Ergekenon–the Movie

Turkey’s long-running case against alleged plotters to overthrow the government reached another milestone on August 5 when an Istanbul court handed down sentences in the so-called Ergenekon affair.  The results were astounding. According to lists published in the Turkish media, recapped below, the court handed out 22 life sentences plus 1267 years, 11 months, and 15 days to some 84 individuals convicted in the main Ergenekon case earlier this year.  One of the sentenced, a retired Turkish Army captain convicted of playing a particularly central role in the affair, received two life terms plus 117 years. 

Life sentences went to a number of the senior-most generals in the Turkish Armed Forces during the 2000s, including former Chief of the Turkish General Staff (TGS) Gen. İlker Başbuğ, Deputy Chief of the General Staff and later First Army Commander Gen. Hasan Iğsız, former Jandarma Commander Gen. Şener Eruygur, a former Special Forces commander, and five other generals and admirals.  Four ex-colonels got the same fate. Sixteen other military figures of various ranks got ten years or more–—several 40 years-plus. 

Former journalist Mustafa Balbay, former university rector Mehmet Haberal, and former Ankara Chamber of Commerce president Sinan Aygün, who were elected to the Turkish parliament in 2011 on the Republican People’s Party (CHP) ticket, received a total of 59 years and 3 months in prison for their alleged role in Ergenekon.  Haberal was among several individuals to win an immediate release for time already served or for other reasons.  No less than four other former university rectors and the former head of the Higher Education Board (YÖK), Kemal Gürüz, received sentences averaging over 14 years.  Ten journalists and writers, some associated with ultranationalist or other fringe publications, collectively got 143 years and 2 months on top of the life term meted out to one of them.  Kemal Kerinçsiz, the prosecutor who went after Turkish writer and (later) Nobel Prize for literature winner Orhan Pamuk for having allegedly insulted Turkishness in violation of the country’s penal code, got life without parole for the part he was convicted of having played in plotting to overthrow the government.  The very small, left-wing Labor Party polled badly in the court.  Its chairman, two deputy chairman, and five others associated with it got lengthy prison terms. 

Among the military leaders, the life sentence handed down to General Başbuğ will be particularly noted.  As TGS chief, Başbuğ seemed at least publicly to involve himself and the military less in domestic politics than his controversial predecessor, Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt, who was chief when the military intervened to try to block then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül’s election to the presidency in 2007.  However, Başbuğ and fellow top military commanders boycotted public functions hosted by President Gül in 2007 and 2008, including to commemorate Turkey’s independence day—an unusual act of disloyalty, if not insubordination to the country’s head of state.  Başbuğ was accused of terrorism and attempting to overthrow the government, charges he hotly denies and that many observers regard as far-fetched.  In one sense, his fate may not be so widely regretted in the Turkish military.  Başbuğ was regarded as more of an aloof staff officer—as opposed to the more popular “soldier’s soldier” Büyükanıt.  And some in the military believed that he, again unlike his predecessor, failed to defend the military’s prerogatives. 

Everything about Ergenekon is sad and unpleasant—like a bad movie.  To many Westerners, the accusations that brought together figures from the military, academia, the far left, and the criminal world have long looked dubious.  Many accusations were made that the case against many of those accused looked falsified.  Issues in the Turkish judicial system that have long existed, including the problem of lengthy pre-trial detentions, legal proceedings that seem never to end, and what many observers regard as questionable evidentiary standards, seem not to have gotten better, and many Turks believe that the courts are now more politicized than ever.  

The long sentences meted out seem to many to be excessive, especially in light of the fact that as far as one can tell and whatever plotting or planning there may have been, no coup or coup attempt actually took place.  Be that as it may, they look as if they were designed to convey the clear message that anyone contemplating a coup now can look forward to a zillion years in jail.  It’s worth remembering in that context the pain that millions of Turks went through, not to mention the lives lost and democratic institutions undermined, as a result of military interventions in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997.  Even just a few years ago, a coup did not look terribly improbable and the possibility of one was never far from Turks’ minds as civilian and uniformed leaders squared off over this or that issue.  Whatever Turkey and Turkish democracy may need – and opinions clearly differ on what it needs both within the country and among its friends and observers abroad, it’s not more coups. 

