There has been progress in the prosecution of a “deep state” terrorist network in Turkey; or one of its tentacles, the Ergenekon gang. Here, I want to focus on a trial for the publication of propaganda websites, because it encompasses cultural heritage information warfare.
But be warned, it is tl;dr – nearly 2,000 words. I summarise the Turkish deep state, the Ergenekon gang and the propaganda websites; I review the evidence of command responsibility, and the sources of material for the websites; I list all 42 propaganda websites and their contents; then, finally, I show the websites’ influence on public opinion, their current status, and parallel propaganda campaigns within the Gendarmerie General Command.
The Turkish Deep State and Ergenekon
The Turkish deep state is an ultranationalist underground network, especially deeply entrenched within the military, but also embedded in the bureaucracy, the judiciary, academia, the media and elsewhere. It is an ethnic ultra-nationalist, anti-socialist, anti-Orthodox Islamic conspiracy to control the state. It engages in terrorism; and it plots to create chaos, thus to excuse a coup against the democratically-elected government.
Depending upon the individual’s perception of Ergenekon, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, and the somewhat shadowy, government-allied Islamist Gülen Movement, the Ergenekon gang is one of the tentacles of the Turkish ultranationalist deep state kraken, or a lone wolf from a pack of grey wolves.
As I blogged before, Ergenekon conducted information warfare in Turkey and Cyprus; and it usurped the Turkish General Staff’s Information Support Department to produce and publish its propaganda. But now even more of the shocking/juicy details of the case are coming out.
According to a whistleblower, deep state elements within the Turkish General Staff’s Information Support Department ‘devised’ the plan, and the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) deputy chief, General Hasan Iğsız, ‘coordinated’ it. Internet protocol (IP) addresses show that the deep state published and edited the 42 black propaganda websites from computers in the Ministry of National Defence. (They were hosted by TR.NET Middle East Software Services Inc.)
(Further demonstrating the depth of the deep state, the Turkish Armed Forces and the Turkish Defence Ministry are autonomous institutions, and Ergenekon has infiltrated both.)
The propaganda websites were evidently part of the coup-plotting Action Plan for the Struggle Against Reactionaryism; and the court has merged the cases.
(It is also alleged that the Information Support Department monitored 430 domestic and foreign internet sites.)
One of the signatories to the order, its alleged author Colonel Dursun Çiçek, is being prosecuted for “being a member of an illegal organisation”, “membership of an armed terrorist organisation“, “attempting to destroy the government of the Turkish Republic through violence and force or attempting to prevent it from doing its duty”, and “attempting a coup d’état”.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) alleged that the websites had been created to raise security awareness and that, in publishing propaganda, Col. Çiçek had ‘overstepped his orders’. So Çiçek voluntarily testified, and observed that if he had overstepped his orders, ‘the General Staff could have taken administrative or disciplinary action against him’.
Çiçek admitted that ‘[t]he “Internet Memorandum” [wa]s a real document’, and that the Turkish Armed Forces’ deputy chief, General Hasan Iğsız, ‘approved’ the order. The deep state propaganda websites were genuine.
Çiçek has continued to deny that former Turkish Armed Forces’ chief, General İlker Başbuğ, knew about the propaganda campaign.
However a co-conspirator, alleged co-author Captain Murat Uslukılıç, has contradicted Col. Çiçek. Capt. Uluskılıç has claimed that ‘Çiçek himself had presented the [propaganda website] plan to Gen. Başbuğ’ (paraphrased by Today’s Zaman journalist Büşra Erdal). Lieutenant General Mehmet Eröz has also claimed that Başbuğ had approved the creation of propaganda websites, and has officially petitioned the court to arrest Başbuğ.
