Turkey's Ergenekon Imbroglio and Academia's Apathy

Hakki Tas
Content Type
Journal Article
Insight Turkey
Issue Number
Publication Date
Winter 2014
SETA Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research
The Gladio Scandal in Europe and, more recently, Turkey's Ergenekon trials highlight the importance of hidden power networks behind the façade of parliamentary democracy. Dubbed as “deep state” in the Turkish context, the phenomenon suffers from a scarcity of scholarly analyses. This paper demonstrates the lack of academic interest in this complex issue in Europe, and Turkey in particular. After reviewing the central currents in the academic literature on the Turkish deep state, it offers an analysis of the Ergenekon affair in continuity with Turkey's recent past.
Development, Government
Political Geography
Europe, Turkey
At the heart of civil-military relations lies a pervasive problem: “Who will guard the guardians?” This two-millennium-old question warns us against the risk of agent-opportunism, which is the alleged case par excellence in contemporary Turkey. In July 2008, former generals and active duty officers were charged with running a covert terrorist organization, Ergenekon, and inciting an armed insurgence aimed at bringing down the government of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). At the end of the five-year trial, the court acquitted only 21 out of some 275 defendants and handed down harsh sentences to the rest. From the very outset of the investigation, Turkish newspapers filled thousands of pages with descriptions of the indictments, painting the Ergenekon affair as an enthralling thriller; yet, it is important to note that news about the state's ties to the criminal underworld is far from a novel event. The prosecution has been viewed as a blow against the long-established Turkish derin devlet (deep state), a widely used term referring to parallel state operations and a hidden power network outside established state hierarchies. Such subversions imply that conspiratorial coalitions, composed of high-level figures of intelligence services, military, judiciary, business, and mafia, operate within (if not above) the political system. Recently, the term “deep state” has been borrowed by several international scholars to analyze non-Turkish contexts, as well. In his analysis of Britain's role in the Iraq War, Anthony Barnett, for instance, questions whether there is “a UK 'deep state'.” Similarly, in The Road to 9/11, Peter Dale Scott examines the “American deep state,” which is presented as a world of terrorism, oil, drug trafficking, and arms trade behind the facade of liberal democracy. Scott observes a parallel power structure responsible for setting the agenda of the American government. Furthermore, utilizing Hans Morgenthau's conception of the “dual state,” Ola Tunander locates the deep state vis-à-vis the democratic state and views it as not just a parallel state, but rather a political formation that exerts control over the latter. Despite such references to the deep state in European and American academic circles, the term appears to have attracted much less interest within Turkish academia. This article primarily deals with the lack of academic interest on the Ergenekon affair as a manifestation of the Turkish deep state. As Ergenekon is considered to be part of the stay-behind networks in Western Europe, popularly named as Gladio, the article first treats the trajectory of studies on stay-behind terrorism and points to the scarcity of scholarly work in European academia. Thereafter, it focuses on the Turkish case, while reviewing the main currents of the Ergenekon affair within Turkish studies and, finally, highlights the importance of investigating the subject in its historical continuity with Turkey's recent past.