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The Rise and Decline of the Turkish “Deep State”: The Ergenekon Case

This article tests Mancur Olson’s theory of distributional coalitions against the case of the Turkish “deep state.” Olson’s theory holds that rent-seeking (or special-interest) groups tend to be exclusive by nature and pursue only the interests of their own members. Since their members account to a very small minority, these groups present their interests as being the interests of larger communities. The article argues that the Turkish case confirms the fundamental assumptions of the theory of distributional coalitions. An analysis of the historical process of the newly-exposed Turkish deep state reveals that, when put in proper context, its clandestine activities manifest a pattern which involves systematic efforts of an exclusive circle of group members (1) to impact the workings of Turkish society, and more recently, (2) to reverse the country’s democratization process in an effort to sustain the network’s dominating influence.

On November 3, 1996, a black Mercedes Benz crashed into a truck driving out of a gas station in Susurluk, a small town in northwest Turkey. Of the four occupants in the luxury car, three died at the scene, and one survived. Once the identities of the occupants of the car hit the news, the phrase “deep state” (derin devlet) became a part of everyday political debates in Turkey. Because, those deceased were (1) the former deputy head of the Istanbul Police Department, (2) an ultranationalist hitman wanted on Interpol’s Red List, and (3) the hitman’s mistress. Furthermore, the surviving passenger was a member of the Turkish Parliament, and the leader of a Kurdish village-guard clan.

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Call for Paper | Politics of the Balkans and Future Perspectives