Not only did the group – known in the media as Ergenekon – allegedly plan to topple the government, it also plotted to intervene in Cyprus to prevent the possible implementation of the UN’s Annan plan for the reunification of the island.
Investigations into the ultra-nationalist Ergenekon group have been ongoing since police raided a house in Istanbul in June last year and found a collection of arms and explosives, along with computer documents outlining plans to overthrow the government. Since then, tens of people have been arrested, including retired military generals, journalists, university lecturers, businessmen and economists.
Forty-eight of them are currently being held in jail, and face possible charges of plotting bomb attacks, assassinations and clandestine media campaigns aimed at triggering a military coup. Their alleged plans include a plot to kill Nobel Prize winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk and a bomb attack in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. It has also been suggested that the group might be linked to the murder of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007.
But what makes the ongoing Ergenekon saga interesting for Cypriots is the allegation that the group was plotting to “intervene” to prevent the UN’s Annan plan going to referendum in the north of the island by sparking a military takeover. And what makes the story yet more significant for Cypriots is the allegation, made by a number of journalists in Turkey, that former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash was to be the one who would give instructions on when and how the takeover was to be carried out. These allegations are based on extracts from the diary of retired Navy General Ozden Ornek, which apparently stated that he and two other retired generals had received “secret messages” from Denktash in February 2004, and that the “theory and practice” of what the generals were to carry out was to be “as directed by Denktash”.
Denktash has not responded to these allegations, despite the banner headline of one Turkish Cypriot newspaper on June 5 gleefully implying that Denktash could himself face arrest in the near future. The former leader also refused an interview with this paper, and has limited his public comments on the subject to saying that he is “saddened” by the arrests of those “who would give their all for their country”.
As a result, debate – albeit hushed – continues in the north over Denktash’s possible links with the currently imprisoned alleged plotters. Head of the Cyprus Policy Centre at Famagusta’s Eastern Mediterranean (EMU) Dr Ahmet Sozen says that although Denktash’s links with the nationalist movement in Turkey are “known to be close” he believes Denktash to be “intelligent enough not to associate himself with people engaged in illegal activities”.
Similarly, Turkish Cypriot journalist Basaran Duzgun wrote on July 5 that he did not believe Denktash would face arrest if he travelled to Turkey and went further by saying that the fact the Turkish Cypriots got through the referendum without untoward incident was partly down to Denktash’s handling of it. “Denktash’s referendum record is clean,” Basaran insists, although what he says could be perceived as implying that Denktash simply did not think it necessary to instigate a coup. Indeed, by the last round of negotiations on the Annan plan in February 2004, it had become fairy certain the Greek Cypriots were going to reject the plan.
But not everyone agrees that the former hands are entirely clean. One Turkish Cypriot political analyst who asked not to be named said, “I don’t have any doubts of his [Denktash’s] involvement. Most of the people who have been arrested are his friends.” He went to say that Denktash had an “ideological identification” with the Ergenekon group and believed, like the group, in pan Turkism, a romantic notion whereby all Turkish-speaking and ethnically Turkish peoples unite to form a greater Turkish nation. The analyst also believes that Denktash, who he says sought the toppling of the Turkish government because of its stance on the Cyrus problem, could face arrest in Turkey “if the government wishes to do so”.
“It is after all a crime to encourage a coup against a democratically elected government,” the analyst concluded.
Another analyst, who also preferred not to be named, said Denktash’s involvement in the Ergenekon group “almost goes without saying”, but added that arrest was unlikely because he was “simply too popular in Turkey”, and that this might provide public sympathy for the group.
Whether Denktash faces arrest, or whether he will be called to give evidence in court, remains to be seen. What is clear is that the Ergenekon scandal will rock Turkey to its foundations, and that major tremors will be felt across Cyprus.
By Simon Bahceli, Cyprus Mail, July 13,2008