Turks Gripped By Shadowy Group's Coup Trials In Turkey, trials are under way for a conspiracy plot that reads like a political thriller. Members of Ergenekon, a secret network of ultranationalists in the secular military establishment, are accused of conspiring to overthrow the country's moderate Islamist government.
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Turks Gripped By Shadowy Group's Coup Trials

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Turks Gripped By Shadowy Group's Coup Trials

Turks Gripped By Shadowy Group's Coup Trials

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.


NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Istanbul.


DEBORAH AMOS: The coup plot had a name, according to the indictment, with roots in Turkish mythology that's come to mean a secret organization within the state.


MEHMET ALI BIRAND: Ergenekon. It's a bit difficult to swallow, but doesn't matter. It's like Ergenekon.

AMOS: That's Mehmet Ali Birand, a television personality and a newspaper columnist. He describes the alleged plot to murder members of Turkey's political and cultural elite, setting the stage for a military take over.

ALI BIRAND: I'm happy that Ergenekon is out of the closet. We knew it but we couldn't touch it. For the first time we are discussing that the military's involvement in the politics. We are discussing that very much.

AMOS: There is history in this uniquely Turkish story. The country has had three successful coups by a military that sees itself as the protector of Turkey's secular state, a role that now seems in question, says Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert at Pennsylvania's Lehigh University.

HENRI BARKEY: It has diminished and tarnished the military, because so many of its former generals are caught up in this thing. So in that sense it is quite damning.

AMOS: In the wood paneled courtroom, the judges hear the testimony of the latest defendant - on this day, a computer programmer charged in the plot. There are more than a dozen reporters in the courtroom.

COKSAL GOCHE: My name is Coksal Goche. I'm correspondent for Turkish television.

AMOS: Goche reports on an indictment so complex and confusing, some defendants complain they don't know what they're charged with. But a recent opinion poll showed a majority of Turks, 61 percent, believe the coup attempt was real, says Goche.

GOCHE: Most of the Turkish people think that they are opposite of democracy.

AMOS: The people who were in Ergenekon?

GOCHE: Yes. We must solve this problem.


AMOS: Yasemin Congar is the lead reporter on Taraf's investigative team.

YASEMIN CONGAR: We are a small newspaper. It's a newspaper that created a lot of noise for its size. Some of us have received death threats.

AMOS: Have you personally gotten death threats?

CONGAR: In the past, yes.

AMOS: But in the past, says Congar, investigations into sensitive subjects were blocked. For example, the murder of a Turkish-Armenian journalist and the harsher aspects of the military campaign against Kurdish separatists in the southeast. This is also part of Ergenekon says Congar.

CONGAR: There is a lot of dirt, there are many corpses, there are dead people, and now we're digging it out, and we are finding ammunition everywhere, like hand grenades and C-4 exploding devices, you name it.

AMOS: The discovery of several arms dumps and the mounting evidence has embarrassed the generals. High-ranking arrests have caused tension between the government and the military. And lately, some Turkish commentators complain that the trials have gone too far - an attempt by the moderate Islamist ruling the country to discredit the secular army and silence the secular political oppositions, says Mehmet Ali Birand.

ALI BIRAND: They are trying to push the opposition to this government into a corner, saying that - hey, be careful, you can be detained. So that's bad. It's getting too far.

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, Istanbul.

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