01/24/2008, 00.00
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Istanbul: Nationalist organisation suspected of political and religious attacks unveiled

The group, called "Ergereken", could also be behind the killing of Dink. Meanwhile, prime minister Erdogan seems to want to recognise the patriarchate's title of "ecumenical", and its role within Orthodoxy.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - The Turkish police have arrested 35 persons suspected of belonging to a secret nationalist organisation called Ergereken, from the name of the place where, according to legend, the Turkish race was born.

At a press conference, Istanbul governor Muammer Guler said that the investigations began eight months ago, following the explosion of a weapons cache at an apartment in the Umraniye area of Istanbul, which belonged to a member of the organisation. Surveillance was later carried out after various attacks in Istanbul, Izmir, Malatya, and Adana.

The organisation is suspected of involvement in politically motivated violence against persons and institutions, like the killing of a Turkish journalist of Armenian origin, Hrant Dink, and of planning other attacks against Christian figures (like the killing of Bartolomeo, covered by AsiaNews on 1/08/2007), as well as Turkish institutions and personalities, which until recently were generally attributed to to other groups.

The organisation was formed mainly by retired military members, journalists, and lawyers. The people arrested include some prominent figures like the retired general Veli Kucuk, the presumed founder of a clandestine military police unit, which is thought to be responsible for a variety of attacks and assassinations, like that of the lawyer Kemal Kerinisiz, a nationalist activist, of Sami Hostan - a key figure who emerged after the famous automobile accident in Susurluk in 1996 that brought to light the connections between the so-called "deep state" and nationalist, political, secret service, and organised crime groups - and of Sevgi Erenerol, spokesman of the so-called Turkish Orthodox patriarchate.

The news media have showered praise on this institution, founded in 1924 by Fr. Eftim, a married Orthodox priest, who in spite of this demanded to be ordained a bishop. Over the objections of the patriarchate, he created, with the approval of the Turkish authorities, the "Turkish Orthodox patriarchate", with the twofold objective of undermining the prestige of the ecumenical patriarchate in the Christian world, and of attracting Turkish-speaking Orthodox Christians. The effort did not meet with the desired success, neither among the Orthodox Churches nor among the few Orthodox Turks. But it did succeed in obtaining, with state approval, the historic church of the Madonna of Kafatiani in Galata, with its important properties and foundations. From that time, the "Turkish Orthodox patriarchate" became nothing more than a family business for Fr. Eftim, whose nephew was arrested, and a centre of nationalist propaganda.

"Ergereken" is a large operation, the deputy of Erdogan's party, Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat has said, adding "I am very curious over the results of the investigation". In other words, as is said in journalistic and diplomatic circles, dismantling has begun on the organisations believed to be linked with various sectors of the public administration.

And there is no mere coincidence in statements that Erdogan made today in a joint press conference with Greece's prime minister Karamanlis, on the occasion of the first visit of a Greek premier to Turkey in 50 years. Replying to a question from journalists about the ecumenical patriarchate and the theology school of Halki, Erdogan spoke for the first time about the title of "ecumenical" as applied to the patriarchate, saying that "all are aware of our interest in this matter and the efforts we are making in its regard". In essence, he continued, the ecumenical status of the patriarchate is of interest to the entire Orthodox community, and his government wants to streamline its internal procedures. As for the theological school of Halki, which was closed in 1971, he said his administration is analysing the situation.

It's a sign that things are on the move in Turkey, and not only in the economy. At least we hope so. (NT)

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