Summarizing the past 30 years in Turkey would be devoid of context if one ignored the pattern of murders that cut right across it like a thread of damnation. During the period 1980 to 1983 under the strict and ruthless rule of generals, the entire register of crimes against humanity were committed – such as hangings of militants of the right or left, mass torture and summary executions – all legitimate under the coup regime.
From approximately 1987 onwards, up until the start of the Ergenekon trial and other trials in 2007 involving civilians or the military, the narrative is dominated by incidents whose backgrounds are (kept) in darkness.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the notorious “old stories” of that period never age. The demand for truth about the past haunts today and tomorrow. When Semra Özal and her son Ahmet insist Turgut Özal was murdered by poisoning while on duty, almost nobody is shocked. The period in question had that characteristic -- nobody, including even the highest placed people, felt safe.
Feeling increasingly encouraged, the various actors of those times now come forward and fuel more suspicion, challenging those who did not believe in the role of conspiracy to influence the direction of the -- then unstable -- country.
If Özal was murdered, as claimed, then it was a successful end to a series of attempts to do so. Already in 1988, an apparently hired gun had tried to shoot him down in an indoor political meeting organized by his Motherland Party (ANAP). The case remains unresolved today, as well as hundreds of others involving all sorts of people in politics, academia, media and bureaucracy.
One of the actors who now steps forward is Feyzi İşbaşaran, currently an independent deputy, who was Özal’s private secretary at the time of the attempted murder. In an interview with the Sabah daily, he said that a team Özal had gathered solved the murder attempt and “identified some names with certainty” behind gunman Kartal Demirağ. He said four people helped him, adding that when Özal was told the identities, “he was shocked.”
When they were ready to act, İşbaşaran said, some people from within ANAP warned Özal and his team: “Leave this case alone.” At that time, Özal was prime minister and was planning to take over the presidency soon, so he let it be covered up. İşbaşaran quoted Özal as telling his team, “If we take this challenge, the country will end up losing. I operate under constant threat. Those who did this know that we have found out the truth. They fear that with 292 deputies (a majority) we will change the constitution. But knowing that we know (about the attempt) they will not dare again.”
But they did, in April 1993, if we believe his family. His wife insists that he was given a liquid at a reception in Ankara, and she felt sure of “something gravely wrong” when she witnessed her husband’s last moments. She disputes the claims of current Deputy Chief of General Staff Aslan Güner, who then was Özal’s adjutant, who says Özal was driven swiftly to the hospital. She claims that he was deliberately “driven around” Ankara’s streets to waste time.
While the period 1988 - 1992 was filled with murders of state dignitaries, officers, and some prominent academicians of the “republican camp,” the year 1993 symbolizes in the eyes of many keen observers of late Turkish history, a peak in events that not only marked patterns of social trauma but also signaled a policy change in tightening the screws of tutelage over the government.
In the course of less than 11 months in that year, murder followed murder. In January, prominent investigative journalist Uğur Mumcu was targeted by a car bomb in Ankara. A couple of weeks later, Adnan Kahveci, one of Özal’s most trusted aides, was killed in a mysterious car accident with his family. He was the author of an internal report on the Kurdish issue. Soon after, Eşref Bitlis, then Commander of the Gendarmerie, was killed in an airplane crash -- another event still surrounded by deep suspicion. (Bitlis was very close to Özal and outspoken about a “civilian solution” to the Kurdish issue.)
Shortly after Özal’s unexpected death, 33 soldiers were executed in an act attributed to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which even shocked Abdullah Öcalan, its leader. In the summer of that year, 37 intellectual Alawites were burned to death by a mob -- an apparent act of arson to a hotel in Sivas. Again, soon after this, an attack in a village near Erzincan ended in a massacre of 33 peasants.
So on and so forth.
Given the memories, kept fresh because little has been done to seek the truth behind all of these, its not hard to understand the nature of cases like Ergenekon and those launched in the southeastern towns; moreover, it points to the vital importance of keeping pressure on the government and the judiciary to “go to the very end, wherever it might lead.” İşbaşaran argues that if one begins with the assassination attempt in 1988, “the rest will follow in a series of flashes of truth,” since they are, he implies, interconnected. He might be right.