January, Turkish police arrested 33
individuals, some connected with the military, in the largest concerted
action against the "deep
state" that shadowy underworld linking extremists and criminals
from the spheres of military, political, judicial and the academy. Some
were accused of belonging to an ultranationalist group, Ergenekon, that
was allegedly "preparing a series of bomb attacks aimed at fomenting
chaos ahead of a coup in 2009 against Turkey's center-right government,
whose European Union-linked reforms are opposed by ultranationalists."
The ultranationalists (who also distrust the Erdogan government for its
alleged Islamist agenda) were plotting to assassinate prominent cultural
figures, such as Nobel-prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, journalist Fehmi
Koru, and possibly Kurdish politicians. The deaths of Armenian journalist
Hrant Dink, two Italian priests and three Protestant missionaries have
already been blamed on ultranationalists associated with the Ergenekon
The police had been investigating the group for the past few years, compiling
in the process a dossier of some 7,000 pages. The current operation was
sparked following a police raid in Istanbul this past summer, which recovered
weapons (and some low-ranking military men). But the big fish, including
two retired generals, were only caught in the recent police operation. While
it seems to have been a major victory for the government and for Turkey
in general, many have expressed cynicism that a completely thorough investigation
will ever be accomplished. Because the case involves high-ranking officials
from the military that self-appointed guarantor of Turkey's secular, constitutional
order "it remains to be seen whether the cases will be brought to
But it is not so simple as just a matter of upholding army pride. The activities
of the gang, which apparently ranged from false-flag terrorist attacks and
assassinations to drug smuggling and espionage, are closely intertwined
with the fortunes and affairs of the ruling class in Turkey. As editors
and local commentators have been saying, to really act against the deep
state is almost unimaginable; no one knows where the trail might ultimately
Deep Background: The Cold War, NATO and the Rise of the
We do, however, know where it started
and why. Indeed, it is more than a bit ironic that the major recurring threat
to society and political stability in Turkey over the past 60 years, the
"Deep State," was actually enabled by the country's Western allies,
and first of all, America. After WWII and with the creation of NATO, the
military alliance created "secret
armies" throughout Europe, consisting of so-called "stay behind"
forces, charged with waging sabotage campaigns and resistance in the case
of a Soviet invasion. However, they became prone to corruption, interference
with domestic politics and society, and were in some cases involved with
brutality against Leftists and the citizenry in general. While the most
famous of NATO's secret armies was the Gladio
operation in Italy, it was arguable in Turkey that this dangerous policy
had the most serious long-term consequences, with the creation of a stay-behind
force known as the Counter-Guerrillas.
The core of this covert paramilitary force was made up of right-wing radicals
and fascists who espoused a narrative of inherent Turkish greatness and
racial superiority, in the context of not only Turkey itself but of the
ethnically Turkic republics of Central Asia (then under Soviet control);
there were also the fond dreams of the bygone Ottoman Empire which, in its
heyday, spread across the Middle East, North Africa and the Balkans.
The Counter-Guerrillas were officially a part of the Turkish Army's
Special Warfare Department, and housed in the US Military Aid Mission building
in Ankara, according to a Los Angeles Times report from 1998. This
department received funding and training from U.S. advisors to establish,
as in other NATO states,"stay behind" squads of civilian irregulars
who would theoretically vex the invading Soviets. Stocking the staff was
accomplished partially through a nationwide "youth group," the
Grey Wolves, established in 1969 under the aegis of the Nationalist Movement
Party (MHP) and its leader, Alparslan Türkes. This Counter-Guerrilla member
and ultranationalist politician dreamed of creating the mythical "Turan"
a pan-Turkic empire which would stretch through the Central Asian
republics, and include the Uighur Turks of western China's Xinjiang province.
Naturally, the Counter-Guerrillas and Grey Wolves also operated closely
with Turkey's intelligence service, the MIT, and were used by right-wing
governments to suppress civil liberties. Military coups in 1971 and 1980,
and chronic massacres of civilian demonstrators throughout the 1970s, were
all led by Counter-Guerrilla/Grey Wolves elements. The American intelligence
services at times appear to have been supportive, regardless of the ominous
implications for democracy. Immediately after the 1980 military coup that
brought General Kenan Evren to power, American CIA Ankara station chief
Paul Henze reportedly
cabled Washington exulting, "our boys have done it." At that
time, the Grey Wolves had 200,000 registered members and one million sympathizers
nationwide, though the Turkish Deep State was still in embryonic form compared
to the decade that was to come.