Çiçek has also continued to deny the existence of a coupist Action Plan for the Struggle Against Reactionaryism (İrtica ile Mücadele Eylem Planı (fn1)); and to deny that he signed the plan. Çiçek claimed that,
If this fake plan [Action Plan for the Fight against Fundamentalism] was real, I would have said that…. I have been constantly saying that there is no such plan. It is not a document, it’s just a piece of paper but it is enough for us to be under arrest (1st August 2011; translated and quoted in Hürriyet Daily News).
Yet there is ‘forensic evidence‘ that Çiçek signed the plan.
Retired military judge Faik Tarımcıoğlu has deemed the Action Plan ‘part of the general policy of the chief of the General Staff, [Başbuğ]…. the work of the General Staff command headquarters’ (translated and quoted in Today’s Zaman).
Production and reproduction of material
Before the exposure of the propaganda websites, Information Support Department computer programmer Mehmet Bülent Sarıkahya had actually made an official complaint about his compulsory complicity. Sarıkahya was ‘”sick and tired of” sending out e-mails to newspapers’ from internet cafes, ‘as if he was an ordinary citizen’ in order to disseminate propaganda, ‘to create the idea that ordinary citizens are “fearful” of the AK Party and its conservatism’ (translated, quoted and paraphrased in Today’s Zaman).
There is also documentary evidence of
orders to contact pro-military news groups and newspapers [and journalists],…. to start a public campaign to manipulate the trial and convince public opinion that the strong evidence the prosecutors have against Ergenekon suspects was manufactured…. [to] have military-friendly writers and newspapers propagate the idea that Ergenekon is an attempt to wear out the military
In a positive feedback loop with this production of fake grassroots opinion (astroturfing), and with the anti-government journalism, at least two of the propaganda websites, irtica.org and turkatak.gen.tr, copied-and-pasted ‘most of the[ir] content’ from Turkish newspapers.
At least two others, which had substantial cultural heritage and/or history propaganda, largely or wholly reproduced material from other ultranationalist websites. Türk Ses and Greek Murderers republished webpages from the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA). (I displayed screen captures in my first blog post on Ergenekon websites.)
Political scientist and Amnesty International specialist Simon Maghakyan documented how yet another deep state website with history and/or archaeology propaganda, Tall Armenian Tale, also ‘borrowed material‘ from the ATAA (as well as another confirmed Ergenekon website, Armenian Reality).
Turkish historian Taner Akçam identified the ATAA as yet another deep state group. Indeed, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found evidence that the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) was a Turkish deep state organisation, which engaged in serious, international ‘criminal activity’.
There were 42 supposedly independent, community websites. They have been listed in the Internet Memorandum Indictment (İnternet Andıcı İddianamesi):
- (irtica.org mirror) http://www.naksilik.com
- (www.ozgurgenc.net mirror) http://www.genclik.info
- (www.aslar.org mirror) http://www.askeriz.info
- (www.turkatak.gen.tr mirror) http://www.turkuz.info
- (www.turkatak.gen.tr mirror) http://www.turkler.info
- (www.turkses.com mirror) http://www.turkeyturks.com
- (www.pkkgercegi.net mirror) http://www.pkkapo.com
- (www.armenianreality.com mirror) http://www.turkishgenocide.net
- (www.terorveguvenlik.net mirror) http://www.terorizm.info
- (www.greekmurderers.net mirror) http://www.members.tripod.com/camerian_volunteer
- (www.gurbetciler.info mirror) http://www.turkuzbiz.org
These sites, ‘prepared by unknown persons, very professionally prepared and very frequently updated Turkish and English sites’ (fn2), ‘using a very substantial archive of information, documents, photographs and videos’ (fn3), spread disinformation about ‘terrorism, fundamentalism, the Armenian issue, the PKK, Western Thrace [Greece], [and] Cyprus’ (fn4).
The websites also ‘defam[ed]’ the AK Partisi government; accused the AK Party, and its allied Gülen Movement, of infiltrating Islamist elements into the state; and supported the AKP’s prosecution for ‘Islamizing the Turkish state‘.
