Aslı Iğsız is a scholar who teaches in the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the US. At the same time, however, she is also the daughter of retired General Hasan Iğsız, who has been sentenced to life on the charges of “leading” the Ergenekon Terror Organization. Despite my persistence, Aslı Iğsız had refused to talk until today. She is speaking out on the subject for the first time. While reading about how her family suffered hell on earth, I would like for you to keep in mind that this situation is not something peculiar to the Iğsız family (as Aslı Iğsız also mentions in the interview). Family members of suspects in other significant trial cases in Turkey experience similar hardships.
Ezgi Başaran (EB): You went through so much after your father Hasan Iğsız was arrested as part of the “Internet Memorandum” investigation. Would you mind discussing this with us, if that wouldn’t be too hard?
Aslı Iğsız (AI): I can list things beyond the sorts of unlawfulness in Special High Authorized Court trials that are common knowledge. There is the slander dimension of this process; it is aimed not only at the suspects in these trials, but also against their family members, through a direct violation of their privacy. This is a lynching campaign that targets and instrumentalizes individuals through their “kinship” to the suspect. That is to say, it is directed at those who have absolutely nothing to do with these trials other than kinship ties. In order to explain this situation, I need to tell you about the arrest and the lead-up to it, and about the duress campaign instigated against families.
EB: This is exactly what I want to hear…
AI: Rumors and news concerning my father started to circulate in 2009. These were mostly published in the same media outlet, in the newspaper Vakit/Akit, and were written by the same people. In 2010, I realized that aspects of my brother’s private life had been disclosed on a separate website. This “material” about my brother had already been found in DVD# 51, allegedly appropriated in Levent Göktaş’s office on 7 January 2009. This DVD was registered as “evidence” for the Ergenekon trial. A year and a half later, a report by TUBITAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey) found out that a copy of this DVD had been forged by the police [a week] before the search in Göktaş’s office, and not after [as the police had claimed]. And somehow, the “materials” stored in this DVD had managed to make their way to that website. In June 2010, in that infamous news article entitled “The Generals’ Jewish Sons-in-Law” my passport was published, with all the details, including my birth record, without covering up the private information, including my official national ID number. My passport was presented as “evidence” that my husband was Jewish. It was a prime example of anti-Semitism!
EB: Right after that, I believe the journalist Can Dündar wrote about the violation of privacy of family members like yourself. At that point I contacted you to interview you, but failed to convince you to go ahead with it…
AI: Yes. And the day that Dündar’s piece came out, an email was sent to, among many other addressees, my university email account and my brother’s work email address, which even I didn’t know existed. The sender’s address implicated this website that also exposed my brother’s private life. The content was rabid and libelous. They must have wanted to show us that wherever we are, we were being watched, and that they have access to the details of our private lives. There was also a piece of information on this website, which made us suspect that our phones may have been illegally tapped: They had described my brother as “Hakan Iğsız, who does not refrain from opening the door naked.” This was a distorted version of a real life event, where my brother, because he was not yet dressed, was not able to answer the door immediately one day. This detail about the reason for my brother’s delayed response to the person at the door—a detail that my brother had only shared with my mother in a phone conversation—had taken place [before any trial implicated my father and therefore] before the legal process of tapping of our phones. The question is: How did these people operating with this clandestine website get access to this phone conversation?
EB: What you are describing is a nightmare…
AI: It doesn’t end there. The daily Akit published another piece about my father titled “Blackmail Gang of ‘Internet Memorandum’ General.” According to this, my father’s name was found in documents from a flash drive, which was part of the (still hotly-debated inconsistent and contradictory) digital evidence for a case of military espionage and blackmail. The “article” stated that my father was a procurer of female sexual workers. It claimed that he was a good “customer” who purchased sexual services for his friends as “favors.” After my father’s arrest, the press circulated new accusations, which were also full of inconsistencies. Unfortunately, your newspaper, Radikal, is among those news outlets that hosted such unsubstantiated news stories….My brother was subpoenaed for another investigation about two months ago. We soon realized that the family torment was not over yet: the conversations among the friends and family of the defendants during the Ergenekon proceedings at the courthouse were secretly recorded using air-suspended microphones. The officials then deciphered and analyzed these secretly recorded private conversations in order to start an investigation against twenty or so family members and friends, including my brother, for “insulting the court.” The sentence that my brother allegedly said, which was presented as evidence against him, is along the lines of: “Look at this, they are afraid of the crowd.”
EB: Why didn’t you talk about any of this before now?
AI: The reason why I am breaking my silence today is because I think it is important for people to know about these lynching campaigns that targeted people’s dignity. Such blatant attacks against family members, just because of their kinship ties to defendants, violated these family members’ right to privacy. This has become an instrument of torment. In this process, my birth records and official ID number were exposed with an illegally obtained copy of my passport; my husband was forcefully dragged into this; my brother’s privacy was brutally disclosed; and even my father was preposterously implicated as an active member of the sex industry. And all these examples culminate in a systematic lynching campaign.
