In recent years, Turkey has been energetically investigating unexplained political crimes that had been committed in the past, hoping to shed some light on the work of what's known as the "Deep State," a phrase used to describe a shadowy zone where state interests intersected in previous decades with lawless and corrupt elements of the bureaucracy, military and the security establishment.
In the case of late President Turgut Ozal, this unearthing of the past has been taken quite literally. The body of Ozal, who died of heart failure in 1993 at age 65, was recently exhumed in order to allow for an autopsy that might determine whether the leader was in fact poisoned. Although the dynamic Ozal was overweight and had undergone triple-bypass heart surgery the year before he died, his passing has long been treated by Turks as "mysterious," perhaps the result of the Deep State wanting to remove the reform-minded president from the scene.
Turkey has always been fertile ground for conspiracy theories and the circumstances surrounding Ozal's death provided too many tantalizing details -- an ambulance at his residence that wouldn't start, among some of them -- to make it possible for many Turks to believe that the president died of natural causes. Ozal's family, meanwhile, long insisted that he had been poisoned, with his wife claiming that he had been given a suspicious glass of lemonade at a reception at the Bulgarian embassy in Ankara the night before he died.
Earlier this year, heeding to increasing calls in some parts of the Turkish media and by Ozal's relatives to investigate the death, Turkish prosecutors started looking into the case, finally ordering the president's body to exhumed this October so that an autopsy could be conducted by the state's Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK). Although some Turkish press reports last month said the autopsy revealed the presence of several pesticides and radioactive substances, leading the ATK's experts to believe Ozal had been poisoned, the final report on his death came to a different conclusion. "Toxic materials were found in Ozal's body but these poisons were present in a form which could be found in any person's body," an official who saw the report told Hurriyet.
Case closed? Hardly. Reports Today's Zaman (whose sister paper, Zaman, has been one of the publications calling for Ozal's death to be investigated):
“The report did not clear up the suspicions surrounding Özal's death. At least my suspicions remain,” stated Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ on Wednesday when commenting on the ATK report to journalists. “The [autopsy] report says poison was detected in Özal's body but does not explain where this poison came from. Suspicions surfaced on the day Özal died, and they continue to exist,” Bozdağ noted.
Bozdag is among a handful of current and former Turkish politicians quoted in the article who claim that rather than providing answers to the questions raised by Ozal's death, the autopsy only raises suspicions that Turkey's top forensic institute is involved in some kind of grand coverup.
The implication, of course, is that the Deep State is alive and well and still in business, in this case pulling the strings necessary to bury the truth about Ozal's death. The doubters interviewed by Today's Zaman do have a point: a "deep state" does still exists in Turkey. Sadly, it's one of conspiracy-minded paranoia, a condition that doesn't seem to be going away.
[UPDATE: Prosecutors have said the investigation into Ozal's death will continue, despite the forensic report, allowing the case to live on.]