News about Ergenekon, the name given to an alleged plot by secularist ultranationalists to topple the Turkish government, has been keeping Turks spellbound since the summer of 2007, when an investigation into the conspiracy began.
Reporting on Ergenekon (the name refers to place found in Turkish mythology) has proven to be a challenge, at least if trying to write for an audience outside of Turkey. Taking a "just the facts" approach doesn't suffice, since the facts are frequently quite murky and – there is no other way to put – simply strange, almost unexplainable outside of the Turkish context. In today’s edition of the English-language Today’s Zaman, the paper criticizes the western media’s coverage of the case in an article headlined: “Foreign media simplifies labyrinthic Ergenekon as a way out.” Perhaps. Ergenekon certainly is a labyrinth.
At the same time, it’s not hard to criticize some of the reporting that’s been done on Ergenekon by some of the Turkish papers, especially the pro-government ones (such as Today’s Zaman and it’s Turkish-language counterpart, Zaman). Often times, it’s been credulous and breathless, quick to attach to Ergenekon every unexplained political and criminal misdeed that has taken place in Turkey over the last few decades. Columnist Andrew Finkel, a wry observer of Turkish politics for Today’s Zaman, gave one of his recent pieces the title: “Ergenekon Ate My Homework.” The case, regardless of its merits, is also becoming part of the bitter struggle here between the liberal Islamic AKP government and the secularist establishment, further muddying the facts.
But it would be dangerous to caricature the case just because it is complicated and confusing. Some 100 people have been arrested as part of the investigation, among them some real nasty figures who had been previously linked to extrajudicial killings and other crimes. And, at the heart of the Ergenekon case lies the question of the Deep State, a phrase used to describe a shadowy zone where state interests intersect with lawless and corrupt elements of the bureaucracy, military and the security establishment. Ergenekon may not be the Deep State itself – perhaps something more like its bastard child – but many believe that going after its plotters would be an important step in dismantling the influence of unelected powers in Turkey.
I provide some background about the Ergenekon debate in an article in today’s Christian Science Monitor. Bianet offers a quick history of the case here.