Obviously, it was a very difficult decision for President Abdullah Gül to make. Despite the hopes of opposition parties and skeptics who suspect the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, of harboring a secret agenda to gradually Islamize the administration of secular Turkey and who see the military as "custodian" of the modern republic, and of course the secularism principle, the president did not veto in whole or part the controversial legislation that allows officers to be tried in civilian courts and signed it into law. In approving into law, however, Gül called on the AKP, a party that escaped closure by the Constitutional Court last year but was convicted in a ten to one vote of being the focus of anti-secular activities and subjected to a hefty fine, to take swift legislative steps to allay the concerns of the strong Turkish military and clarify the scope of the new law. "In implementing these reforms, it would be beneficial for legal changes to be made to remove doubts likely to arise over discipline and legal guarantees from the perspective of military service," the president said in a written statement.
In Turkish, there is a saying, "this rice needs more water," which more or less underlines a conviction that the issue at hand is far from complete or that discussions are not over yet.
Initial reactions from the governing party were clear. From the most adamant including, Bülent Arınç, to the soft speaking and much admired Cemil Çiçek and AKP’s Parliamentary Group deputy chairman Bekir Bozdağ, most AKP spokesmen swiftly declared that they have taken note of the "reservations" the president attached to his decision to endorse the contentious legislation that passed through Parliament on June 26 in a midnight operation without debate. Opposition parties, obviously, underlined that if the president had some reservations about the bill, and if he indeed believed that there was need to take some further legal steps to allay opposition and army concerns, indeed he must send it back for a second review by Parliament. Many critics and constitutional law professors, in addition to opposition parties, have been defending that the new law contravened constitutional Article 145 that defines the duties, responsibilities and the scope of the military courts, as well as the laws on the establishment, peace time and war time duties and scope of military tribunals. Indeed, the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, has already made clear that it will soon refer the issue to the Constitutional Court to call for its annulment on the grounds of constitutional incompatibility.
Many legal experts and the AKP on the other hand have been defending that there is no constitutional incompatibility, and that even if an incompatibility exists, the reform undertaken is in line with European Court of Human Rights verdicts and the reform pledges Turkey has made to the EU to promote its EU accession bid, under the principle of supremacy of international law and international court verdicts to domestic legislation such constitutional incompatibility would be invalidated. Now, everyone will have to wait, first for the CHP to apply to the High Court and then for the court to decide on the issue, while in August the AKP is expected to start considering what further steps could be taken to allay the army’s concerns. But, will the AKP heed the advice of Gül and undertake such a course? Gül made a similar appeal while endorsing the constitutional reform package legislated in the hopes of allowing the headscarf to be worn in universities, the AKP however did not act on the issue and the headscarf amendments became cited as evidence of the AKP’s anti-secular designs in the closure case.
Indeed, even the opposition parties do not object to the new law allowing civilian courts to try military personnel in times of peace for attempts to topple the government and offences related to national security and organized crime, while it also transfers to civilian courts the power to try civilians in peacetime for offences outlined in the military penal code. However, the reform was made with such haste in an ambush-like tactic that besides constitutional incompatibility and a potential confusion of jurisdiction of civilian and military tribunals, with the new law, top generals of the country were left without any judicial shield.
This rice needs more water.
It can be perfectly argued by "nationalist" opponents of the reopening of the Greek Orthodox Halki (Heybeliada) Seminary on the island of Heybeliada that, since headed by the right to elect their own religious leader or mufti, Greece has been denying the religious rights of the Muslim and ethnic Turkish minority living in that country in violation of the Lausanne Treaty, there can be no obligation for Turkey to reopen the seminary within the framework of the rights provided to the Greek Orthodox minority of Istanbul. But, can there be the practice of tit for tat, or reciprocity in human rights? Has Greece "obtained" the right to forcefully evict the Muslim and Turkish minority living in western Thrace to Turkey because an idiotic nationalistic and radical mob staged shameful events on September 6-7, 1955 and forced most of the Greek Orthodox residents of Istanbul flee to Greece? Or, can Turkey "obtain" the right to withdraw the Turkish nationality of its Greek Orthodox population traveling to Greece or outside the country and staying for more than just few months because until recently Greece was applying the same inhumane treatment to its Muslim and ethnic Turkish population traveling to Turkey?
The violation of human rights of a minority by one country cannot be the pretext of the violation of the human rights of another minority in a neighboring country. There can be no such reciprocity even if the rights of the two minorities might have been regulated in a corresponding manner with the same, in our case Lausanne, international treaty. After all, under the principle of constitutional citizenship, all citizens of a country must have equal rights. Furthermore, under international minority norms, rather than being considered a "potential threat" and having their rights restricted on the understanding obsessed by certain phobias, the minorities of this country must be accorded with some "additional" rights to preserve and promote their ethnic, religious, cultural, or whatever differences.
One of the key phobias in some segments of this country, regarding the dwindling Greek Orthodox minority, is the "ecumenical status" of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. With the claim that the patriarchate is a "national institution," Turkey has been categorically objecting to the patriarchate being considered or even referred to with the ecumenical title that dates back to pre-republic times. What is the loss for Turkey if the country acknowledges the fact that all around the world the patriarchate is considered as ecumenical, that it is universal? On the contrary, Turkey should be proud that as a national institution of our country, the patriarchate enjoys such recognition. Still, a phobia that the patriarchate could turn into a second Vatican is crippling the ability of many Turks from seeing where the interests of the country indeed lie.
Second Vatican phobia
The Halki Seminary quandary is a by-product of that obsession, of course, in addition to the phobia that should the Greek Orthodox be allowed an educational institution independent from the Education Ministry or the Higher Education Council, or YÖK, the country may have to battle similar demands from Islamist groups. There is, of course a difference between the two religions. In one there is no clergy. Besides, more than enough people every year graduate from theological high schools, or the Imam Hatips, and theology departments of universities. However, in the Greek Orthodoxy, there is a clergy class and only those graduating from a theology school can be ordained into the church as a clergy-man. The first difficulty of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Turkey is the dwindling Greek Orthodox population. The second problem is that Halki has been closed since 1971 and the patriarchate is having difficulty in finding sufficient new additions to its staff. Even a new patriarch could only be elected after being made a Turkish citizen by the Council of Ministers, because under our laws, only a Turkish national can be elected as patriarch to our "national institution" - the patriarchate.
While the country is once again debating the reopening of the Halki Seminary as a "Heybeliada Minority Vocational High School," that is as a vocational secondary school affiliated to the Education Ministry, Turkey should manage to rid itself from artificial phobias, act with reason and take some practical steps in comforting our Greek Orthodox minority with an awareness of the problems it faces because of their dwindling numbers. After all, there can be no reciprocity in human rights.
It is difficult to understand, and definitely incompatible with all the principles of good leadership, why Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insists on confronting everyone and every institution in an aggressive manner. A leader ought to be the problem solver, not the one creating problems. Yet, very much like his aggressive style demonstrated in front of the global community at Davos this year, during which he not only yelled into the face of Nobel peace prize winner Israeli President Shimon Peres saying, "You know well how to kill," but also walked out of the panel declaring, "Davos has ended for me," the Turkish premier is confronting everyone, be it workers, employers, international agencies such as the IMF, the military or judiciary, and of course the political opposition all the time.
Indeed, no one can accuse him of being unstable. Except for coming together for some social reasons, the prime minister has not come together even once over the past many years with the main opposition party leader. Only some ten days ago the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, withdrew a request for an appointment with him after their request was not even given a positive or negative answer after many months.