When domestic political fortunes changed, important figures such as Colonel
Türkes, and other Grey Wolves were arrested. However, those who volunteered
to fight against Kurdish and Armenian groups were often released. With the
outbreak of war against the Kurdish PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, or
Kurdistan Workers Party) in the 1980s, the covert force turned to "black
ops" such as torturing and killing Kurds while disguised in PKK uniforms.
Further, an Islamic terrorist organization, Turkish Hizbollah (not related
to Hizbollah in Lebanon) was reportedly created by the Turkish military
and the MIT in the 1980s, to divide the rebelling Kurds in the southeast.
In all, up to 20,000 Islamic fighters, most of them Kurds, were indoctrinated
and organized into proxy terrorist and assassination squads. Throughout
the 1990s, Turkish Hizbollah murdered over 3,000 businessmen and ordinary
civilians in assassinations and bombings. This monstrous creation was modeled
on America's apparent success in Afghanistan, where it had created bin Laden's
mujahedin to fight the Soviets.
The state's role with Turkish Hizbollah was confirmed in February 2000,
when former Prime Minister Tansu Çiller admitted publicly that she had ordered
the military to arm the group six years earlier. Çiller justified the jihadis
as a necessary part of Turkey's own war on terror. In his book Crescent
and Star: Turkey between Two Worlds, the former New York
Times bureau chief in Istanbul, Stephen Kinzer, recounted Ms Çiller's
scandalous statements. "Yes, it was my signature on the order to deliver
those weapons," she said. "We met and made a decision. We decided
that terror was the main issue and that whatever was necessary to stop it
would be done... The military chief of staff, the governors, the police
everyone worked together on it."
The deep state also played a major role in heroin smuggling from Afghanistan
through Turkey, a route which now accounts for around 90 percent of heroin
smuggled into Europe. Like everything else, there were no clear-cut lines
of control between political parties, ethnicities, or services. By 1998,
for example, at least 15 MIT officers had been killed in the vicious internal
battle between the intelligence service and the police over control of the
drug trade. "Only criminal networks working in close cooperation with
the police and the army could possibly organize trafficking on such a scale,"
concluded Le Monde
Diplomatique. The celebrated former FBI translator and whistleblower
Edmonds writes that "the Turkish government, MIT and the Turkish
military, not only sanctions, but also actively participates in and oversees
the narcotics activities and networks."
One such network was discovered in 1998, when Turkish police were accused
of using their European embassies to aid smuggling. Huseyin Baybasin, known
as "Europe's Pablo Escobar," masterminded the drug flow to
Britain. According to the Guardian,
the Kurdish kingpin was granted asylum there in 1995, in exchange for informing
the British Customs & Excise service about Turkish officials involved
in heroin trafficking. After his arrest in Holland soon thereafter, Baybasin
disclosed that he had received "the assistance of Turkish embassies
and consulates while moving huge shipments of drugs around Europe, and that
Turkish army officers serving with NATO in Belgium were also involved. "The
government kept all doors open for us," he
said for the Guardian. "We could do as we pleased."
A senior UK Customs officer stated that the drug barons evaded arrest, as
they were "protected" at a high level.
The one single incident that encapsulates what the Turkish deep state is
all about for many Turks occurred on November 3, 1996 near the town of Susurluk,
on the Izmir-Istanbul road. A car crash there killed what would seem an
unusual group of friends: the counterterrorism police chief, a Turkish beauty
queen, and her lover, the former Grey Wolves leader and drug smuggler Abdullah
Catli. Pistols with silencers and machine guns, plus false diplomatic passports,
were found in the mangled car's trunk. The only survivor, Kurdish parliamentarian
Sedat Bucak, was a tribal chief who administered a swathe of land in the
Kurdish southeast as a liegeman of the government. He guarded it with his
private army, and "thus acquired the power of life and death over the
area's inhabitants," reported the French newspaper. For his part, Catli
"was a heroin trafficker on Interpol's wanted list [and] was carrying
a diplomatic passport signed by none other than the Turkish Interior Minister
Catli's team of hired assassins were alleged to have worked from a "list"
kept by Prime Minister Çiller. According to Le
Monde Diplomatique, she hailed him as a "great patriot"
at his ignominious funeral. Catli was known for racketeering people by warning
them that they were on "Çiller's list"; if they paid up, he could
get their names removed. However, "having pocketed the money, he then
went on to have them kidnapped and killed, and sometimes tortured beforehand."