Influencing public opinion
Obviously, it is a bit difficult to document and demonstrate the influence of closed websites. However, it is possible to use the ATAA’s live pages as proxies for the 42 websites’ dead pages.
And the ATAA’s pamphlet on ‘the Armenian Allegation of Genocide: Facts‘ has entered university libraries; been noted as part of historical debates; been linked to in community discussions; and been hosted by community advocacy organisations (though naturally, those advocacy organisations are not impartial; and they may not be independent).
41 websites closed; 1 website changed
Only one of the propaganda websites, irtica.org, is still active. But as (Turkish) Star journalist Melek Duvaklı observed, it is very different now:
Under the heading “What is Radical Fundamentalism?”, the dictionary definition of radical fundamentalism as reactionaryism is introduced. Under the photograph [of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk], the question “is there a threat of radical fundamentalism in Turkey?” is directed.
The reply in bold letters, to the effect that “there is no threat of radical fundamentalism”, begins:
in today’s conditions there is no threat of radical fundamentalism. Yet it has been shown that there has been the threat of radical fundamentalism from time to time. Following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s announcement that ‘radical fundamentalism is not a threat’, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer’s 2006 announcements that drew attention to the rapid increase in radical fundamentalism in the last 20 years had created a polemic of ‘radical fundamentalism’ at the highest levels of the state.(fn5)
Duvaklı went on to note:
It is possible to reach the ‘irtica.org’ site’s old publications through http://web.archive.org. The site’s old condition has almost nothing in common with today’s appearance and outlook.(fn6)
Gendarmerie Command propaganda websites
Supposedly as a part of counterterrorism operations, Gendarmerie General Command Commander Şener Eruygur secretly established and registered a website under the seemingly false identity of Tayfun Kavaslar; and Cdr. Eruygur paid for the website from his personal bank account. Under Eruygur, the Gendarmerie General Command created 14 user identities (internet access accounts).
Eruygur’s/the Gendarmerie General Command’s internet service provider (ISP) was Marketweb Fidan Communications Inc. Marketweb employee Mert Dayanır believed that they ‘put up false websites to find sympathizers of terrorist groups’. But the public prosecutors perceive them as ‘not unrelated to the other websites’ in the propaganda campaign.
I have followed up with a blog on freedom of expression in Turkey.
fn1: “İrtica ile Mücadele Eylem Planı” has also been translated as an Action Plan Against Reactionaryism, an Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism, an Action Plan against Reactionary Forces, an Action Plan for the Fight against Fundamentalism, or an Action Plan for the Fight against Radical Fundamentalism.
fn2: ‘kim tarafından hazırlandığı bilinmeyen çok profesyonelce hazırlanmış ve çok sık güncellenen Türkçe ve İngilizce siteler’.
fn3: ‘çok güçlü bir bilgi, belge, fotoğraf, video arşivi kullanılarak‘.
fn4: ‘terör, irtica, Ermeni sorunu, PKK, Batı Trakya, Kıbrıs‘.
“İrtica Nedir?” başlığının altında irticanın sözlük anlamı gericilik olarak tanımlanıyor. [Mustafa Kemal Atatürk f]otoğrafın[ın] altında ise “Türkiye’de irtica tehdidi var mı?” sorusu yöneltiliyor.
Yanıt bold karakterlerle “İrtica tehdidi yoktur” şeklinde başlıyor:
Türkiye’de günümüz koşullarında irtica tehdidi yoktur. Ama zaman zaman irtica tehdidi varmış gibi gösterilmektedir. 2006 yılında Cumhurbaşkanı Ahmet Necdet Sezer’in irticanın son 20 yılda hızla arttığına dikkat çeken açıklamaları, ardından Başbakan Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’ın “İrtica diye bir tehdit yok” açıklaması devletin zirvesinde ‘irtica’ polemiği yaratmıştı.
(Long paragraphs have been broken up into shorter ones, easier to read in a blog; but the text has not been touched.)
(Updated with link to related blog post at 1.10am, 22nd September 2011.)