But this doesn’t mean that what we have been through is exceptional—certainly not. Various state institutions and apparatuses have targeted people before, and many people have been victims of, for example, military coups, especially of the military coups, throughout the history of Turkey. I would be ashamed to even remotely imply that what we, as a family, have been through is exceptionally bad, when there are numerous cases of brutal torture; disappearances under custody; forced disappearances; unresolved murders; murders that are resolved but ended in complete impunity for the assailants; and human bones that keep coming out of excavations of mass graves. No, our case is not exceptional. The only reason why I decided to speak out today is because in a conjuncture where everyone is talking about “plots,” I wanted to address a less visible side of these trials: the duress campaign launched against family members and their ordeals.
EB: Your husband is not from Turkey. How did he experience this process as a foreigner?
AI: He felt like any other person who becomes part of a family through marriage and experiences such things.
EB: Have you always considered your father not guilty of the charges against him?
AI: I shall answer this question not through my father but by pointing to a more general problem. This is true not only in our case, since I have been reading many indictments of major trials over the last few years. I am not a legal expert; however, what I have read so far has given me the impression that there are similar problems that indicate a pattern in these indictments. Additionally, there is an attempt to present a defendant (or a person who might later become a defendant, as in our case) as “immoral” to the public by mobilizing sexism, essentialism, racism, sectarianism, moralism, and homophobia. These efforts that target family members of defendants appear to seek public support for those trials that in fact make unfounded accusations in courts. And yet a person does not become suddenly guilty of an accusation just because, thanks to a systematic effort, family members are instrumentalized to show a person as “unpleasant” to the public. A felony is not a discursive phenomenon, but a legally defined offense. And an offense would have to be considered in terms of administrative or penal law, depending on the definition of the claimed felony. There cannot be a trial without evidence. And yet these big trials appear to be addressed discursively in Turkey, rather than with respect to the judiciary or legal foundations. This dynamic might be a result of the lynching campaigns. After all, the way in which these trials are presented to the public gives the impression that those who carried them out give great importance to popular consent and have tried to manipulate the public image of the defendants.
EB: How do you, as an academic, interpret the Sledgehammer (Balyoz) and Ergenekon trials?
AI: There was already a big problem within the Turkish bureaucracy and the protection of citizenship rights. By targeting groups that were previously shielded from these issues (unless they were ideological dissidents), these trials crystallized this grave problem and redistributed it to include such groups as well. The major grievance issues include the violation of the state’s obligation to protect the rights of citizens, and here, it is not only the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon trials, but also others, including the lawsuits against the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) and the Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD). Individuals’ right to privacy is infringed with various laws and regulations that appear to be politically motivated. For instance, in January 2012, when a new draft law to regulate the mass media was debated, it was suggested that if legal wiretaps are made public on a website, it would not be an offense to broadcast them. In this context, looking at the general picture, we can say that instead of investigating potential administrative and criminal charges, the concept of crime, stripped from its legal framework, has been utilized discursively as a political tool. The defamation of the family became part of this. I have more to say but we have limited space here. Perhaps we can talk about this some other time.
EB: What disappointed you most about Turkey in this period?
AI: Where to begin? The impairment of professionalism, work ethics, and citizenship in the name of so-called democracy…stripping democratic values of their meaning and turning them into material for symbolic capital…bringing these lawsuits in the name of democratization and transparency, but in the end, where we arrive at is not transparency but a new level of opaqueness…the transformation of minority rights into neoliberal window dressing….There is more, but I will stop here.
EB: As a scholar, you have written in one of your articles that one cannot call Erdoğan a dictator. Nowadays, we are witnessing the fact that state mechanisms and the law have come to a halt. In this new situation, what should we call the ruling leader?
AI: Let me say three things here. First of all, at this moment, I technically consider Turkey to be an authoritarian democracy. But it would be premature to say more about this before the upcoming election results. Second, when you see what has been disclosed as an outcome of the power struggle between the AKP and the Gülen Movement established within the state institutions, do you really believe that the problem is about a single individual? That is to say, do you really think if Prime Minister Erdoğan leaves but other things within the bureaucracy remain unchanged, the situation will be resolved? I think authoritarianism is a process that has spread into the layers of the state, embodied by different cadres of bureaucracy and mobilized for different purposes and motivations. Isn’t the current tension a result of dissonance between the motivations of these different cadres? Isn’t this a factor that makes these groups’ methods and discourses mutually imperious? Can we really explain this picture with a single person’s appetite for authority? I mean, don’t you think the methods used in previous trials and what is now unraveled in the current power struggle between the two parties might have contributed to increasing the authoritarian tendencies of the Prime Minister? I am talking about simple things such as unlawful wiretapping and violation of privacy. There is a concrete process here, and I believe many bureaucrats contributed to and are directly responsible for the current situation....Third, yes, of course I can also see that there is a situation to be seriously concerned about right now. Please allow me to say this, however: had we spent half of the time dedicated to debating whether the Prime Minister is a dictator or not on organizing and on debating questions such as what is democracy, what are the mechanisms conducive to authoritarianism, what is justice, and what does it mean to actually face the past, we probably would be in a much better place than where we are right now.