Signs of Continuity: Activities, Ideology and Personnel
The dramatic recent arrests of the Ergenekon
gang show that the descendents of NATO's secret army in Turkey remain serious
threats to internal stability the extent to which seems to have surprised
many Turks, judging from the tone of recent media reactions. Yet it also
seems that there is now a popular will to oppose them, stronger perhaps
than in years past. This week, across the Turkish media, the cry has gone
out to slay the beast once and for all. While the American media seems content
to not follow the story through to its logical conclusion, the Turks know
better. Respected Turkish columnist Ali
Bayramoglu sums it all up:
one looking for Ergenekon need not go too far. This is the story
of Ergenekon the Turkish Gladio from the assassination of
[journalist] Abdi I.pekçi [in 1979] to 'the massacre of March 16' [in 1978,
when seven students at an Istanbul university were killed in a bomb attack],
then peaking in Susurluk and possibly involved in the Council of State shooting
[of a senior judge in 2006]."
Indeed, the similarities are striking, and not only in the use of strategic
and deceptive organized violence for political ends. The very name of today's
troublemakers, Ergenekon, is rhetorically loaded: as the Turkish
Daily News reminds,
the name 'Ergenekon' implies an ideological link to the Turkish
far-right, as in Turkic genesis mythology, it is believed that a gray
wolf showed the Turks the way out of their legendary homeland,
[the valley of] 'Ergenekon.' Turkish ultranationalists have used the name
'Grey Wolf' for decades."
Recent reports have also attested to a continued reliance on heroin smuggling
for funding false-flag terrorism within Turkey. Turkish newspaper Zaman
Germany's Niedersachsen State's anti-drug department, the LKA,
which tapped the phones of some of the Ergenekon members as part of a narcotics
investigation, proved that Ergenekon members were indeed in the drug business
as well. The records of a Nov. 20, 2003 phone conversation between retired
Capt. Muzaffer Tekin, arrested in June of last year as the owner of the
munitions depot found in an Istanbul shantytown that started the Ergenekon
operation, and Yilmaz Tavukçuoglu, an alleged drug trafficker, shows that
Ergenekon used drug money to fund its activities."
Together with the continuity of violent activities intended, as in years
past, to presage a military takeover, the Deep State's rumblings continue
to be fuelled by drug profits and enlivened by the old fascistic brand of
nationalism. An example is the professor and intellectual figurehead of
the movement, Ümit
Sayin, who in November urged followers to stage a coup d'état, describing
himself "as being anti-Semitic, saying that Jewish people were fanatical,
racist and in favor of religious law. 'Hitler was right about certain things,'
In addition, the same cast of characters, some with direct connections
to events of years past such as the Susurluk scandal, have been targets
of the latest police action. The ringleader of the Ergenekon group, according
to the Turkish
media, is Veli Küçük, "a retired general who is also the alleged
founder of a secret intelligence unit in the gendarmerie," a man who
had hovered on the periphery of previous Deep State investigations; though
Küçük's surreptitious squad, the
JITEM, allegedly "carried out bombings and killings for which other
groups were widely blamed," he somehow always managed to not be implicated
(a Kurdish former informant quoted by Zaman charges that the general
is covering for figures even higher-up sympathetic to the coup attempt).
Another former military man, retired army colonel Fikret Karadag, "also
heads the Association for the Union of Patriotic Forces (VKGB)," one
of several activist groups that have followed in the footsteps of the 1960s-era
quasi-political organizations that fed the original Grey Wolves movement.
Sami Hostan, another suspect, was "a key figure in the Susurluk investigation."
Also arrested was Sevgi Erenerol, a former political ally of Alparslan Türkes,
and spokeswoman for the so-called "Turkish
Orthodox Patriarchate," a church without a congregation, simply
a front and meeting place for nationalist agitators.
The most recent reports
claim that Gen. Küçük "had tried to ring 'influential friends' just
before his arrest on Jan. 22." Aware that police were closing in, the
former general "made eight phone calls to 'influential friends,'
telling them that the police were waiting at the door to take him into custody,
and asked for help but his pleas for help were rejected."
However, despite this eleventh-hour setback, other new information reveals
the intricate web of plotters, from low-level assassins to high officials,
involved in the plot. Zaman adds:
a plot to kill Turkey's only Nobel Prize-winning author,
Orhan Pamuk, was also among Ergenekon's plans. Newspapers printed transcripts
of recorded phone conversations between Spc. Sgt. Muhammed Yüce, Ret. Col.
