ARRESTED TURKISH JOURNALIST SIK MOUNTS DEFENSE ON A NEWS WEBSITE
Arrested journalist Ahmet Şık has presented a virtual defense on a news website after he was unable to give it at his trial, as no vehicles could be found to transport him from jail to the courthouse.
"I am being tried for having written a book [with Ertuğrul Mavioğlu] that gives an account of the 'deep state' that is now referred to as 'Ergenekon,' while I also stand accused of participating in this organization that I am trying to help uncover. Are you perplexed now? So am I," Şık wrote in his defense, which was published Wednesday by the news portal bianet.org.
The journalist's April 14 trial was postponed to May 13 because the prison where he is being held could not provide transportation to the courthouse in Istanbul's Kadıköy district. The judge said Şık had to be brought to the next hearing.
Şık subsequently sent the defense he could not give in front of the court to bianet.
"The only thing that I can say regarding my being a defendant in this case is that the judicial system in Turkey finds its life blood through the jurisprudence of a lunatic asylum. I am a suspect in this case because we penned a book that tried to elaborate on the tradition of the deep state [in Turkey], which in the past had been called counter-guerilla, Gladio, the special operations department or Susurluk, but is now referred to as Ergenekon," Şık wrote.
The journalist also claimed that the perception in Turkey about the deep state now being subjected to an investigation was false and intentionally fabricated, which he said was what he and Mavioğlu were trying to show in their book, "40 Katır 40 Satır" (Between a Rock and a Hard Place). He added, however, that their allegations about the Ergenekon probe did not mean they did not take the case seriously, and that, to the contrary, they had made a point to say that the investigators themselves should also take the case seriously.
"I stand accused of being a member of the Ergenekon [gang]. [We have been told] that there is top-secret evidence that neither I nor my lawyers know anything about, and about which we are not [even] allowed to know. Of course, we do not believe in any of this," he wrote in his defense.
"It is crystal-clear that I will not be siding with a mindset that I have opposed throughout my entire 20-year career and with my political stance, which I define as socialist," Şık said. "What I am saying is that Turkey needs inquisitive prosecutors who can understand what they read and who possess an analytical mind."
Ergenekon is an alleged ultranationalist, shadowy gang accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup, initially by spreading chaos and mayhem. It is alleged extension of the "deep state," an unofficial organization within the state that has operated above the elected governments since the beginning of the Cold War.
TURKISH JUDGE FOR "SLEDGEHAMMER," MILITARY SPYING CASE TAKES BREAK
The head judge in the "Balyoz" (Sledgehammer) alleged coup-plot trial and a military espionage trial has taken a month-long leave of absence after quarreling with the other two judges in the former case.
Accordingly, the judge, Şeref Akçay, did not attend the first hearing of the military espionage trial Wednesday.
The disagreement in the Sledgehammer case stemmed from the arrested suspects' demand to be released pending the conclusion of the trial. Akçay supported the request, saying the suspects did not attempt to escape when they were released temporarily last year and that they could not tamper with any evidence as it had all been collected.
Judges Metin Özçelik and Birol Bilen disagreed, arguing that some of the active high-ranking officers involved in the case may be able to influence the trial if released, and that there was new evidence featured in the case file. Akçay said the evidence confiscated from a hidden cache at Gölcük Navy Base was identical with the previous documents, as the defense has claimed.
According to Akçay, not only his fellow judges, but some of his colleagues at the courthouse, have stopped speaking to him as a result of the dispute.
Top suspect denies claims of espionage, prostitution
In Akçay's absence, the first hearing of the military espionage case was headed by Özçelik, who refused the defense's request for the trial to be transferred to a military court, citing constitutional changes made in the Sept. 12, 2010, referendum that granted the civilian court the right to hear the case.
Top suspect retired Col. İbrahim Sezer, who faces up to 172 years in prison, pleaded innocent.
Sledgehammer is an alleged military coup plot against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, drafted in 2003. According to the allegations, the military planned drastic measures to foment unrest in the country in order to remove the AKP from power. Those measures included bombing two major mosques in Istanbul, staging an assault on a military museum by people disguised as religious extremists and raising tensions with Greece through an attack on a Turkish plane that was to be blamed on the Aegean neighbor.
