Déjà vu! Inciting social unrest in the name of national interest

by Daniella Kuzmanovic

The rapid unfolding and alleged extent of the so-called Ergenekon network in Turkey startles all observers of Turkish affairs. At the heart of this wast and complex case are the allegations that a network of persons within the Turkish state apparatus, or ideologically in tune with the statist Kemalist, nationalist elite, have conspired to cause social unrest in Turkey with the aim of toppling the current AK party government. There are primarily two reasons why these people are upset with the AK party. Firstly, they are convinced that the AK party is in fact undermining the secular order of Turkey, secularism being one of the crucial principles of the Turkish republic. Secondly, they are suspicious of the way in which the AK party has pursued a policy of among other European integration, something which in their view is endangering the national sovereignty of the Turkish republic. Undermining national sovereignty means exposing Turkey (once again) to the influence of foreign powers, severely limiting the ability of Turkey to make decisions with regard to vital national interests on her own, and hence ultimately threatening the existence of the Turkish nation state. In other word these people see themselves as protecting national interests.

It has already been pointed out by various commentators and analysts, how the roots of Ergenekon in Turkey must be traced back to the 1960ies and 1970ies, and the battle against Communism and radical leftists during the Cold War period. The similarities between the strategies of the Ergenekon network and the Operation Gladio of the 1950ies have of course not gone unnoticed either. The methods are supposedly roughly the same; false flag operations in order to frame the enemy (most notably leftists and Communists) thus creating public support and legitimacy for various military and security-related measures taken against such enemies, and causing unrest in order to legitimize the use of force and cohesion to maintain social order. Among the many allegations raised against ‘the Ergenekon gang’ has thus been that they are behind the hand grenade attack in 2006 against the staunchly secular newspaper Cumhuriyet, a newspaper which represents the outlook of the Ergenekon network. In fact several of its editors, journalists and columnists have been arrested as suspects in the Ergenekon case, most notably Mustafa Balbay and Ilhan Selçuk. Another allegation is that Ergenekon was behind the attack on the Turkish council of State (Danıştay) in 2006 leaving one judge dead and four injured. One of the judges was known for ruling against the wearing of the headscarf by school teachers. The shooter yelled ‘God is great’ before he fired so as to make it look like he was seeking revenge on behalf of pro-Islamic forces in Turkey.

The other day, as I was reading about the Events of September 6-7 (1955), also known as the Istanbul pogroms, I could not help but being struck by a déjà vu. Not that this is in any way to be interpreted as an attempt on my behalf to establish any sort of direct links to the present case, although the events seemed to involve a wing of Turkish military known to be acting as a counter-guerilla. Rather than propagating any conspiracy thinking, it simply struck me how these strategies of false flag operations and the stirring of social unrest appear again and again in a number of historical contexts, also in Turkey, in order to protect or strengthen the nation state. That is too say they are instigated in the name of national interest. The wider context of the pogroms was not least the way in which the Cyprus issue had become redefined as a matter of vital Turkish national interest during the early 1950ies, thus being able to serve as a mean to mobilize Turks versus Greeks including Turks versus the Greek minority in Turkey.

The event, which set in motion the Istanbul pogroms, however, was the news of the bombing of the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki on September 5th 1955, near the house which was the birthplace of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It was therefore depicted as a plot against Turkey. The following day, as the reports reached Istanbul through the vivid (but not altogether accurate) accounts of the Turkish press, crowds started gathering around Taksim square. The mobilization is suspected to be partly orchestrated by Turkish military and other authorities, partly by civic and political organizations sympathetic to the Turkish nationalistic account of the Cyprus issue. But no doubt the mobilization also gathered strength from the general strong animosities towards the Greeks accentuated by the nationalization of the Cyprus issue and the way this had been exploited by the Democratic Party, the party in power throughout the 1950ies in Turkey, in order to gain public support in the face of economic hardships. The crowds soon began to attack businesses and properties belonging to non-Muslim minorities, particularly Greeks, and the riots spread beyond Taksim. The events lasted until midnight, when the Turkish Army intervened and declared martial law. The results were devastating, although sources vary as to the number of businesses, residences, schools and churches attacked and the number of persons assaulted. The long term effects were that yet many more from the Greek-speaking minority left Turkey, hence contributing to the homogenization of the population bringing it in accordance with the national ideal of the homogenous (ethnic) Turkish nation state.

The déjà vu, though, most of all stems from the fact that the bomber of the Turkish consulate in Thessaloniki, Oktay Engin, turned out to be connected to the Turkish Intelligence Service. In other words it was a false flag operation most probably intended as part of a plot to cause social unrest and incite acts of revenge against Greeks in Turkey. This, of course, all in the name of protecting and advancing national interest.


Studies on Events of September 6-7, 1955:

Güven, Dilek (2006): Cumhuriyet dönemi azınlık politikaları ve stratejileri bağlamında 6-7 Eylül 1955 olayları. İletişim

Vryonis, Speros Jr. (2005): The Mechanism of Catastrophe: The Turkish Pogrom of September 6 – 7, 1955 and the Destruction of the Greek Community of Istanbul. Greekworks.com. Inc

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