Erdoğan Is Not Turkey’s Only Problem

PRINCETON – Türkan Saylan was a trailblazing physician, one of Turkey’s first female dermatologists and a leading campaigner against leprosy. She was also a staunch secularist who established a foundation to provide scholarships to young girls so they could attend school. In 2009, police raided her house and confiscated documents in an investigation that linked her to an alleged terrorist group, called “Ergenekon,” supposedly bent on destabilizing Turkey in order to precipitate a military coup.

Saylan was terminally ill with cancer at the time and died shortly thereafter. But the case against her associates continued and became part of a vast wave of trials directed against opponents of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies in the powerful Gülen movement, made up of the followers of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.

The evidence in this case, as in so many others, consists of Microsoft Word documents found on a computer that belonged to Saylan’s foundation. When American experts recently examined the forensic image of the hard drive, they made a startling – but for Turkey all too familiar – discovery. The incriminating files had been placed on the hard drive sometime after the computer’s last use at the foundation. Because the computer had been seized by the police, the finding pointed rather directly to official malfeasance.

Fabricated evidence, secret witnesses, and flights of investigative fancy are the foundation of the show trials that Turkish police and prosecutors have mounted since 2007. In the infamous Sledgehammer case, a military-coup plot was found to contain glaring anachronisms, including the use of Microsoft Office 2007 in documents supposedly last saved in 2003. (My father-in-law is among the more than 300 officers who were locked up, and my wife and I have been active in documenting the case’s fabrications.)