Perhaps the apparent affection of the Turkish people to macho leaders, as election results might imply, is one reason why the premier and his AKP has been following such an aggressive style in politics. Turkey is a country with an ambiguous dynamism. There is something new every few days up for some heated discussion and debate in this country. Yet, it is quite rare to see the government and his parliamentary majority introduce a radical legislative change in a midnight ambush and allow civilian courts to prosecute the military officers; legislate a "reform" in labor laws and allow a "workers for lease" practice condemned by labor as a move aimed to create a modern version of a "slave market" and a prime minister publicly quarrelling with the labor unions saying, "They say they will go on strike if we refuse their demand for a higher pay rise. Right, go on strike, will not afford give you more." Though, since that "courageous" statement, the premier and his top aides are negotiating with the labor methods of preventing a strike; publicly adamancy persists as usual. Yesterday, labor was on a one-hour warning strike, if administrative adamancy and aggressive leadership style continued, we may soon find ourselves buried in widespread labor unrest.
Someone should perhaps provide the prime minister the legendary advice of Sheigh Edebali to Osman Ghazi, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, and tell him that there is an "Edebali style" proved over centuries to be far better than the "Davos style".
Sheikh Edebali (1206-1326) was an early Ottoman period highly influential and respected religious leader, who helped shape and develop the policies of the Ottoman Empire. Edebali's advice to his son in law, Osman Ghazi, upon becoming the sultan after the death of the Ertuğrul Ghazi, was not just a lecture in good governance; it also shaped and developed Ottoman administration and rule for many centuries.
In his famous declaration Edebali told Osman, who is considered the founder of the Ottoman Empire:
"My son, now, you are the leader!
From now on wrath is for us; the calmness is for you.
Being offended is for us; pleasing is for you.
The impeachment is for us; to endure is for you. Incapacity and mistakes are for us; tolerance is for you.
Disagreements and disparity are for us; justice is for you.
Unfairness is for us; forgiveness is for you.
Dividing is for us, completing is for you.
Slothfulness is for us, warning and guiding is for you.
My son, your burden is heavy, your duty is difficult and your power is like up to a hair.
May Allah be with you."
Can there indeed be a government which has developed wrath with some key institutions of the state; which is acting in an offended manner; which is trying to achieve some key legislations through an ambush culture; sawing disparity and disagreement rather than allowing wider freedom to justice; which has forgotten the word fairness; that has become separatist; and which is obsessed with power with a majoritarian understanding?
Under current presidential powers, President Abdullah Gül has to make a decision, for or against, a parliamentary legislation within 15 days after the legislation is submitted to the presidency for endorsement. That is, the president has until July 13 to make a decision on the midnight parliamentary operation of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, authorizing civilian courts to prosecute army officials and limiting the jurisdiction of the military courts. It will not be at all an easy decision to make for President Gül. It is as if the president is compelled to get hold of a stick, both ends of which are dirty. On the one hand there is the government defending that the midnight operation empowering civilian courts to prosecute military officers is a move enhancing democracy. Indeed, the military has so far not directly accused anyone or any group of conducting an "asymmetric psychological war" against itself, but in recent remarks Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ tacitly directed his finger at the Islamist Fethullah Gülen brotherhood organization with which the ruling AKP has no organic ties, but some very strong moral bonds.
The president technically has three options. He may endorse the legislation into law; he may send back the legislation for a second review by Parliament; or he may partially veto the legislation and ask Parliament to reword the authorization to be given to civilian courts to prosecute army officials in a manner clarifying how and by which court the Chief of General Staff and the force commanders can be prosecuted.
Gül likely will not use his veto power
So far "leaks" from the presidential office indicate that the president has more or less made up his decision on the issue. Contrary to the widespread expectations, the president is reportedly not inclined towards a veto or partial veto of the legislation, but instead will approve it. As he did with the contentious constitutional amendment package aimed at paving the way to the lifting of the turban ban at universities (one of the developments that had triggered the closure case against the AKP), together with his endorsement for the legislation, he will make a lengthy statement underscoring the need to make a complimentary law defining how and where the chief of general staff, force commanders and generals on duty can be prosecuted. He is expected, as well, to underline the need to make some amendments in the constitutional article 145 that defines the scope and powers of military justice system, as well as the laws on military justice system, to avoid any possible conflict and confusion.
President Gül’s personal political history, his commitment for wider democracy, enhanced individual rights and consolidation of civilian rule in the country, sources have said, was one predominant reason why the president is not expected to veto in whole or partially the new legislation allowing civilian courts to prosecute officers.
Thus, while the military, the opposition parties and a section of the Turkish media still hope that the president will not allow the tension over the new legislation continue for several more months and will send it back in whole or the contentious article for a second review by Parliament, "leaks" from the presidential office and sources in the ruling AKP appear to be quite confident that Gül will endorse the bill and urge some further complementary legislation to eradicate the military’s complaints when Parliament returns from recess to elect its new speaker in the second half of August. AKP sources have been particularly stressing that Gül, like the former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, should not put himself in the place of the Constitutional Court and veto the legislation on grounds of constitutional incompatibility. While particularly the CHP has been stressing that it was among the president’s duties to seek compatibility with the Constitution and as the legislation in question clearly violates constitutional Article 145, rather than asking to reform Article 145, the president must veto the legislation contradicting a constitutional article.
Whatever the decision of Gül might be, he will either upset his "comrades in politics," Premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP, by vetoing in whole or partially the contentious legislation or hurt the "impartiality" and "to act in a manner above party politics" principles of the office he occupies and sign into law a legislation that contradicts the Constitution.
The suggestion of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, for the annulment of the Provisional Article 15 of the 1982 Constitution providing an efficient judicial immunity for the leaders of the 1980 coup, as well as members of the government and the Consultative Assembly that served during the coup period would perhaps serve no meaningful purpose if the ruling Justice and Development Party, or the AKP, parliamentary majority help to legislate it. Kenan Evren and his "comrades in coup" could not be brought in front of court even if the Provisional Article 15 was annulled. First of all, bringing in front of justice a group of geriatric retired generals and the collaborators who are all in their 90s and many of them long dead, will not be possible because of their advanced age. Secondly, their crime was pardoned with the Provisional Article 15 in a plebiscite on the Constitution in 1982 and thus under the principle that constitutional articles and laws cannot be applied retrospectively, they will continue benefitting from the 1982 special constitutional amnesty they declared for themselves and approved by the nation.
Thus, annulment of Provisional Article 15 will not produce any result in that sense. However, getting rid of that article will have a symbolic meaning. If the article was annulled, that will be a declaration by the civilian parliament that those who staged coups or planning to stage coups in the future can pay a price for the crime they committed or might commit.
Indeed, if not tainted with a revanchist campaign against political opponents, secularists, Kemalists and patriots all rejecting categorically an Islamist drift in the country at the expense of secular and democratic republic adhering to the principle of supremacy of justice, the Ergenekon probe and the judicial case could serve as well as a "deterrent" against future coup attempts in the country. The prosecutors will soon submit to the court the third glossy indictment and perhaps increase the number of defendants within the case to around 200 or more. I am afraid the fourth, fifth and perhaps the tenth or further indictments will come in the months and years ahead and the number of people accused will exceed thousands while the number of pages of the indictments will reach several hundred thousand. Ergenekon probe is not only diluted with this wholesome "get all the opponents in" approach, but it has lost all its meaning as no one expects anything reasonable or meaningful come out of it one day. However, Turkey should not have missed this chance or wasted it in a revanchist campaign and must have been able to demonstrate that there is a resolved community, government and an opposition rejecting outright an intervention in politics at any cost. That would have been a great contribution to the advancement of democracy in this country.
However, the "? la carte" and self-catering democrats and liberals of this country have wasted precious opportunities of marching towards the democracy and human rights level of the European club of democracies by burying themselves in those revanchist struggles and attempting to create a justice and internal security system serving to their interest.
Is it not a fact that in today’s Turkey no charge could be brought against a senior member of the AKP or the Fethullah Gülen brotherhood gang or even if a charge could be made no force can take that prominent AKP or Gülen gang figure to a court?
