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Turkey’s ghosts come back to haunt

Turkey’s top general, Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ, may have declared the document in which an plot against the government is allegedly spelled out a "fake."

He may have rested this claim - made during a press conference at which he was flanked by 36 top generals - on the findings of military prosecutors, going on to belittle the alleged document as just a "piece of paper." But neither Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, nor his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, appear intent on letting the matter rest, even though the original version of the alleged document has never been found since its contents were published by daily Taraf.

That leaves the whole acrimonious debate centered on a photocopy purportedly carrying the signature of a certain Col. Dursun Çiçek from GHQ.

Meanwhile, AKP officials have filed a formal complaint about the alleged document, and Prime Minister Erdoğan, speaking a day after Gen. Başbuğ’s press conference, has backed this move.

Although the inquiry by the military prosecutor may have been concluded, Erdoğan said the civilian judiciary would be conducting its own investigation now, a clear position of defiance given that past rulings by the military judiciary have rarely been questioned in this manner. The debate surrounding this document/piece of paper is not the only indication, however, of the cat-and-mouse game going on between the military and the AKP, a game that is progressively leading to more tension between the two sides and their supporters.

A pair of developments in this respect happened just as the National Security Council, or MGK, was due to meet in order to discuss the document/piece of paper as one of its main agenda items.

In the first of these, the Parliament - in which the AKP has an overbearing presence - passed legislation that will enable military personnel to be tried in civilian courts, rather than military ones, during peacetime. In addition, the same legislation ensures that civilians will not be tried by military courts.

The government argues that this move is aimed at meeting EU criteria.

But critics point to the timing of this legislation and said that while the EU demands less military intervention in politics, it has no criteria concerning military courts - though many European countries have such courts - other than that these courts subscribe to relevant European conventions.

It is inevitable, therefore, that this move should have been interpreted within the context of the struggle between the military and the AKP, rather than as an attempt to harmonize with EU legislation.

Confusing steps

The other significant development, as the MGK was preparing to deliberate the latest developments, was the surprise arrest of Col. Dursun Çiçek as a suspect in the "Ergenekon terrorist organization case," as AKP supporters have come to see it.

The prosecutor in that case alleges a plot to overthrow the AKP government by means of violent acts aimed at destabilizing society, making a military intervention inevitable.

What was interesting in the case of Col. Çiçek was that he was invited in by the civilian prosecutor of the Ergenekon case to answer some questions, whereupon he was unexpectedly arrested and put in prison as a suspect. What confused the matter further was that he was released by another court less than 24 hours later, even though the case initiated against him will continue.

An addendum to all this is the fact that the government is now trying to change the constitution in a manner that could allow the perpetrators of the 1980 coup, including Gen. Kenan Evren, who went on to become president, to be tried.

It seems the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, may not be totally averse to this, seeing as it was at the head of the list of parties that suffered in 1980.

Not to anyone’s surprise, these developments have further split Turkish society - which is already divided along a host of fault lines - and have led to mounting anger on all sides. It is clear that old ghosts in Turkey’s closet are coming out to haunt the country in a way that has the potential to cause serious political instability.

It is obviously a good thing that the Turkish military’s role in a modern society is being increasingly defined as a result of these developments. All the indications are that its political influence is being whittled away in a serious and unprecedented manner.

But there are aspects to how this is being done that lead one to question just how sincere the government and its supporters in the judiciary are - and it is difficult, given recent developments, to argue that the judiciary is impartial.

Using the notion of "EU criteria" in this way, while doing hardly anything in terms of the reforms that must be enacted in order to move Turkey’s membership talks along, does appear less than sincere.

What is also worrying is that simply because the government is hitting at the military in this way, some European officials and media organs that are looking at the matter superficially appear pleased over all of this. Because of this, they are suspending their judgment and refusing to ask some questions they should be asking.

At any rate, signs are emerging that even the government is now concerned about where all of this may lead. It has agreed to a commission that will take up all these matters and ensure that the tensions between vital organs of the state do not increase further. The coming days and weeks will show whether or not this is possible.
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