Europe is correct to be skeptical of Turkey’s European Union accession prospects – but Brussels should be wary not because Turkey is not “part of Europe,” but because its democracy remains fragile and its liberalism incomplete.
The most obvious evidence of Turkey’s uneven progress is the ongoing Ergenekon investigation that continues to roil the country. The criminal case has led to the arrests of 194 individuals suspected of being members of Turkey’s derin devlet (Deep State) – a murky, extra-legal organization that is suspected of having close ties to the military and the bureaucracy.
At first glance, the investigation might be considered a healthy development akin to Italy’s “clean hands” investigation in the 1990s, which somewhat successfully purged the Italian state of corruption.
But a closer examination of the investigation suggests that a higher degree of skepticism is in order.
In a paper for the Central Asia – Caucasus Institute Silk Road Studies Program at Johns Hopkins’ School for Advanced International Studies, long-time Istanbul denizen and analyst of Turkey Gareth Jenkins describes in painstaking detail how the investigation is best understood as the result of wild conspiracy theories combined with a partisan effort to weaken the secular establishment, the government’s chief rival for political power.
The paper, “Between Fact and Fantasy: Turkey’s Ergenekon Investigation,” can be read here.
Here is part of Jenkins’ alarming conclusion:
Even the most cursory objective examination of the investigation raises deeply disturbing questions, which multiply and intensify the more closely the alleged evidence in the case is examined….
[Judicial concerns include] the manner in which the investigation as a whole has been handled, the disregard for due process, the prosecutors’ inability or unwillingness to understand the numerous contradictions in the indictments, the creative interpretation and occasional apparent manipulation of what little evidence is adduced, the arbitrary nature of many of the police raids, the length of time some of the suspects have been detained in prison without being formally charged, the frequency with which materials related to the case or its critics have been leaked into the public domain, and the subsequent suspicion that the investigation has become tainted by political motives.
Jenkins’ report raises serious allegations and Europeans would be correct to raise concerns. Indeed, the accession negotiations are meant to encourage Turkey to adopt liberal reforms, while discouraging illiberal governmental actions.
It is surprising, therefore, that the Ergenekon case is nearly absent from the European Commission’s most recent progress report on Turkey, published last month (two months after Jenkins’ report was published).
Here is what the 94 page (single-spaced) report has to say about the Ergenekon case.
Investigations into the alleged criminal network Ergenekon continued. Charges include attempting to overthrow the government and to instigate armed riots. Ammunition and
weapons were discovered in the course of the investigation. A first trial, which started in
October 2008, is ongoing. A second indictment, covering 56 suspects including three retired
generals and a former commander of the gendarmerie, was submitted to court in March 2009.
A third indictment covering 52 suspects was presented to the Court in July. The cases
concerning these two indictments are discussed in one single trial, which started in July 2009
and is ongoing. This is the first case in Turkey to probe into a coup attempt and the most
extensive investigation ever on an alleged criminal network aiming at destabilising the
democratic institutions. Furthermore, for the first time a former Chief of Staff testified voluntarily as a witness. Concerns have been raised about effective judicial guarantees for all
Overall, the investigation of the alleged criminal network Ergenekon has led to serious criminal charges, involving military officers. This case is an opportunity for Turkey to strengthen confidence in the proper functioning of its democratic institutions and the rule of law. It is important that proceedings in this context fully respect the due process of law, in particular the rights of the defendants….
During a press briefing in April, the Chief of General Staff made comments on the Ergenekon case and on the indictment, thus putting the judiciary under pressure. Some senior members of the armed forces lent support to military personnel standing trial.
In the context of Turkey’s judiciary, there is another reference.
High-profile cases raised concerns about the quality of the investigations. Furthermore, there is a need to improve the working relationship between the police and the gendarmerie on the one hand and the judiciary on the other. Reports by civil society organisations and statements by witnesses, in particular regarding the alleged criminal network Ergenekon, the murder of three Protestants in Malatya and the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink cases, highlighted these concerns in specific cases….There have been reports of violations of procedural rights of the accused in the judicial proceedings regarding the alleged criminal network Ergenekon.
Overall, some progress has been made, in particular on limiting the jurisdiction of military courts. However, senior members of the armed forces have made statements on issues going beyond their remit, and full parliamentary oversight of defense expenditure needs to be ensured. The alleged involvement of military personnel in anti-government activities, disclosed by the investigation on Ergenekon, raises serious concerns.
Nearly all of the report’s analysis of the Ergenekon investigation focuses on the case’s potential to strengthen civilian political power and weaken the power of the military. This has been a European objective for a long time, but it is not the only lens through which the Ergenekon investigations should be analyzed.
On the judicial concerns that Jenkins raises in his paper, the European Union Commission report notes merely that “concerns have been raised about effective judicial guarantees for all the suspects.” It does not elaborate at all.
Whether or not Jenkins’ analysis is entirely correct, it certainly suggests that the investigations merit further attention.
Europe should start paying attention, but it is important that it pay attention in the right way. Populist political campaigners should not use the investigation as evidence that Turkey is not “part of Europe” and never can be. Instead, Brussels should conduct as thorough an investigation as possible, make its results known, indicate that the investigation must be conducted in accordance with liberal norms, and insist that reforms must be implemented before Turkey can join its Union.
— Ben Katcher