Yes, all those involved in coups or caught in preparation of a coup must be brought to justice. Coup must be severely criminalized. But, at the same time we have to bring to justice those who have been torturing people during interrogations, at detention places, prisons or violating individual rights and freedoms or killing people in the back just because they did not heed to an order to stop. Yes, besides coup plotters, I want to see people who siphoned charity money donated by Turks abroad. Yes, I want the over 70-year-old Islamist writer who sexually assaulted an 14-year-old girl be adequately punished. Yes, I want the prime minister give an account how he established his wealth, how he managed to buy a ship to his son. Ys, I want to see a top AKP official who alleged (indeed documented) to have received a one million dollars bribe to help change the land development status of a lot.
Is it wrong to expect doctors, nurses and the health minister give an account in front of a judge for the death of 49 newborn babies at an Ankara hospital last year?
Shall we try only the coup plotters?
Looking over his glasses and directly into my eyes, a bewildered European friend asked why people he believed would have been delighted with the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, dominated Parliament legislating a groundbreaking law allowing civilian courts to prosecute army officials were so angered with the development and why the National Security Council, or MGK, met almost eight hours on the issue. "Is it not good that staging a coup has become more difficult in Turkey? Is it not good that civilian courts now will have the power to prosecute military officers should they plot a coup?" Before I managed to quip out a meaningful answer, he continued: "Are you not against military coups? I thought you were. Why are you criticizing the government of enacting a reform aimed at strengthening a civilian justice system and curtailing some extraordinary powers and indeed privileges of the military incompatible in a democratic country? Don’t you understand what the government did in enacting that law was not just empowering civilian courts to prosecute officers and generals, but indeed limiting the influence of military in policy making by reducing their immunity from civilian prosecution? If coup plotters can be tried in civilian courts, then it might become difficult and too risky to plot a coup."
Indeed, my friend was right. How can anyone who claims to be a democrat aspiring to see wider democracy, enhanced individual rights and consolidated civilian governance in this country compatible with the standards of the European club of democracies that we aspire to join in as a full member object to a legislation eradicating an anomaly of democratic governance in this country?
I tried to explain to him that the vast majority of this country, irrespective of their political tendencies, would be delighted to see the AKP government undertaking some meaningful reforms aimed at consolidating civilian justice and promoting independence of civilian justice system. For example, bringing an end to the presence of the justice minister and his undersecretary at the High Board of Judges and Prosecutors (a body that decides appointments, promotions as well as punishment of the judges and prosecutors) and taking some other moves aimed at limiting if not totally eradication of custody of civilian political power on the justice mechanism would be a far more meaningful reform. Still, excluding the timing and the methodology applied by the AKP government and its parliamentary majority, limiting the sphere of military justice system while enhancing the civilian one is indeed a development which ought to be appreciated.
Yet, when and how something is done is sometimes far more important than what indeed is done. At a time when the military and many people in this country are complaining of a systematic, asymmetrical, psychological campaign aimed at hurting the prestige of the military with the Turkish people; when over a photocopied document, the authenticity of which could not be verified, the military or some senior officers are implicated in a plan aimed at stopping the civilian governing party and an Islamist brotherhood organization nested particularly in the police intelligence; it is only natural for many people to wonder whether this was a democratic reform or there was something else, some other motivation and design behind such a move. That is, most of the problem is a product of a confidence crisis.
Furthermore, the current crisis appears to be product of a well-planned "attention distraction program" the AKP has been implementing. As if there is a coup plot about to be unleashed an artificial discussion is continuing in the country over the Ergenekon probe and case and the recent document which is apparently a fake, while on the one hand the government is doing all it can to stall the Turkish leg of the Lighthouse sham that the German court described as the worst fraud case of recent German history and on the other hand people’s attention was distracted from worsening economic situation, the worst slump of the gdp since 1945.
Still, criminalizing coups can be no remedy to Turkey’s current democratization, corruption or economic woes. Yes, I can guarantee, as the top general has been doing so, that there will not be a coup in Turkey. Will such a guarantee be valid and meaningful and indeed guard us against a coup if with the pretext of democratic reform but, with a majoritarian ambush mentality an asymmetric campaign is continued?
With his dirty beard and almond moustache, a prominent journalist who writes for one of the leading newspapers of the Islamist Fethullah Gülen brotherhood organization appeared on an international news channel. He spoke about the rapid release of a colonel alleged to have authored a plan aimed at stopping the advance of Gülen’s group and the ruling AKP. Why the prosecutors of the so-called Ergenekon probe and judicial case demanded the arrest of the colonel has not yet been made public. And why the court on duty agreed with the demands of the colonel’s advocates and decided to release him after 19 hours in prison has not yet been disclosed. But the journalist with the almond moustache and dirty beard was saying on TV that the colonel’s release showed not only that the country’s justice system has a duality because of the civilian and military courts, but also that there is a duality between the civilian courts and judges.
"There are judges applying the law and there are judges acting along ideological lines. One is putting the colonel behind bars; the other is releasing him. The release was a political decision," the journalist said.
An 'exception' becomes routine
Under the Turkish law covering trial procedures, an arrest must be an exceptional application. Unfortunately, this is not the case in practice. Though the law underscores that, apart from being captured "in flagrante delicto" Ğ that is, red-handed Ğ committing a crime punishable by serious penalty, a suspect can be arrested only if there is possibility that he or she will conceal evidence or escape. The same law emphasizes that the residences, bureaus or offices of suspects can only be searched with a court order, during daytime hours and in the presence of the suspect’s defense advocate. Furthermore, the law specifies that a detailed list of items taken by the police or gendarmerie must be given to the suspect or his or her advocate, and that Ğ if computers or other electronic data-storing equipment were to be confiscated Ğ a copy of the electronic data to be confiscated must be prepared and given to the suspect or his or her advocate.
These fundamental principles have been blatantly violated during the Ergenekon probe. Not only were residences ambushed in the middle of the night, the suspects’ books, articles, films, music CDs, electronic data-storing equipment and computers were confiscated without giving many of them a copy of what was taken. In addition, suspects were placed behind bars without considering the rule that arrest must be an exceptional application. What the country lived through, and has been living through still, because of the Ergenekon probe is a systematic effort to build an empire of fear in this land and thus to scare and silence the opponents of the political administration.
Apart from unnecessarily restricting individual liberties, as long as there is no possibility of concealing evidence or escape, is there any difference between keeping a suspect behind bars and letting him or her free as long as the investigation or judicial case is continuing? Like Col. Dursun Çiçek, most of those under arrest within the framework of the Ergenekon probe or trial could have been released pending the outcome of the investigation or court process against them. That is a requirement of the law covering trial procedures if arrest or restriction of individual rights is an exceptional practice.
In Çiçek’s case, he is alleged to be the author of a plan aimed at stopping the AKP and the Gülen group. The original version of the plan could not be found. What we have at hand is a photocopy, and a photocopy cannot be legally valid evidence. Çiçek might be facing some other charges and his arrest might have been due to some other evidence that the court has not yet disclosed. His release as the result of appeal by his lawyer might actually be the result of a second evaluation showing that the additional evidence was not strong either, or he might have been released simply because the judge concluded that he cannot conceal evidence and will not escape. Can such a decision be taken as evidence of "duality" in the judiciary?
Why don’t we instead try to understand what Prime Minister Erdoğan might have been trying to imply with his statement that "Police are the guarantee of Turkey." If the military guaranteeing democratic secular governance in Turkey was an indication of this country being under military custody, has Turkey become a police state? Is that why the premier says, "Police are the guarantee of Turkey"?
While the National Security Council, or MGK, was continuing its meeting behind closed doors under the chairmanship of President Abdullah Gül some 20 kilometers away, I was busy discussing philosophy and current affairs of the country over barbecue in the backyard of a villa at a plush suburb of Ankara with some friends overactive in conservative politics.