Female officers who were allegedly used as prostitutes by higher-ranking officers for espionage and blackmail purposes also gave testimony Wednesday. The case file includes detailed dossiers on 15 female students from the military academy, including their physical features. Sezer claimed the house where the dossiers, along with other secret military documents, were confiscated belongs to a friend of his and that only he had the key.
The General Staff, which is conducting its own investigation on the matter, confirmed to the prosecution that a total of approximately 165,000 documents are potential threats to national security if shared with other countries or with terrorist organizations.
Illegal surveillance of approximately 5,000 people was done for blackmail purposes, according to the indictment, and different cells of the alleged gang were placed within the Turkish Armed Forces, the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBİTAK, the Electronic Systems Command of the General Staff, or GES, and Aselsan, a company specializing in defense systems and various divisions of military technology.
WHY DID WE HAVE TO LIVE THROUGH THIS STRESS?
The High Election Board (YSK) decided to reinstate the candidacy of seven independent candidates, after deliberations that lasted eight hours. The entire country's eyes were fixed on the board, expecting it to resolve the political turmoil sparked by its veto of 12 mostly Kurdish candidates' bids to run for Parliament. YSK announced in a press statement that no obstacles remained to the candidacy of six names who are backed by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, and one other independent candidate. Harun Özcan, Hatip Dicle, Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Leyla Zana, Gülten Kışanak, Sabahat Tuncel'in, and Mehmet Salih Yıldız will be able to run in June's general elections. Protests broke out in several cities across Turkey after the board barred 12 candidates from entering the June general elections. One person was shot and killed by the police Wednesday during a demonstration in Bismil.
THEY SET BANK ON FIRE
People continued to protest YSK's veto also on Thursday. A group of 1,000 people wanted to march to Cumhuriyet Street in the eastern province of Van. When police did not let them, the group attacked the security forces with stones and petrol bombs. Police dispersed the group by pressure water and pepper spray. The protestors then set a bank branch on fire.
EU WARNING FROM BUSINESS WORLD
A hundred organizations, including Turkish Industrialists' & Businessmen's Association (TUSIAD) and Turkish Labor Confederation (Turk-Is), will deliver the message that "the first target should be the European Union (EU)." A significant summit will take place in Istanbul on Friday to back EU membership bid. The Economic Development Foundation will pioneer the meeting which will bring together members of employer and employee organizations such as TOBB, TUSIAD, MUSIAD, TISK, Hak-Is and Turk-Is. After participants discuss a declaration calling for speeding up the negotiation process, they will give the text its final shape. The draft criticises the government for closing negotiations on only one of 14 chapters in six years. It also calls on Ankara and Brussels to speed up the process. An executive said, "We will give the government the message that this issue is important. If the negotiation process revives, Turkey's democratization will also speed up."
CUKUROVA WINS, TURKCELL REMAINS AS TURK
A plan of Turkcell's Russian and Swedish partners to seize the company management has failed. M. Emin Karamehmet won the management row in Turkcell worth $13 billion USD. The plenary session returned a proposal by the Swedish partner, TeliaSonera, and the Russian partner, Alfa, to change the chairman of the executive board [Colin Williams].
TURKEY CHOOSES US HELICOPTERS FOR $3.5 BILLION DEAL
Turkey on Thursday selected the U.S. firm Sikorsky as the partner company that will lead the production of its next generation of utility helicopters.
The decision was made at a meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee, Turkey's highest decision-making body on defense procurement. The committee's members include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül, Chief of General Staff Gen. Isık Koşaner and procurement chief Murad Bayar.
Gönül told reporters after the meeting that cost of the project, which covers the acquisition of 109 helicopters, was $3.5 billion. He added that the number of helicopters could reach 600 in the future.
Several Turkish companies, most notably Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, will take part in the joint production of the platforms.
"Some important components of the helicopters, such as the body, engine, avionic systems and task software, will be produced in Turkey; TAI will be the main contractor," Gönül said.
Following the committee's decision, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries and Sikorsky will launch contract negotiations for the building of a first batch of utility helicopters.
Sikorsky was competing with AgustaWestland for the contract. Sikorsky offered its T-70, the Turkish version of its S-70 Black Hawk International, which is presently being used by the militaries of dozens of countries, including Turkey. AgustaWestland was competing with its TUHP 149, the Turkish version of its newly developed A-149.
