May 18 2018

New book reveals Erdoğan’s ties to Ergenekon trials

A former aide to Turkey’s previous president has written a sensational new book that says the current head of state, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, worked closely with individuals belonging to the now-banned Gülen movement to co-ordinate a series of rigged trials of secularists within Turkey’s security services, Cumhuriyet newspaper said.

The second memoir written by Ahmet Sever, the press secretary to Erdoğan’s predecessor as president, Abdullah Gül, characterises the era after their Justice and Development Party came to power from 2002 onwards as “a story that began well and ended badly”. He also gives some of context behind developments at the top of the party during that time.

The Gülen movement is an Islamist group that follows Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish preacher living in the United States. The Turkish government accuses the movement of carrying out a failed coup attempt in 2016, and hundreds of thousands of people have since been detained, fired, or jailed on charges of membership of the group.

Starting in 2008, prosecutors and judicial officials linked to the Gülen movement brought a string of prosecutions, known as the Ergenekon trials, against what they said was a conspiracy among a rogue, strongly secular-nationalist group within the media, state, and security services threatening to bring down Erdoğan’s Islamist government.

Of the hundreds arrested an tried as part of the trials, all have been acquitted after it emerged that the evidence had been falsified and no such group existed. A handful of suspects committed suicide.

“All operations in the judiciary had been carried out by Gülenists, spies and prosecutors in close communication with Erdoğan and with his knowledge and approval,” Sever wrote.

The chief prosecutor of the Ergenekon trials, Zekeriye Öz, “was working directly under Erdoğan,” he said.

The justice minister of the time, Sadullah Ergin, tried to get an appointment with Öz for more than a year to talk to him about the low level of evidence being cited in the cases, Sever said, and the Gülen movement responded by trying to get Ergin removed from his post.

After the 2016 failed coup, there were even attempts to smear Ergin as a Gülenist, Sever said.

When then-president Gül sought to express his concerns about the arrests of investigative journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener in 2011, Öz warned him that “no office or authority can give us orders”, leading to the first rift between Gül and the Gülenists, Sever said.

Öz, for his part, has taken asylum in Germany, and pro-government Turkish newspapers have alleged that he has provided sensitive legal information to German intelligence.

Sever also said it was Parliamentary Constitutional Commission President Mustafa Şentop, a deputy for Erdoğan’s party, who had told the British journalist David Gardner that, “we will accuse Gül and Davutoğlu of being Gülenists and throw them in jail” if they sought to speak out during the 2017 referendum on a transition to a presidential system.

These words, Sever said, could never have been spoken without Erdoğan’s approval.

Sever also explained that a 2012 change to the presidential electoral rules by Erdoğan’s party to disallow former presidents from standing was the result of tensions between Erdoğan and Gül stemming from Gül’s 2007 candidacy for the presidency.

Erdoğan had sent allies including his advisors Yalçın Akdoğan and Akif Beki to ensure that the media sent messages dissuading Gül from standing for the presidency in 2007, Sever said, as Erdoğan wanted to stand a closer ally, Vecdi Gönül, but he was hamstrung when Gül suddenly decided to stand anyway. Erdoğan was informed of Gül’s candidacy by Gül’s head of security shortly before his press conference announcing it to the world.

Sever also cited former Turkish ambassador to UNESCO Gürcan Balık, who is believed to have been a high-ranking member of the Gülen movement, as saying that then-prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s decision to visit Fethullah Gülen in September 2013 was taken by Davutoğlu alone without Erdoğan’s knowledge. When Davutoğlu was later removed from prime ministerial office by Erdoğan, he sought and was denied a meeting with Gül four times, Sever said.