Earlier in the day, the Ergenekon prosecutors started questioning nine senior officers, one of them Dursun Çiçek, a colonel at the office of Chief of Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who was accused of "writing" a "military plan" to "finish off" the ruling AKP and the Islamist Fethullah Gülen brotherhood organization. Başbuğ had condemned the alleged plan and he declared that there were no reason to prosecute Çiçek. Should, he said, new evidence appear proving authenticity of the plan, Çiçek would be tried at a military tribunal. Yet, some ten hours before the general made that declaration, the AKP majority silently legislated in the middle of the night an amendment that allows civilian courts to judge senior officers for "heavy crimes" including "coup attempts."
There were, for obvious reasons, sharp contradictions between how we perceive the developments in the country. What was considered a "great success for the advance of democracy" for them, appeared to me as a grave threat to pluralist and secular democracy from a government with a majoritarianism obsession. The Ergenekon probe and judicial case was just one of the instruments, according to the conservative politician friends, to consolidate civilian rule and eradicate the coup threat in the country.
However, on the one hand I have been shivering in fear suspecting in all that has been happening a revanchist campaign of political Islam against the secular democratic republic, while on the other hand agreeing with the liberal democrat or conservative evaluations that Turkey has been going through a transformation campaign, which even though it might be a little bit painful, might indeed produce a more civilian governance and a democracy not obsessed with threats such as religious or ethnic and cultural differences.
"We are all in the 50s," said a friend. "We have forgotten how we acquired our independence and sovereignty from our parents. Now, our kids, who are all in their 20s, are revolting and demanding some sort of ’autonomy’ from us. Are not we having difficulty in accepting their demands?
Even though we would be proud that they have become independent individuals capable of standing on their feet without our help, won’t we feel a little bit sidestepped and even rendered useless? That is exactly what’s happening in Turkey as well.
The power center is changing and the young civilian democracy is telling the founding element, the military, ’Thank you for everything you did for me so far, but I want to stand on my own two feet without your support.’ That is all."
In the meantime, we heard from the television that the MGK concluded its second longest meeting, which lasted almost eight hours. The longest meeting was the Feb. 28, 1997 meeting at which a set of decisions were accepted or imposed on the first Islamist Premier Necmettin Erbakan against the advance of political Islam in the country.
The top civilian administrators and the top generals were in full consensus, according to a statement released, that there were "statements and publications" against some establishments of the Turkish republic, and the members of the highest "advisory" body "reaffirmed" that such statements and publications cannot serve any interest of Turkey. Well, that was a clear indication that Gen. İlker Başbuğ must have raised his complaint of a "systematic and asymmetric psychological campaign" against the Turkish Armed Forces and reiterated his belief that a witch-hunt was being continued in the country against some current or retired officers without adequate and sufficient evidence proving their wrongdoing. Still, the statement of the council demonstrated that after almost eight hours of deliberations, members managed to come out of the meeting with a consensus.
While sipping our dark Turkish coffee late in the night, there came the biggest news of the night and perhaps the past many months. Colonel Çiçek was arrested on grounds of membership in Ergenekon organization.
What was the consensus at the MGK?
The word "tangent" comes from the Latin "tangere," meaning, "to touch." Wikipedia explains that in geometry, the tangent line (or, simply, the tangent) to a curve at a given point is the straight line that "just touches" the curve at that point. As it passes through the point of tangency, the tangent line is "going in the same direction" as the curve, and, in this sense, it is the best straight-line approximation to the curve at that point. A "bulls-eye," on the other hand, means the "focal point" or "center point" of a target.
Now, the question: Did the global economic crisis pass Turkey tangentially, or did it hit Turkey on the bulls-eye?
Unemployment figures are bizarre! According to official statistics, which for obvious reasons take into account only the "registered economy," almost one in five Turks is unemployed. The situation for youth is even more dreadful - one in every three is unemployed. If the unregistered economy, women (particularly in rural areas) and those who have given up hope of employment and no longer are seeking jobs are added to this bleak picture, it could be concluded that Turkey has never been in such a terrible situation.
Even the statistics of the 1940s, when Turkey was rationing bread during World War II, though it successfully managed to stay out of that calamity, show that the country’s economy was performing far better than it is today. Regarding capacity utilization, again according to official figures, the best-performing industries that managed to remain open in spite of the crisis are producing almost at half capacity. The Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges, or TOBB, reported the closure of thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises over just the past few months. Yet the government is still claiming that the global economic crisis has passed Turkey tangentially.
Record negative growth
If, by the time this article reaches readers, the Turkish Statistical Institute, or TürkStat, does not recall its report and issue a new one with improved figures, the first-quarter performance of the Turkish economy underscores the reality that annual growth of up to 8 percent will probably be replaced this year with a record negative growth.
International agencies, as well as the World Bank, have already forecasted negative growth of more than 6 percent for Turkey in 2009. I am afraid the situation will be far worse than that.
According to the data released by TürkStat yesterday, in the first quarter of 2009, the Turkish economy shrunk as though the country was in a state of war, or perhaps worse. The data released by the government agency - which has, unfortunately, established a notorious reputation with "updates" to its own published reports that portray the government as "more successful" than it actually has been - showed that Turkey’s gross national product in the first quarter of this year shrunk by an unprecedented 13.8 percent, much higher than the anticipated negative 12 percent growth.
Compared to the last quarter of 2008, when Turkish GNP shrunk by 6.2 percent, the 13.8 percent negative growth of the Turkish economy demonstrated clearly that the global crisis indeed did not pass tangentially; coupled with the domestic crisis, it has instead hit the country on the bulls-eye.
Originally the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government forecasted a growth of 4 percent for the Turkish economy in 2009. Later, that figure was revised to a negative 3.6 percent growth. It is now becoming apparent that not only the government’s negative 3.6 percent growth target, but also the World Bank’s anticipated negative 6 percent growth rate will have to be revised with some more realistic and bitter figures, underscoring the incredible negative successes of the AKP government on the economy this year.
Yet, rather than discussing the dreadful state of affairs of the Turkish economy, the country is wasting time debating the authenticity of an alleged "military" photocopy-plan said to be aimed at stopping the AKP and the Islamist Fethullah Gülen brotherhood organization. To me, this appears to be nothing more than the latest bullet fired at the credibility of the Turkish Armed Forces in a bid to clear the way for the Islamist advance in the country.
Turkey’s top general met yesterday morning with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan. It was the second "extraordinary" meeting in two weeks between Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ. According to a "tradition" established in the last months in office of former Chief of Staff Yaşar Büyükanıt, the prime minister and the top general of the country meet "regularly" on Thursdays before or after, depending on the president’s schedule, a weekly routine presidential reception of the prime minister. The first extraordinary meeting came on June 16 amid publication in a newspaper of an alleged "military plan" aimed at stopping the advance of the AKP and the Islamist Fethullah Gülen brotherhood organization. Last week the meeting was held Thursday as scheduled. This week, however, the two came together Monday, this time ahead of the scheduled meeting of the National Security Council, or MGK, to be held at Çankaya Palace today and where Başbuğ disclosed last week he would raise the military’s frustration regarding what he described as a systematic and asymmetric psychological campaign against the Turkish Armed Forces. Başbuğ, who after coming to office last August declared that he would not appear in front of the media frequently and that he was planning to have only an annual media event, has started hosting a news conference almost once a month to counter the increasing attacks on the military, particularly in the media allegiant to the government. At the last press conference the top general had condemned as "a piece of paper" the alleged "military plan" to get rid of the AKP and the Gülen group and underlined that military prosecutors concluded there was no reason to prosecute a colonel serving in his office, the alleged author of the plan.
