July 13, 2014

Minorities not buying plot to blame Christian murders on Hizmet

Representatives of Turkey's non-Muslim minorities say there is nothing credible about a recent attempt to blame the Hizmet movement for bloody acts committed targeting the country's religious minorities over the past decade.

Evidence that emerged during the investigations of the 2006 murder of Italian priest Father Andrea Santoro, the 2007 murders of three missionaries in Malatya and the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink, also in 2007, as well as in the trials regarding the members of the coup-plotting network Ergenekon, has shown that most of the attacks against non-Muslims in recent years were part of a plot to stir agitation and chaos in the country in order to overthrow the democratically elected government. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has prided itself on ending the powerful Turkish military's custodian-like influence over Turkish politics, often citing the trials of former and active military members who stood trial as suspects in planned or attempted coups.

However, things have changed drastically since the AK Party government itself became the target of a massive corruption investigation, which was made public on Dec. 17, 2013. In response, the AK Party has asserted that the corruption accusations were part of a plot to overthrow it. It has claimed that the faith-based Hizmet movement, inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, is behind the accusations, although has failed to provide evidence to support this claim. The government has also demoted many police officers, judges and prosecutors to “purge” these branches of individuals whom the government believes might be connected to Hizmet, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refers to as the “parallel structure.”

The government has also made changes to legislation pertaining the judiciary, which has resulted in the release of the suspects in various trials regarding attempted coups d'état.

But Secretary-General of the Association of Protestant Churches Umut Şahin says it is clear as day that Ergenekon was behind the many recent attacks against non-Muslims. Şahin noted that many of the suspects who were convicted in the Ergenekon and related trials are individuals known publicly for their hate-speech targeting non-Muslims. Şahin said recent efforts to associate the Hizmet movement with the violent acts against non-Muslims are an attempt to divert attention from the networks that are actually behind the events.

Şahin also said that the release of the suspects in the Zirve trial -- who stand accused of having murdered three missionaries at the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya in 2007 -- was a traumatic experience for the country's Christians.

The suspects were released after the AK Party made changes to the court system following the bribery allegations it has faced. The suspects were released, along with the suspects in the coup plot trials, after the government abolished specially authorized courts (ÖYM) hearing terrorism-related cases and reduced the maximum detention period before a final verdict from 10 years to five. As per Law No. 6526, which went into effect after being published in the Official Gazette in March, anyone who has been in prison for five years without a final verdict on their case will be released.

Şahin closely followed the trial regarding the brutal murders of Bible publishers Tilmann Geske, Uğur Yüksel and Necati Aydın on April 18, 2007 at the Zirve Publishing House. He says his community has known and felt from the start of the trial that groups related to the state are behind the murders. He noted that it became clear during the trial that the murders were masterminded by Ergenekon.

During the course of the trial, the prosecution alleged that an illegal organization inside the military called the National Strategies and Operations Department of Turkey (TUSHAD), which does not exist on paper, had solicited the murders of the three men. Şahin said, “Although the murders were committed by these five young men,” he said, referring to defendants Emre Günaydın, Cuma Özdemir, Hamit Çeker, Salih Gürler and Abuzer Yıldırım, for whom the prosecution has demanded life without parole, “We know that those who instigated, or more correctly encouraged, these murders were part of a power that created the atmosphere for these murders to take place. And the tip-off letters sent by an anonymous source after the start of the trial have proven us right. The entire public knows about the anti-Christian hate speech and other actions stemming from hatred that were committed by the many people who have been arrested in operations looking into Ergenekon. And other evidence that emerged later on during the trial also clearly showed that it was this shady structure with ties to the deep state -- either Ergenekon or a gang of a similar mentality -- that was behind the murders.”

He said he didn't believe that the murders are connected to the Hizmet movement and noted that a hard drive belonging to Maj. Haydar Yeşil, another suspect in the Zirve case, included voice recordings of four individuals, including retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon, the alleged founder of TUSHAD. Şahin also recalled that the group's files on and plans against Hizmet were found on the same drive.

“Attempts to link this incident to the Hizmet movement were made before,” Şahin said, noting that these were efforts to water down the investigation and create disinformation. “There were also efforts to blame the victims at the beginning of the trial,” he said, noting that there had been claims that the murders were the result of infighting among different Christian groups in the city.

In the last few hearings of the Zirve trial, some of the suspects accused of involvement in the murders said this parallel structure was behind the murders. They also said that their only crime was to try and fight this parallel structure. Not surprisingly, these statements came only very recently and only after Erdoğan's invention of the phrase “parallel state,” although the trial is now in its seventh year.

Şahin said “some groups” were trying to use non-Muslim minorities as tools in their struggle for power. “All we want is for the truth to come out like the sun at midday. We pray for this,” he said.

Published on Today's Zaman, 12 July 2014, Saturday