But it is possible both to be passionate on the issue of no more coups and saddened about the extraordinary sentences meted out in this case that has aroused so much controversy.  Whatever guilt in the Ergenekon case they may bear, some, perhaps many of those now facing more long years in jail also did honorable things for their country.  And the unfortunately widespread perception—fair or not—that the Ergenekon trial and its results were a political, not a judicial matter should concern Turkey and those who care about it.  To too many, the process and the result do not look like the picture of the modern, law-based, and fairer country that Turks have thought themselves to be building, with considerable ups, downs, and exceptions, over the last 16 years.  Coupled with the controversy over Gezi Park, it will be a burden for the Justice and Development (AK) Party government, and the country as a whole, as they move forward. 

Ross Wilson is director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and former ambassador to Turkey (2005-08) and to Azerbaijan (2000-03).   

Ergenekon Sentences Announced August 5, 2013

Senior Military Figures 

  • Gen. İlker Başbuğ, Gen., former Chief of the Turkish General Staff (TGS) – life
  • Hasan Iğsız, Gen., former 1st Army Commander & Deputy Chief of the TGS – life
  • Nusret Taşdeler, Gen., retired – life
  • Şener Eruygur, Gen., former Jandarma Commander – life
  • Hurşit Tolon, Gen., retired – life
  • Kemal Yavuz, Gen., retired – 7 years, 6 months
  • Tuncer Kılınç, Gen., retired and formerSecretary General of the National Security Council– 13 years, 2 months
  • Hıfzı Çubuklu, Maj. Gen., retired and former TGS legal counsel– 9 years, 6 months, but ordered released
  • Mehmet Eröz, Lt. Gen., retired – life
  • Levent Ersöz, Brig. Gen., retired – 22 years, 6 months
  • Veli Küçük, Brig. Gen., retired– 2 life terms w/o parole
  • Mehmet Otuzbiroğlu, Vice Adm., retired Vice Adm.– 20 years, 6 months, but ordered released
  • İsmail Hakkı Pekin, Lt. Gen., retired and former head of TGS intelligence– 7 years, 6 months
  • İbrahim Şahin, former Special Forces Interim Commander – 49 years, 4 months
  • Erdal Şenel, Maj. Gen., retired and former TGS legal advisor– 7 years, 6 months
  • Alaattin Sevim Rear Adm., retired – 10 years 

Other Military Figures 

  • Dursun Çiçek, Col., retired – life without parole
  • İlyas Çınar, Col., retired – 12 years, 2 months
  • Arif Doğan, Col., retired – 47 years, 3 months
  • Mustafa Levent Göktaş, Col., retired – 20 years, 9 months
  • Fikri Karadağ, Col., retired and head of the Kuvvayi Milliye Derneği (National Forces Association) – life without parole
  • Fuat Selvi, Col., retired – life
  • Hasan Atilla Uğur, Col., retired – 29 years, 3 months
  • Hasan Ataman Yildirim, Col., retired – life without parole
  • Mustafa Dönmez, Lt. Col, retired – 49 years, 2 months
  • Fikret Emek,  Maj., retired – 41 years, 4 months
  • Mehmet Zekeriya Öztürk, Capt, retired.– 19 years, 6 months
  • Muzaffer Tekin, Capt., retired – 2 life terms without parole plus 117 years
  • Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Lt.– 16 years, 6 months
  • Noyan Çalıkuşu, Lt– 8 years, 6 months
  • Oktay Yıldırım, NCO, retired – 33 years, 10 months
  • Mehmet Demirtaş, Sgt., retired – 22 years
  • Serdar Öztürk, soldier, retired andlawyer– 25 years, 6 months 

Members of Parliament

  • Sinan Aygün,  Member of Parliament (CHP) and former Ankara Chamber of Commerce president– 12 years, 6 months
  • Mustafa Balbay, Member of Parliament (CHP) and journalist– 34 years, 8 months
  • Mehmet Haberal, Member of Parliament (CHP) and former Baskent University Rector Prof.– 12 years, 6 months, but ordered released 