But, he said, if new evidence were found against the colonel, the military prosecutors would obviously look into the matter once again as the colonel could only be judged at a military tribunal. Some 10 hours before the top commander spoke, however, the AKP parliamentary majority made a midnight operation, and with an addition to a draft under debate, stripped the power of military courts and empowered civilian courts to judge officers charged with coup or coup attempt or crimes that require heavy penalty. Hours after the top commander spoke, on the other hand, in a manner as if he was responding to Başbuğ, Erdoğan reiterated that his government considered the alleged document as a "plan" not just a "piece of paper" and that the military would cleanse itself of coup plotters. The top general stated he would take the issue to the MGK meeting, and the prime minister continued the offensive. Naturally, ahead of the MGK meeting it was only normal for the prime minister and the top general to review the situation.
Yet, the meeting will most likely not succeed in diffusing the tension because the AKP might not have any such intention if what we have started to hear from deep throats in politics are indeed reflect the present mindset of the premier and his top aides in the AKP. According to "unverified" rumors, Erdoğan has asked his vice chairmen in the AKP to get prepared for snap polls, as early as April 2010.
In the last local polls held on March 29, the ruling AKP lost more than eight percentage points compared to 2007 parliamentary elections. The decrease in the vote share was seen the first time in the history of the AKP, which was established less than one year before the 2002 parliamentary elections. However, while few months before the 2007 vote public opinion polls were indicating a sharp decrease in the AKP’s vote share, but after a campaign heavily dominated by a secularism, religious rights and the right of the "religious Turks" to send a "religious president" to the Çankaya presidential office, the AKP vote share skyrocketed to 47 percent. But, in the 2009 local polls, after a campaign dominated mostly by the economy, the vote share of the ruling party depreciated to 38 percent. With economic-political pundits claiming that a stronger wave of the economic crisis was likely to hit Turkey next spring and political deep throats claiming snap polls might come as early as April 2010 and with the conviction in the AKP that in a highly polarized society engulfed in a serious "counter revolution" paranoia help the ruling party win more in elections, is there logic in waiting for the prime minister and the AKP to try to diffuse tension in the country?
While it appears Turkey will not anytime soon have a transparent governance conforming with the notion of supremacy of law, it sure has acquired a perfect example of obstinate governance thanks to the "high leadership qualifications" of Prime Minister Erdoğan and the "democracy devotion" of his AKP. Though it has not yet reached the level of the late Turgut Özal who was famous with his, "What if we violate a constitutional article for once?" brilliant understanding of the supremacy of law, the premier and his party are marching in full determination to set equally important examples of arbitrary rule and thus set some "great examples" for future governments.
The premier’s "Take your mother and go!" remark to a villager in Mersin complaining about the perishing state of affairs of Turkish farmers due to the great achievements of the government in the agriculture sector has become some sort of an adage for those involved in governance as it underscored in all clarity the limits between the ruled and the ruler in Erdoğan’s understanding. In subsequent trips of the premier to Mersin, the local authorities demonstrated how well they got the message from the great saying of the premier. In one instance the same villager was taken under police detention for more than 10 hours "for his own security" and of course to prevent him angering the premier once again. In another instance, the villager was confined to house arrest.
That was of course an exceptional case, like thousands of others in various areas, which should not be exaggerated by some insolent and impudent journalists or opposition figures.
The AKP government and the premier are committed to justice and supremacy of law, when at issue is dispatching prosecutors and police on the residences, bureaus or university offices of the critics in the middle of the night, placing under detention opponent nationalists and patriots for months without an official charge brought against them. However, when it came to some alleged Islamist bandits claimed to have siphoned billions of euros from an Islamist charity foundation, because of the respect to justice, supremacy of law and the principle of equality of all in front of law, the premier and his government have been doing whatever possible to stall justice and refuse to authorize judicial proceedings against the head of an autonomous high board, claimed to have been involved in the sham as a courier in transferring the siphoned funds to the establishments of political Islam in Turkey.
It is not easy to find another example anywhere in the world of a premier and a government, which proudly declares itself the "prosecutor" of a police-intelligence operation and a judicial case on an alleged "organized coup attempt" by some nationalists and patriots, that is the so-called Ergenekon probe and the judicial case, while on the other hand engaged in an effort to stall in any way possible the Turkey leg of a fraud case declared by the German court as the worst fraud case in recent German history.
Why is this double standard or why is this hypocritical approach to justice? Perhaps to understand what is happening in Turkey nowadays is embedded in an answer to this question.
At a crossroads
Last week, Turkey experienced a rather awkward midnight legislative operation, just about 10 hours before the top general of the country appeared in front of the media to condemn as "nothing more than a piece of paper" an alleged "military plan" aimed at stopping the AKP and the Islamist Fethullah Gülen brotherhood organization. While the top general was proudly declaring that investigations by the military prosecutors have shown that there was no reason to prosecute an officer alleged to have written the plan (of which no original was so far found and the entire discussion has been continuing on a photocopy of it), the AKP majority in Parliament added a paragraph in the middle of the night to a draft under debate and empowered civilian courts to judge officers accused of activities against the civilian government.
Such a move, of course, has to be applauded under normal conditions. No one would oppose the trial of officers by a civilian court if they are engaged in a criminal activity against a civilian government or trying to topple a government. But, the way the amendment was made, unfortunately, provided just another example of the obstinate governance understanding of the AKP. In Turkey we have a saying. Strong vinegar hurts its jar first.
Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ was in front of news people. The top general was clear in describing an alleged "military plan," said to be aimed to stop the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the Islamist Fethullah Gülen brotherhood organization, as a "piece of paper" which was not prepared in the military headquarters or by an officer and which has no legal validity what so ever. "Who and with what purpose this piece of paper, that has no validity at all, was prepared? We want this question to be answered. We have sent the file to the Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office. We are not asking whether this paper is authentic or not, we are asking the authors of it be found ... We want to express that the duty of answering this question rests with the intelligence organizations of the state and the relevant judicial organs. We demand an answer to our question," the top general said, adding that the Turkish military was faced with an "asymmetric war" or "psychological war" conducted through the media. "We want this psychological war to be ended," he said.
This alleged "plan" that the top general said has no value further than "a piece of paper" has hurt the prestige of the military. Indeed, with allegations and unverified claims splashed on the front pages or TV screens, over the past two years the prestige of the Turkish military has been hurt a lot, though even today the military still enjoys the nation’s confidence.
Another of the top general’s important statements was that the military would respect the supremacy of law, undertake whatever was required, but would not launch a witch-hunt against officers alleged to have committed crimes unless there was sufficient evidence supporting the allegations.
Until yesterday, senior commanders of the country were telling news people that the military was faced with a smearing campaign. However, for the first time the top commander said the military was subjected to an asymmetric or psychological war that has been waged "systematically."
This point was as important as the description by Başbuğ of the alleged "military plan" as "nothing further than a piece of paper" because it reflected the frustration of the Turkish Armed Forces and the top commanders with the developments and indeed signaled that the country might be on the threshold of yet another escalation.
The military’s demand is clear. Başbuğ particularly underlined that since there was no date on the "photocopy plan," how could the newspaper that published it have claimed that it was prepared in April? The top commander did not ask how it happened that such a "plan" reported to be in the investigation dossiers of the prosecutors probing the alleged "Ergenekon organization" was serviced to that newspaper, but how the paper knew it was prepared in April. He did not say it so openly, but he indeed implied that the Gülen brotherhood organization and its elements in the police intelligence might be behind this "plot."
Anyhow, the advocate of the detained former military lawyer in whose office the alleged "plan" was found denied over the past two weeks repeatedly that his client ever had such a document in his office. If those statements are correct and since we have full confidence that the top commander was honest in his statement that investigations proved that the "piece of paper" was not written in the military headquarters, is it not obvious that this time the "bomb exploded in the hands of the culprits" - the police intelligence elements of the F-type organization?
With Başbuğ’s remarks a new stage has opened in the controversy.
The other night American Ambassador Jim Jeffrey hosted a dinner for some 20 guests. The list of the guests, however, was problematic because on it was the names of the Israeli and the Saudi ambassadorial couples. However, Saudi diplomats have been avoiding such occasions not only because there are no diplomatic ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but also to protest the continued occupation of Palestinian land and Israel’s oppressive policies toward Palestinians. Of course there was no such sensitivity on the part of the Israeli diplomats.
