Most of the media coverage since Sunday’s bombings in Istanbul (which killed some 16 people) has been dominated by speculation that either the Kurdish nationalist PKK or one of the Islamic terrorist groups active in Turkey may have been responsible. Given that the knee-jerk reaction of Kemalist nationalists is to blame the PKK for everything of this kind, and that other reactionaries of a more Western flavour have a tendency to cry “Islamic Terrorism”, it was inevitable that these two groups would be flagged up as suspects. Indeed, neither would I discount either possibility, for all the predictability of the sourced that have raised them. However, in the course of yesterday another intriguing possibility was raised.
Bulent Kenes, writing on Comment is Free, suggests that the shadowy ultra-nationalist Ergenekon network, which is currently involved in a fight to the death with the ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, may have had a role in the bombings. He points out that the 2,455 page document indicting Ergenekon points out the organisation’s links not only with the PKK, but also with the “leftist” Mahir Cayan cultists of the DHKP-C, and also with Islamist terror organisations such as Turkish Hezbollah (as an aside, not linked to the Lebanese organisation of the same name). In the context of the current trials, both literal and of strength, between Ergenekon and the AKP, the ultra-nationalists would certainly be helped by a convenient extremist attack in Turkey’s largest city.
If this all seems implausible then I would ask you to bear in mind two things. Firstly, it has been done before, as demonstrated by various governments’ sponsorship of terror groups worldwide for all sorts of reasons. Early Israeli support for Hamas in an effort to break the PLO would make a very clear comparison with what Kenes and others suggest Ergekon is trying to do here. Secondly, Turkey is a country which almost (but not quite) forms an “exception that proves the rule” about grand conspiracies. There is a highly politicised “Deep State” in Turkey; this is both widely documented and commonly accepted. Ergenekon is a current, public manifestation of that long standing phenomenon. Indeed the only surprises or suspicions for me are the links raised in the Ergenekon document between said shadowy ultra-nationalists and groups such as the DHKP-C. For all that the latter group are self-flagellating cultists (their speciality is having their own members starve themselves to death en masse in Turkish jails, with no obvious demand other than “the revolution” or some such), their political record of written attacks on the “contra-guerilla” structures of the Deep State has been totally consistent. Also, there is something about the Ergenekon document that seems remarkably convenient in that it lumps together quite literally all of the AK Parti’s most fierce traditional enemies into one big, eradicable mass. Yet for all that suspicion, the notion that Ergenekon was behind Sunday’s attacks remains far from implausible.
In conclusion, what to make of this theory? I am frankly not sure. However what I do believe is that Sunday’s attacks were far too conveniently timed to be unconnected to the current constitutional battle within Turkey. Whether an extremist group acted alone or was backed by one of the protagonists, the attacks can only have helped Ergenekon’s members and harmed the legitimately elected AK Parti government. As a consequence it remains an open question whether the stories circulating about Ergenekon’s involvement are based in truth or in spin fed by AKP supporters to credulous journalists who would believe anything of the Deep State. It is to be hoped at the very least that the deaths of so many innocents in Istanbul will not be forgotten in the course of Turkey’s struggle towards the sort of democratic politics and civil freedoms that those of us in “the west” take for granted.