 These trials include the Ergenekon, Balyoz/Sledgehammer, Kurdish KCK, and Progressive Lawyers Association trials, among many others. Each of these trials targeted very different groups and was conducted in the Special High Authorized Courts. Balyoz/Sledgehammer is a court case that targeted the military with accusations of a coup plot; Ergenekon convicted hundreds of bureaucrats, retired officers and military, journalists, and politicians with charges of being part of a Turkish gladio or the “deep state”; the Kurdish KCK is an investigation that targeted thousands of elected Kurdish politicians, lawyers, and journalists; and Progressive Lawyers Association is a trial that accuses lawyers of being terrorists. The Progressive Lawyers Association is composed of lawyers who actually investigate state-operated human rights violations, such as the Roboski massacre during which the military claimed it mistook civilians for PKK guerillas and killed thirty-four civilian youth, or the death of Festus Okey, a Nigerian asylum seeker who was killed under police custody. What brought all these cases and all these people from different ends of the ideological spectrum together were the concrete controversies and major grievances that occurred in the trial process. In these cases, what was constituted as “evidence” and how it was collected, as well as the use of unreliable and inconsistent secret witness statements, caused controversies. According to the Associated Press report of 2011, Turkey has convicted a very large number of people on charges of terrorism. If one actually translates the numbers provided by the AP into a ratio given the population of Turkey, the chilling result is that Turkey has convicted one out of every six thousand citizens of terrorism, which was within the jurisdiction of the Special High Authorized Courts, placing Turkey at the top of the list of countries that use the anti-terror law “to crack down dissent.”
 Levent Göktaş has said he had never seen this DVD, which contains inappropriate material on hundreds of bureaucrats and their families. He requested a fingerprint examination on the DVD (since he was sure his were not on the DVD). The Police Criminal Laboratory declared that the DVD was just broken and therefore a fingerprint examination could not be conducted on it. They have then claimed that they had taken a copy of the DVD after they raided and confiscated Göktaş’s office on 7 January 2009. Considering the “sensitive” contents, the police officers put the “copy” DVD into the Ergenekon evidence dossier. An analysis of this supposedly copied DVD revealed that the police had taken a copy of this DVD not after the raid and the supposed “confiscation” of it, but in fact a week before, on 31 December 2008. This raises serious questions not only about possibly fabricated evidence by the police, but also their access to sensitive material on hundreds of uniformed and civilian bureaucrats and their family members.
 The Turkish national identification number is like the social security number in the United States.
 Aslı Iğsız and her husband sued the newspaper that published her passport and his birth records. They won the case and the court condemned the newspaper to pay 8,000 TL (approximately 4,000 USD) each for the caused damages. Last week, the Cassation Court (Yargıtay) reversed this verdict and sent the case back to the local court for retrial. The rationale was the following: according to the Cassation Court, Aslı Iğsız’s husband had not suffered any damages from this news, and therefore, no compensation to him was necessary. Additionally, the Cassation Court found the price set for publishing an illegally obtained copy of Aslı Iğsız’s passport and exposing her national identification number and birth records to be too high.
 If this investigation turns into a court case, Hakan Iğsız will be tried for insulting the court, with a requested jail sentence of up to four years.
 This draft generated great concerns because the question of “legally” tapped phones is a very problematic issue in Turkey to begin with. What constitutes “legal” became a major issue in the mid-2000s. Consequently, there have been major grievances in “legally” tapped phone conversations, as it became very easy to obtain permission with forged documents under fake names, and concomitantly, these easily obtained permissions violated the rights of many. Even the phones of some members of the judiciary who oversaw these big trials turned out to be tapped by different institutions, including law enforcement. Additionally, the legal tapping may include one person, but if another, unrelated person happens to speak with this person under legal scrutiny, any leaked conversation violates the rights of that third party. And finally, there are serious concerns that some members of the then allegedly Gülen-controlled law enforcement were collecting and leaking confidential material to third party websites, as happened with the Ergenekon DVD #51. Regardless of the allegations, the power struggle between the Gülen movement and Prime Minister Erdoğan illustrates exactly the same methods used against one another: private phone conversations and private materials are all over the internet. This raises questions about their possible collaborations in earlier cases, before their power struggle.
[This interview, conducted by Ezgi Başaran, was first published in Radikal on 1 February; the original version can be found here. It has been translated by Ayça Alemdaroğlu, Gülay Türkmen, Nil Uzun, and Zeynep Oğuz.]