Thus, seeing the Israeli ambassadorial couple, Ambassador Dr. Mohammed Al Hussaini Al Sharif and his wife walk out of the dinner telling Ambassador Jeffrey that he was required to respect the Saudi sensitivities and inform them that the Israeli ambassador was among the invited also.
While a reference in a national charter stating the religion of a people might not be a stringent violation of the secularism principle, though it does not conform well with it, the inclusion of a "No law can compromise the principles of Islam" article in the national charter of a country, would not make a country a "theocratic democracy," but would definitely convert it into something much different than a democracy. I believe secularism is the backbone of democracy in any Muslim society. I think there is no viable alternative to secularism in Turkey, if you take into consideration the composition of this society. Turkish society is unlike that in Iran, Iraq or any other Muslim nation.
Of course, there is a place in Turkish society for wider religious support and rights. I personally do not like the way the Islamists are now living, dressing, the way they are thinking, but in democracies people are not obliged to conform to my expectations. And in their private lives they can do whatever they like. I firmly believe that in addition to many other factors, how a state and its people approach issues of "religious freedoms" demonstrates the level of democratic understanding in a country. It is an intellectual duty to reject outright any discrimination based on religion, race, color or any other category, and over the years I have been trying to remain vigilant against such primitive attitudes. I believe religion is a private matter, one of personal choice for any individual to believe and worship Ğ or not Ğ as he/she chooses, in whatever fashion, following any religion that the individual finds most appropriate. It is none of the business of the state or an individual to advise anyone to choose any religion or to be an atheist or deist. Unfortunately, no infant in any part of the world enjoys the right to decide his/her religion. It's a universal practice to assume that the infant automatically acquires the religion of the father or the mother. Religion has to be an individual affair of all individuals.
Though sui generis, and needed to be improved, the state is secular, the system is secular, and this system guarantees freedom of religion. Without secularism it would be impossible for Turkey to be a democracy. Secularism is the key element for the successful coexistence of democracy and religion. Otherwise, we would not be able to sustain democracy. That's why secularism and democracy are interrelated in the Turkish example.
This may be less so in Europe because they have lived through the enlightenment age and lived through the separation of church and state Ğ so hundreds of years ago they completed the cycle. However, in Islam there weren't any reforms, there was no renaissance and, in essence, Islam remains a religion regulating every aspect of life. If you let it dominate the state, then how will you have a national will when you already have a will that is superior, and divine? So, this contradicts with the norm itself.
Secularism is the essence, the key, the magic wand, if you want; without it, you cannot have democracy. What is democracy? People ruling themselves by themselves is the basic definition. What is the fundamental element here? Sovereignty, the right to decide and to make errors: If you have a base in the Constitution and the book of the believers as the supreme book of the country, and if that book says that the only sovereign is God, and if that book defines everything in that society, then how are you going to have civil law? How are you going to have sovereignty? Or, how are you going to have democracy without people being sovereign? This is the key.
Branding secularism as an "official ideology of the state" and supporting the thesis that the will of the people should not be obscured with such impositions if the country wants to advance toward a "liberal democracy" is nothing less than a disguised effort aimed at getting rid of secularism and replacing it with a theocratic doctrine in a salami style.
I am not someone obsessed with secularism, and I am not an Islamist either; I am a social democrat, committed to democracy, to freedom and values in all aspects of life. To me, accepting a divine will over a popular will is the end of the game. We may have elections and an elected government. In Iran they have elections and an elected president and government, but can we describe the regime in Iran as a democracy? Elections are not sufficient enough on their own to demonstrate existence of democracy in any country. The worst governments can come to power through elections. It is the mentality that makes the difference. Democracy is a culture and it takes time to nourish it.
There are sharp differences between Christianity and Islam regarding the place of religion in society and state administration. In today’s Christian culture, excluding some small subversive groups, there is no challenge by the Church on the civilian state administration, and thus, the concept of secularism has a meaning no longer confined to a "separation of church and state" description but indeed has become an obligation by the state to respect the rights and liberties of all religious groups without discrimination. Whereas Islam could not go through such an enlightening process. On the contrary, particularly while Christianity was opening up to secular thought through fresh interpretations and perceptions, Islam closed the interpretation door and turned itself into an even more rigid and dogmatic religion obsessed with form rather than meaning.
Now some Islamist pundits are asserting that if the people of a county establish a "consensus" and come up with a claim that they want the national charter of their country to be based on the principles of Islam, it would indeed be impossible to talk about democracy in that country as long as the "national consensus" was put into practice.
Well, first of all, while democracy could be described as a system of governance on the basis of "rule by the people, for the people" or in conformity with the "sovereignty rests unconditionally with the people" inscription on the wall of the Turkish Parliament, I must tell our Islamist friends that unfortunately democracy goes beyond a simplistic "election by the people" and "rule of the country by the elected representatives of the people" understanding. In the absence of norms and institutions which together with the national will produced through fair elections constitute the flesh and blood of democratic governance, a simplistic rule in conformity with majority expectations" understanding may unfortunately produce a crooked version of democracy, or majoritarianism, which is characterized with the "we have parliamentary majority, we shall decide on everything" obsession, exclusion of dialogue with the opposition and aggressive and repulsive behavior towards the people who dare to criticize the majority or the majority leader. Those wishing to see an example to such behavior may just examine the current Turkish example.
Democracy goes further than elections
Secondly, while "sovereignty rests unconditionally with the people" and democracy is "rule by the people, for the people", in the absence of "supremacy of law" and "equality of all in front of law principles" such a governance model, even if it is underlined in its name as was the case of the former "German Democratic Republic" cannot be described as a democratic governance at all. Nor, on the other hand, inclusion of a reference to the religion of the nation in the national charter can make a country a theocratic state, as long as governance in that country is achieved through man-made laws, and not with reference to divine laws or the text of a holy book that cannot be amended by the people or a parliament composed of representatives of a people in a "representative democracy." Going secular was not an overnight achievement of Western democracies. It took centuries to nourish a democracy culture. After all, more than going to the election booth once in every few years and renewing the "national will", democratic governance is a cultural phenomenon. Any nation can be educated to become democratic.
But, in order to become democratic, a nation must first develop an understanding of equality. If all people are equal and some are more equal, as was more or less what the socialist practice was until it collapsed in 1989, even if, put aside a modern understanding of secularism, atheism was imposed by the state and all laws in that country are "man-made" because of the absence of the principle of equality and supremacy of law it was impossible to qualify those countries as countries ruled by democratic governance. Therefore, it has to be clear for everyone that democracy is not just whether or not there are free and fair elections in the country; whether a state is at equal distance to all religions or not; whether there was gender equality or not but whether there exists norms and institutions of democracy in that society together with those listed.
Will continue with the third and last part on the issue tomorrow.
Some Islamist pundits have started a rather strange propaganda by assuming that the entire world is composed of some naïve people who can be easily deceived with some glaring words or through some obscure and obsessive impositions devoid of reason, logic and reality. At the heart of the matter lies a search for an answer to the question: if there can be democracy based on theocratic principles or, to put it more boldly, a theocratic democracy. This is of course an attempt to dilute the "obsession" in some important sections of the Turkish society and the establishment that the sine qua non of democracy in a country with a predominantly Muslim population is the principle of secularism.
Does secularism mean a clear-cut separation of religion and state affairs in the French sense of "laicité," or do we have a secularist understanding that enables our state to "regulate" religious affairs through a special agency that enjoys almost absolute power over all mosques and imams and that can even dictate the topic of Friday sermons?
Sui generis secularism
We have to be clear: If the system in Turkey could be described as "secularist" it must be a sui generis form of secularism because it is neither like French laicism nor like American secularism, under which church and state are totally separate and where there is full religious freedom - to an extent envied by fundamentalists all over the world - and it is up to the discretion of the individual to let religion guide one's life, or not.
