‘I’m going to convince you in half an hour’s time that the whole Balyoz case is fake’. I had an interview today with Celal Ülgen, the lawyer for eight suspects in the Balyoz case (Balyoz is an alleged coup plot). Some of the suspects he is defending are ‘big fish’ who had high military positions, like Cetin Dogan and Dursun Cicek. Ülgen opened files on his computer and showed me why he is sure evidence in the Balyoz case has been doctored. So, did he succeed? Am I convinced now?
Not a very exciting question, is it, whether I’m convinced or not? I’m just a journalist, and whether I’m convinced or not is totally irrelevant to the case. The important question is if, at some point, Celal Ülgen and his lawyer colleagues will be able to convince the judges in the Balyoz case of their claim that evidence was fabricated. But when I put that to Celal Ülgen, he tells me he has lost all faith in the judicial system in Turkey. It’s a conspiracy, he says. A huge conspiracy, with the United States as the main actor. Turkish judges are part of it, so he has no expectations whatsoever that they are looking for justice in this case.
I always get sceptical when people start talking about world-wide conspiracies. They are impossible to verify and impossible to invalidate. So that part, I just put aside. It’s the plain evidence that counts, the documents that are on the table, verifiable. And from the things that Celal Ülgen showed me, it sure appears like part of the evidence has been doctored. Still, I don’t become convinced the whole Balyoz case is fake just because some evidence seems to be fabricated. That would be too easy.
It’s not hard for me to imagine some suspects are being framed, even more so since Celal Ülgen showed me what he knows. But on the other hand, it’s also not very hard for me to imagine a group of high ranking military personnel had plans to stage a coup against the AKP government. The army doesn’t only abhor the AKP government, but also has a history of staging coups. All military personnel are brought up with the notion that staging coups every now and then is okay to protect the Kemalist state. When I put that to Ülgen, he merely said that many people feel that way and that’s why it’s even harder to convince people the whole case is fake. Again, that’s just too easy. The fact that Turkey has had several coups since 1960 and that that mentality has been very much alive up until at least a few years ago, can’t be disregarded just like that.
For me, it’s not relevant whether I’m convinced or not. I’m being honest when I say that I’m not even sure if I’m convinced or not. There are people who strongly believe the Balyoz coup plans really exist, and if I talk to them I’m sure they have a convincing story as well. But still, the time that Celal Ülgen generously gave me was not in vain for him. I will write about the way many people are losing faith these days in the Turkish judicial system. Not only the suspects and lawyers in the Balyoz case have no faith whatsoever in prosecutors and judges, but other segments of society, like Kurdish politicians, also feel very unjustly treated.
Celal Ülgen told me one of his hopes for his clients are the foreign media. That’s why he talked to me and gave me so much of his time. If more people in Europe know about what’s going on, the pressure from Europe on Turkey might increase, which might be good for the people he defends. The headline of the story I hope to publish in a few weeks won’t be ‘Coup evidence in Turkey fabricated’. I’m in no position to pass judgement on that. The point is: evidence can be fabricated, it happens all the time all over the world. But as a suspect, you must be able to count on it that a judge is independent and that you can only be convicted when the evidence against you is clear and sufficient. If you can’t, if huge groups of people can’t, the system has a serious problem. That’s what is now happening in Turkey. And that is an even more paralysing message than evidence being doctored.
My British colleague Alex Christie Miller went to the court house in Silivri, that was especially built for the Balyoz trials. Read his findings on his website Turkey Etcetera.