"Who does everyone think did this?" I asked my young cab driver, who’d lived in Istanbul his whole life, on the way to Gungoren.
"Maybe Al Qaida?"
The international terrorist fraternity had been accused of the brash attack on the U.S. Consulate.
"Could be," he said.
"Not the PKK?"
On July 29, officials fingered the PKK, the militant Kurdish organization that has engaged in terrorist tactics for 30 years. The PKK doesn’t have an obvious connection to the AKP trial, but it has been taking a beating from the Turkish military in recent weeks. So far, the PKK, who often take responsibility for their terrorist acts, have denied Gungoren, and offered their condolences to the victims.
"Could be," he replied again.
"This is the problem when something like this happens now," said one Turkish intellectual. "You think: ‘It could be the PKK, it could be DHKP/C, it could be Al Qaida, it could be the "Deep State"—it could be anyone!’"
The Deep State—or Ergenekon—is another story, and a distinctly Turkish one.
The word "Ergenekon" refers to a Central Asian myth about the origin of the Turkish race, and involves caves and wolves and possibly world domination, but what’s important to know today is that "Ergenekon" was the name chosen by a murderous gang.
At least, in Turkish, they call it a "gang," but the word carries a different meaning than it does in English. This isn’t the Crips and the Bloods. It also isn’t the Italian Mafia, because Turkey’s mafias run parking lots. Ergenekon, assuming it exists, is the most powerful gang of all, the übergang.
Turks have been living in a state of legitimized paranoia since January, when over 80 members of the Ergenekon gang were arrested for trying to create an atmosphere of instability that would result in a coup against the ruling religious government. The accused make up the ultranationalist upper crust—retired military generals, lawyers, academics, journalists, a university president, the head of PR for a church.
The 2,500-page indictment against Ergenekon, which was released this past weekend, accuses the gang of engaging in demonic terrorist tactics: bomb prominent targets, blame left-wing or minority groups, and stir up chaos until the army is forced to step in, shut down the government and wipe the slate clean. That’s why subscribers to this theory might think Ergenekon had a hand in Gungoren: maximum chaos, minimal sense.
That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Every morning, Turks wake up to terrifying headlines, newspapers filled with incredible details about Ergenekon. Among many other things, Ergenekon supposedly kept a to-do list including plans to kill Prime Minister Tayyip Erodgan and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk—and anyone else who threatens the sanctity of the secular nation or the tenets of Turkish nationalism.
One of the arrested was the lawyer, Kemal Kerincsiz, who prosecutes writers and other liberal folks for violating the infamous anti-free-speech law Article 301. Some link Ergenekon to the 2007 assassination of Hrant Dink, editor of the newspaper Agos and the face of Istanbul’s Armenian community.
Could one group possibly be responsible for all these acts? It strains credulity, and so some suspect that anti-secularist or religious elements have engineered the Ergenekon investigation. That secularist vs. Islamist war in Turkey you’ve been hearing about goes way beyond head scarves.
But the point is that Turks have been living for years with the idea that some secret force controls the fate of their nation. Here, well before the Ergenekon case, when participating in any sort of political conversation, it was common for Turks—all Turks, not conspiracy theorists—to mention the "Deep State" as a legitimate actor in the country’s problems.
For now, some Turks will be satisfied by the authorities’ prime suspects: PKK for Gungoren, Al Qaida for the U.S. consulate. But in this climate, the deeper Turkish response to the Gungoren tragedy and others will remain, Who the hell knows anymore?
"Terror is terror," said one Gungoren native, sitting on a bench at the bomb site, chain-smoking. And so living, working Istanbul learns to live with its dangerous enemies, whoever they are.
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