In Turkey, we have a Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) that, in a way, represents the "dominance of state over religion" or the "state Islam" which enjoys - at least in theory - almost a full monopoly as the legitimate form of the Muslim faith practiced in the country. Of course, the practice of "state Islam" regulated by the Religious Affairs Directorate has been a contentious subject because it fails to include schools of Islam other than the Sunni Hanefi sect. In particular, it does not include the country's Alawite community, which constitutes an estimated one-fifth of the overall population of over 70 million, and it totally neglects the non-Muslim religions. Still, the Religious Affairs Directorate, which is affiliated with the Prime Ministry via a state minister in the Cabinet, is the sole authority to regulate religious affairs in the country. By law, it coordinates the building of mosques as well as the training and appointment of imams, although imams are selected either from graduates of university theological faculties or are educated by the directorate through cooperation with the Education Ministry.
Though the Religious Affairs Directorate is a republican establishment, this peculiar situation in Turkey, as a philosophy and as a tradition, predates the establishment of the republic, and it is perhaps one of Turkey's important sui generis assets that helped it to become the first and only secular democracy among Muslim nations. Of course, a reform of the Religious Affairs Directorate that will make it "all inclusive" will further expand the crucial role it has played in blocking - ever since its establishment - a possible Islamist fundamentalist threat. The Turkish case must be taken as an example for reforming the Muslim world, particularly in light of the fact that in other Muslim states the government finances, certifies and supervises mosques but cannot stop underground radical Islamist movements.
Still, it is obvious that there is indeed no secularism application in Turkey in the sense that exists in the Christian world. Indeed, what exists in Turkey is a sui-generis secularism concept that more or less could best be described as, "rather than Islam impose itself on the state let the state control the religion." While this concept should indeed be replaced with a universal description of secularism inclusive of all religions and beliefs, an examination of democracy, religion and secularism in a Muslim culture would clearly demonstrate that none of these terms could be applied "copy and paste" into the established perceptions of the Christian culture.
The main fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity in this regard was the more than three centuries long, painful enlightenment process the Christian societies went through. As a result, Christianity managed to develop some sort of a secular understanding within itself. Islamic culture was not allowed to accomplish that transformation.
I will continue on this subject tomorrow also.
Fear mongers in our society often come up with the thesis that increasing conservatism and strengthening the place of religion in the governance of the country over the past seven years indicated that Turkey can turn into a second Iran one day. Indeed, during the shah period, Iran was as secular a country as Turkey. Though, it was not a democracy either during those times or after the Islamic Revolution, which replaced the shah regime with a theocratic dictatorship of the Shiite religious leaders with an elected government.
Turks mostly subscribe to the Hanefi school of Sunni Islam, while Iran is predominantly Shiite. That is, even though both countries have predominantly Muslim populations, religion wise they have very little in common except the holy book Koran and fundamental elements of Muslim culture. Perhaps due to the shaman past of the Turks or the intense centuries long cultural interaction with the West, particularly with France, and to a large extent, thanks to the pre-Turkish culture of Anatolia, even the Sunni Islam perception of Turks is far different and incredibly tolerant compared to Sunni practice elsewhere.
Though continued animosities between the Turks and the Iranians came to an end with the landmark Kasr-i Şirin peace treaty in 1639 (the Turkish-Iranian border has remained intact since then), ever since, state-to-state relations between the two remained "cordial." That is, the two countries have since then been enjoying good neighborly relations without necessarily trusting fully in the other. Yet, before and after the Kasr-i Şirin peace treaty, Persian culture and language played a very important role in the Ottoman literature and culture. That is, the cultural interaction continued even during times of hostilities.
There is a very strong living bond between Iran and Turkey as well Ğ the Azeri Iranians. Yet, the Iranian Azeri population describe their identity first with the Shiite school of Islam, then the Iranian state and ethnic identity comes after, unlike the behavioral pattern of minorities or ethnic groups in other countries, including Turkey. That is, they identify themselves as Shiite then as Iranian and then as Azeris. Still, with full respect to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, the Azeri Iranians constitute a very strong backbone of the cultural and social dimension of relations between the two countries.
But, Iran is not Turkey and Turkey can never become a second Iran. Each has its own peculiarities and social dynamics, and despite centuries of cultural and linguistic interaction and influence over the other, each has its own distinguished and rich cultural heritage that they are proud of.
However, while neither Iran can become a second Turkey nor Turkey can become a second Iran, whatever happens in either of the countries has a repercussion or spillover effect on the other due to the strong national interaction between the two, despite the "cordial" state-to-state relations. Indeed, fear mongers were trying to make best use of the concerns in Turkey in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Naturally, and probably because of the efforts of the 1980 coup administration, the increase in religious awareness in Turkey and the country becoming more and more conservative, might as well be a phenomenon which might be considered an indirect impact of what happened in Iran on the Turkish society.
While reading yesterday in daily Milliyet an interview with Reza Pahlavi, the son of Iran’s last shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who died in exile, these were some of the things that I remembered. Pahlavi, who would have been Iran’s shah today if the Islamic revolution did not dethrone his father, said that Turks must be aware of the importance of secularism because without it the country cannot sustain its democracy. He was in a way admitting that the shah regime came to an end because it could not sufficiently enforce secularism and in the hopes of sustaining the regime allowed the advance of Shiite theocracy.
In hopes of "reform" the son Pahlavi is implying readiness to collaborate with the current Iranian opposition and join forces in pressing for democratic governance in Iran, warning Turks not to forget the importance of what they have before losing it.
Turkey cannot be a second Iran, but I am afraid the son Pahlavi is right in his warning. In the absence of secularism, while it would not be a second Iran, Turkey would not be a democracy either.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not only cancelled his trip to Greece because of "high blood pressure problems" but declared as well during the weekend that he and his party would not play the role of the "aggrieved"; would not act in a "stubborn" manner regarding the latest "document" allegations but would "stand tall" against all anti-democratic developments.
I wish good health to the prime minister. It was great seeing his photographs playing with his grandchild and marking the "Fathers’ Day" on Sunday. It was good that he took some time off from politics and spent with his family. Playing with his grandchild may not just help Erdoğan’s psychology, but rather than seeing an angry, frustrated, stubborn Erdoğan image, seeing a fatherly figure playing affectionately with his grandchild may help improve the national psychology so depressed among many other reasons with the "tangentially passing" economic crisis; political-judicial polarization between the secularist and Islamist poles and most lately the alleged "military" plot to stop the advance of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the Islamist Fethullan Gülen brotherhood organization. Contrary to what the prime minister said over the weekend, however, it was with the successful staging of the film "Aggrieved", scripted and co-produced by the Erdoğan, Abdullah Gül and Bülent Arınç Company that over the past seven years not only the AKP rule in the country managed to be sustained but at the same time apart from the parliamentary majority and the seat of government some other prominent "castles" of the secular and democratic republic, such as the key bureaucratic and judicial positions and the presidency, could have been taken over by political Islam.
The plot of the "Aggrieved" film is the propaganda that the AKP ideology was wanted by the nation but despite the expressed national political will there were some anti-democratic elements in the country not only rejecting "a Muslim government, Muslim bureaucrats or a Muslim president" in this predominantly Muslim country, but trying to smash the AKP and thus political Islam at every opportunity. The establishment and rise, as well as its success to escape from road accidents only with some minor bruises are all successful results of the expert performance of the "Aggrieved" film. Naturally, there are some sub-plots, like how to create a "green" capital; how to counter siphoning of millions of Euros from the Islamist Lighthouse e.V. charity fund; the alleged Ergenekon probe and trial; how to "cut to size" the powerful military; "discovery" of a photocopy document that might help put behind bars some active officers and curtail potential military opposition to "AKP reforms" to make Turkey a "more Islamist country"; polarization in the nation as well as in the media and of course in the labor, businessmen groups, NGOs and elsewhere.