Fikri Karadag and Selim Akkurt, the trigger-man hired to do the job, whose
phones were tapped with a court order. Officials say that Yüce, who was
also arrested for being part of the Ergenekon organization, said in a phone
conversation with the hit-man that he had spoken to Karadag about the planned
Pamuk assassination. Yüce told Akkus, that an Istanbul businessman would
financially support them as would a prosecutor and a judge in Istanbul's
Akkurt, who spoke in a worried tone, is quoted as saying he was concerned
he might end up like Mehmet Ali Agca, a deep-state assassin who also shot
the pope in the '70s. Akkurt expressed a desire to be like O.S., the
teenager who shot Dink in January of last year, saying: 'He has trillions
of lira in his account. Plus, those around him have become heroes.' In response
to these words, Yüce was quoted as having said: 'You, me and Fuci will take
care of Orhan Pamuk. We will have YTL [New Turkish Lira] 2 million in our
accounts. Are you with me on this one?' Akkurt is heard giving an affirmative
response to Yüce's question in the recordings.
Shortly after his conversation with Akkurt, Yüce sent a text message
to a relative in which he wrote: 'We will take care of Orhan after the conference.
They will put in [YTL] 5 billion into our account. They will give us a gas
station and a villa. Sedat Peker will take care of us while we're in
jail.' Peker is an ultranationalist mafia leader with apparent links to
For Turkish sociologist Cem
Özatalay, a wide consensus of powers had grown concerned enough to instigate
the recent action: "it is clear that the USA, the General Staff and
the AKP [Turkey's ruling party] have agreed to break the back of Ergenekon."
Indeed, it is interesting to note that the robust action against the ultranationalist
group unfolded not long after Turkish President Abdullah Gül returned from
with US President Bush in the White House. And, despite the significant
participation of disgruntled elements in the army and former military officials
in the plot, it seems clear that the Turkish military as an institution
would prefer to keep the uneasy peace with the allegedly 'Islamist' government
of Prime Minister Erdogan, rather than engage in old adventures that would
diminish Turkey's standing abroad and quite possibly affect its ability
to access Western military technology at a time when Turkey is trying to
create an independent defense industry of its own. In denying army support
for the coup attempt, Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff General Yasar
Buyukanit recently stated that "at every opportunity, there have been
in the past and there continue to be efforts to link the armed forces with
these kinds of things."
Aside from keeping foreign policy leverage
and ensuring defense industry cooperation, there might be a third reason
why there was not wide support in the Turkish establishment, either civilian
and military, for a coup, though at bottom it does have import for watchers
of Turkey's deep state activities. This is the planned participation of
Turkey (along with other American allies in the Middle East and North Africa)
in an American-led program, GNEP,
to create nuclear power plants as a means for alleviating energy strain
and dependence on oil. On 22 January, as the Ergenekon arrests were going
down in Turkey, Washington announced that the country would get the green
light to go ahead with the program.
Aside from the rather alarming possible implications of juicing up, say,
Saudi Arabia, there are other items of interest here, the most relevant
being the question of why an agreement on nuclear technology transfer to
NATO-ally Turkey had not been achieved long ago. Indeed, why not? As the
the deal stalled shortly after being signed in July 2000 because
US agencies received 'information implicating Turkish private entities in
certain activities directly relating to nuclear proliferation,' the White
'the pertinent issues have been sufficiently resolved.'"
Whether through a remarkable harmonic convergence of events or just plain
coincidence, the GTEP deal is peaking just at the moment Turkey appears
to be gaining the upper hand in the struggle against the deep state
and, not to mention, at just the same moment that London's Sunday
Times has come out with a serial
investigation on what would seem to be exactly this subject: the role
of Turkish deep state figures in the theft of American nuclear secrets,
at precisely the moment American security agencies were stumbling across
"information implicating Turkish private entities in certain activities
directly relating to nuclear proliferation."
have speculated that legalizing the nuclear trade with Turkey is the
Bush administration's way of retroactively legalizing the activities of
any of the shadowy governmental figures that the Times alleges were
involved with the illicit commerce, so that they cannot be touched in the
event that their alleged misdoings are exposed. I do not know enough about
how such legislation works to be able to comment on the likelihood of this
or not, but even if so, it would seem a rather small element of what is
a global program with objectives beyond securing the legacies of a few bad
However, it certainly is remarkable that none of the Western media bodies
reporting on the GNEP developments, or on the recent arrests in Turkey,
have examined these events in the larger context of the historic US/NATO
role in creating the Turkish deep state, and of what the Times alleges,
not to mention attempting to put all the pieces together.
Maybe the pieces fit; maybe they don't. Yet unless the mainstream media
(the only media well-funded enough to undertake a proper investigation)
starts to take an interest, we will never know. After all, no one in officialdom
is talking about the Times' allegations and yet, somehow, "the
pertinent issues have been sufficiently resolved," says the White House.
In other words, Turkey's proliferation violations have been solved
even though they have never been properly explained, or even admitted, by
the powers that be.