The Turkish decision comes at the end of a final round of talks with the two competing companies. Sikorsky Aircraft and AgustaWestland, a Italian-British firm, have thus far announced benefit packages worth billions of dollars each.
Most of the helicopters in the first batch will go to the military, with the Gendarmerie Forces receiving the lion's share, and the Army, Navy, Air Force and Special Forces Command getting part of the platforms.
The remaining choppers will go to the Security Directorate, or police forces, and to the Firefighting Department.
TURKEY ENCOURAGING US OFFICIALS TO ACT "FAIRLY" AHEAD OF APRIL 24
Turkey expects the U.S. administration to act in a fair and impartial manner in the run-up to April 24, the day on which Armenians around the world commemorate the "Armenian genocide," a Turkish Foreign Ministry official has said.
"We are telling the U.S. authorities that it would be problematic to deliver a decision on a controversial international conflict covering a period in history [that has been the center of much debate]," Selçuk Ünal, ministry spokesperson told reporters Thursday.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who as a candidate, vowed to use the term genocide to describe the Ottoman mass slaughter of Armenians nearly a century ago, declined to do so in 2010 as he marked the anniversary of the start of the killings.
Meanwhile, the ministry contacted Switzerland following the Alpine country's decision to erect an "Armenian genocide monument" in Geneva's city center, Ünal said. Ankara launched similar diplomatic initiative following an "Armenian genocide" movie in Iran.
"Armin Wegner, the Armenian Genocide Photographer" documentary by Armenian film director Tigran Khzmalyan will be screened in Tehran on April 24. Iranian deputies are expected to attend the film exhibition together with representatives of the Armenian community.
Turkey has contacted the Iranian administration over the movie screening, Ünal said. "We will monitor this issue," he added.
Armenians claim up to 1.5 million Armenians were systematically killed in 1915 under the rule of the Ottoman Empire; the community marks the event every year on April 24.
TURKISH EMBASSIES RECEIVE THREAT MESSAGE FROM ALLEGED ARMENIAN ORGANIZATION
Turkey's Foreign Ministry and National Intelligence Service, or MIT, are examining a threat message allegedly sent by the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, or ASALA, which killed 34 Turkish diplomats in the 1970s and 1980s, according to diplomatic sources.
The threat message was reportedly first received at the Turkish Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, which is responsible for handling Armenian issues, as Turkey has no diplomatic mission in Yerevan. A number of other Turkish embassies have received similar messages, sources said.
If Turkey supports Azerbaijan in the event it attacks Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, "then the list will be finished," said the message, in clear implication of the list of murdered Turkish diplomats.
Various Turkish embassies throughout the world have asked their host countries to increase security measures. Several Turkish embassies operate in countries that have sizeable Armenian communities like France, the United States and Lebanon.
The Foreign Ministry and the MİT are analyzing the threat messages in view of developments in the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute as well as Turkish-Armenian relations. Armenians are preparing for 2015, the 100th year of the tragic events that involved the killing of thousands of people in eastern Turkey as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
"There is radicalization among Armenian youth, especially in the diaspora. Their frustration over failing to make their genocide claims internationally recognized might have led to some of them reviving ASALA," said a Turkish official asking to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject.
Active from 1975 to 1986, ASALA claimed responsibility for about 200 attacks on Turkish diplomatic and non-diplomatic institutions and murdered 58 Turkish and non-Turkish people, 34 of whom were Turkish diplomats. ASALA was listed as a terrorist organization by the United States until the 1980s, but was taken off the list when the group disbanded.
GUL WRITES FOR NEW YORK TIMES
The Turkish president has said that the tough situation with which Palestinians struggle was a cause of the conflict in the Middle East. In his article entitled "The Revolution's Missing Peace" published by the New York Times, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa were of historic significance equal to that of the revolutions staged in different parts of Europe in the 19th and 20th century. "The peoples of the region, without exception, revolted not only in the name of universal values but also to regain their long-suppressed national pride and dignity. But whether these uprisings lead to democracy and peace or to tyranny and conflict will depend on forging a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and a broader Israeli-Arab peace," Gul said.