University Rectors and Professors

  • Kemal Gürüz, former Higher Education Board (YÖK) Chairman – 13 years, 11 months
  • Kemal Alemdaroğlu, former Istanbul University Rector – 15 years, 8 months
  • Ferit Bernay, former 19th of May University Rector – 10 years
  • Fatih Hilmioğlu, former İnönü University Rector – 23 years
  • Mustafa Yurtkuran, former Uludağ University Rector – 10 years
  • Erol Manisalı, Istanbul University Prof. – 9 years, 8 months
  • Mehmet Perinçek, Istanbul UniversityProf. and son of Labor Party Chairman Doğu Perinçek – 6 years, but ordered release
  • Ümit Sayın, Forensics InstituteAssociate Prof – 4 years 

Journalists and Writers 

  • Ferhan Bolluk, journalist andformer Aydınlık magazine editor-in-chief – 7 years, 6 months
  • Adnan Bulut, journalist 6 years, 3 months
  • Unal Inanc, journalist 19 years, 1 month
  • Güler Kömürcü, journalist– 7 years, 2 months
  • Yalçın Küçük, writer– 22 years, 6 months
  • Tuncay Özkan, journalist – life without parole plus 15 years
  • Bekir Ozturk, writer– 12 years
  • Ergün Poyraz, author – 29 years, 4 months
  • Vedat Yenerer, journalist – 7 years, 6 months
  • Deniz Yıldırım, journalist and former Aydinlik magazine editor-in-chief 16 years, 10 months 

Labor Party and movement 

  • Doğu Perinçek, Labor Party Chairman – life without parole
  • Ferit İlsever, Labor Party Deputy Chairman – 15 years
  • Turan Özlü, Labor Party Deputy Chairman – 9 years
  • Adnan Akfırat, Labor Party administrator – 19 years
  • Hikmet Çiçek, Labor Party press secretary – 21 years, 9 months
  • Hayrettin Ertekin, Labor Party administrator – 12 years
  • Emcet Olcayto, Labor Party lawyer – 13 years, 2 months
  • Nusret Senem, Former lawyer for the Labor Party General Secretariat – 20 years, 3 months
  • Mustafa Özbek, Workers Union administratorlife 

Individuals charged in attacks against the Daniştay (Council of State) and Cumhuriyet newspaper 

  • Alparslan Arslan, suspect in the Daniştay attack – 2 life terms plus 90 years
  • Osman Yıldırım, suspect in the Daniştay attack and retired NCO – 8 years, 9 months
  • Bedirhan Şinal, suspect in the bombing ofCumhuriyet– 18 years, 8 months 

Other Noteworthy Individuals 

  • Gürbüz Çapan, former Esenyurt mayor – 1 year, 3 months
  • Sevgi Erenerol, former Spokesman, Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate – life
  • Erkut Ersoy, allegedfounder of an organization called the Special Bureau Intelligence Group – 15 years, 15 days
  • Semih Tufan Günaltay, National Unity Party (UBP) Chairman (and alleged criminal figure) – 10 years
  • Kemal Kerinçsiz, prosecutor and lawyer – life without parole
  • Durmuş Ali Özoğlu, former Kuvayi Milliye (National Forces) Association Deputy Chairman – life without parole
  • Ferda Paksüt, wife of a Constitutional Court judge – 2 years, 6 months
  • Sedat Peker, criminal figure 10 years
  • Adil Serdar Saçan, former Police Commissioner – 14 years, 5 months
  • Levent Temiz, former Ülkü Ocakları (National Hearth) Chairman and lawyer – 10 years
  • Ali Yasak, criminal figure– 6 years, 3 months 


  • Kemal Aydın – 20 years, 8 months
  • Fatma Cengiz – 11 years
  • Halil Behiç Gürcihan – 8 years, 9 months
  • Sami Hoştan – 10 years
  • Boğaç Kaan Murathan – 17 years
  • İbrahim Özcan – 14 years, 8 months
  • Ozlem Usta – 3 years, 6 months

Related Experts: Ross Wilson