The Ergenekon affair: Turkish/Orthodox controversy

religion | Feb 21, 2008 | By Ioannis R. Grigoriadis

The Church of Panagia Kafatiani in Istanbul was the headquarters of Ergenekon, a group that planned to bring Turkey's Europeanisation to a halt through a series of assassinations. The group sprang from a bizarre institution, the Independent Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate.

A series of arrests in the last weeks has brought to the fore the links of the Turkish deep state (derin devlet) with one of the most paradoxical constructions of Turkish nationalism, the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate.

Criminal investigation has been unravelling the traces of Ergenekon - which most Turkish newspapers call a terrorist organisation - a product of the cooperation between the Turkish deep state and far-right extremists.

Named after the mythical location of the birth of the Turkish nation, Ergenekon's membership consists of retired officers, policemen, rogue intellectuals and lawyers. What brought this group together was its members' determination to derail what they saw as Turkey's course towards partition, in other words Turkey's democratisation reform.

They developed links with organised crime with the aim to orchestrate the assassination of prominent liberal intellectuals and minority leaders. In their lists featured the names of Orhan Pamuk - Turkey's first and only Nobel Prize laureate - Kurdish political leaders such as Ahmet Turk, Leyla Zana, Sebahat Tuncel and Osman Baydemir, as well as Fehmi Koru, columnist of the liberal Islamist daily Yeni Safak. Their aim was to wreak havoc in Turkish society through a series of assassinations and provoke one more military coup in 2009, bringing Turkey's democratisation process and EU accession negotiations to a precipitous end.

Their underground activity was abruptly stopped on January 23, when 33 people were arrested, including Veli Kucuk, a retired army general; Fikret Karadag, a retired army colonel; Sami Hostan, a key figure in the Susurluk affair, a car accident that shocked Turkey in 1996 by disclosing the links between the deep state and organised crime; Guler Komurcu, a columnist of the Aksam daily; and Kemal Kerincsiz.

The latter is a lawyer who repeatedly attracted publicity through his lawsuits against Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos and Orhan Pamuk, as well as the organisation of an academic conference on the Armenian question in 2005.

Kucuk, seen as the most prominent of all detainees, was thought to be the founder of Jandarma Istihbarat ve Terorle Mucadele (JITEM), a clandestine organisation of the Turkish Gendarmerie with the mission to instigate terrorist attacks that would then be attributed to other groups, Islamist or nationalist.

Kucuk was suspected of involvement in the assassination of a senior judge in Turkey's Supreme Administrative Court in May 2006, a bomb attack against the Istanbul premises of the secularist daily Cumhuriyet in the same month and even the assassination of the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January 2007. Evidence found during the police operation only reinforced these suspicions.

One of the detainees was Sevgi Erenerol, the press officer of the Independent Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate. To make things even more interesting, it was reported that the detainees were regularly meeting and even storing ammunition in Panagia Kafatiani, one of the most historic Orthodox churches of Istanbul. Panagia Kafatiani was the effective headquarters of the Ergenekon. To understand how this could happen, one needs to look into the history of one of the most bizarre byproducts of Turkish nationalism: the Independent Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate.

In the years of the 1919-1922 Greek-Turkish war, Mustafa Kemal, the Republic of Turkey's first president, won an unconventional ally. A Greek Orthodox priest from Akdag Maden in East Central Anatolia, Pavlos Karahisaridis - later to become widely known as Papa-Eftim - joined Turkish nationalist force



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