Culture of the aggrievedIf after seven years of governance with an overwhelming parliamentary majority and with a domesticated parliamentary opposition like the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, of Deniz Baykal still trying to play the role of "aggrieved" and with the help of that role trying to stage a battle with the modern, secular, democratic republic, is there anything abnormal for some people fearing from a "secret agenda" or a "secret plan" being implemented in salami style?
Despite the legendary Ergenekon performance of some collaborators of the AKP (not only in the media but in the state establishment as well) it is a fact that "tangentially passing" economic crisis, skyrocketing unemployment, collapsing businesses, and of course skillful corruption and misuse of office performance at both local and central administration levels are just some of the factors that have brought the AKP into a state of political fatigue, as demonstrated in the March local polls. This political fatigue may as well be the underlying reason behind the AKP jumping on the alleged "military coup plot" photocopy "document" despite the awareness that the high probability that the alleged "document" could be proven a fake.
The Turkish Human Rights Foundation, or TİHV, has released a new report documenting the great strides Turkey has achieved since the law covering the "duty" and "powers" of the police was "reformed." According to the report, the new "shoot to kill" law has made Turkey a more "secure" place to live. If some "cannot" manage to stay alive in this "high-security country," could that be a failure of the police? I used an extensive summary of the report provided by the "independent communications network" Bianet on its Web site, www.bianet.org, and checked the facts over the phone.
The report alleges that over the past two years, a total of 13 Turks died at detention houses, while 40 people were fatally shot by bullets fired from police guns. In other words, a total of 53 people lost their lives to alleged police violence. Confrontations during police raids on residences were said to have wounded an additional 53 people.
Naturally, as the TİHV report highlights as well, under international norms, police have the right to use weapons only when there is a close and serious threat either to the life of the officer or the life of other people. However, with the June 2007 "reform" made to the law on the duties and powers of the police, the powers of the police force were expanded so "liberally," and these powers so liberally applied, that there are widespread claims of Turkey turning into the Wild West.
Besides the 13 deaths that occurred under detention, the 40 deaths by police bullets and the 53 people wounded, there are claims of 416 cases of torture and mistreatment by police during the past two years. These cases includes 230 accusations of brutal beating, 57 of insulting, 47 of gassing, 34 of threats, 11 of the use of cold or pressurized water, five of death threats, three of keeping detainees in cold and dark places, two of depriving them of food and water, two of rape with truncheons, two of forcing people stay motionless on their knees, two of forcing people to wait naked and several of insulting verbal attacks. The list continues.
According to the TİHV report, what is even more painful is the unfortunate fact that 168 of those alleged cases of torture and mistreatment by police did indeed happen on the streets, while 109 cases happened in detention houses.
"It is being understood from these data, examined together with the individual case stories, that the security forces, while trying to stop people or conducting a search, asking for identity cards or in taking preemptive measures to prevent a crime, in the transportation vehicles or during detention have been frequently applying excessive and disproportional force, engaged in acts of torture and ill-treatment," the foundation underscores in its report.
Over the past two years, the report says, a total of 331 "incidents" happened in 47 provinces. Consequently, a total of 1,605 people were deprived of their various rights, which were thus violated by the police, the report alleges.
The foundation’s report also underscores that the violation of individuals’ rights since the changes were made in the law on the duties and powers of the police in June 2007 demonstrates that those violations were not "exceptional," but indeed were "systematic" and widespread throughout the country.
Why was the law on the duties and powers of the police amended? The police were complaining that their powers had been curtailed due to the European Union reforms and that their fight against crime had thus been compromised. "We are working day and night, capturing thieves, but after the EU reforms, courts are releasing the thieves," top police officers complained at the time. "We cannot fight crime with this law."
So they were given more power. Perhaps they were given excessive power and the law was turned into "shoot to kill" legislation. What was the end result? Common crimes still continue to increase, as do complaints of excessive and disproportionate use of force by police, and allegations of police killings.
Will the government reconsider after this latest report whether it was a mistake to make the "reform" to the police law in 2007? If not, how many more people need to be killed for such a reassessment to be made?
Is the alleged "document" claimed to have been prepared by a colonel serving at the military headquarters and which reported to have outlined an action plan against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the Islamist Fethullah Gülen brotherhood organization authentic, or a work of fiction aimed at eroding the military’s image, or worse, aimed at disrupting relations between the government and the military? If it is an authentic document and if it was written within the command chain, Turkey is of course facing a very serious situation. In such a case the document is proof of the continued coup aspirations in the military. If it is an authentic document but written without the order or even knowledge of the top commanders, then the situation is even worse as we may think of a group of coup plotters in the military acting separate from the chain of command. If it is a forged document, we may either think it is a product of the so-called "F-type" (that is Gülen group supporters) organization within the police force with the aim and intention of hurting the prestige of the military and thus expand the Ergenekon probe in a manner to cover some officers on duty. Or, it could be the work of the so-called Ergenekon group itself to bring within the scope of the ongoing Ergenekon trial and probe some active officers and thus convert the case into a totally unmanageable dimension. If it is a work of the F-type organization in the police force, then we may easily conclude that the already known tensions between the military and the F-type organization in the police are taking on dimensions of a severe animosity. A very nasty situation indeed. On the other hand if this "document" is forged by the outside-prison-elements of the alleged "Ergenekon organization" then perhaps even those of us who are very skeptical about the Ergenekon probe and trial and who consider all that happened as a campaign of political Islam against secular, patriotic, nationalist elements perhaps should make a reassessment.
Reading an article on the Odatv.com news portal written by Mehmet Ali Güller, a friend of mine posted me six questions outlining suspicions of the timing of the publication of the explosive "action plan" in the Taraf newspaper last week.
1- If lawyers of Ergenekon suspects were for the most part eventually turned into suspects themselves and placed behind bars by the Ergenekon prosecutors, was it logical at all for former military lawyer Serdar Öztürk, who was the advocate of Ergenekon suspect Colonel Levent Göktaş until he himself was implicated and placed behind bars, to keep such a document in his office? Did he not know that his office and residence might be searched?
2- How did it happen that Öztürk’s office was searched when he left the city for a four-day trip to Antalya? If his telephones call were being monitored, police intelligence knew that he would be traveling to Antalya. Is it normal for police to raid Öztürk’s office when he was away and find the alleged document in a drawer? Was it planted?
3- If under existing laws a document related to the prosecutors’ investigation must have been kept secret, how did it come about that it was sent to the Taraf newspaper (like the publication in Taraf newspaper of the alleged sketch of the Court of Appeals claimed to have been found at the Labor Party headquarters but which eventually was proven to be false and the Taraf newspaper was sentenced to pay compensation). Have the prosecutors launched at least an investigation into how that "document" was sent to Taraf?
4- Is it not interesting that the alleged "document" eventually turned out to be a photocopy? Is it normal to consider a photocopy an original of a document and classify it as a credible evidence of any sort?
5- At a time when secret documents are somehow being serviced out of the military command, can any commander with some brains order such an action plan against the ruling party be prepared?
6- If the action plan was prepared without order and knowledge of the top commanders, can anyone with brains provide that action plan or allow it be provided to the defense advocate of one of the suspects of the Ergenekon trial?
And, one last final question; is there a correlation between the timing of the publication in Taraf of this explosive "document" with the August promotions in the military?
Men and women of many governments, all in navy blue, black or brown costumes. White, black and yellow men and women with very serious looks on their faces. Men in air force uniforms from many countries.
Men and women of industry and an army of public relations experts trying to promote products of the industry.
Top company executives meeting over lunch and dinner with top government executives in bid to convince them, "If you want peace, be prepared for war. É With our chopper, fighter, missile or whatever you will earn precious deterrence that will guard your security."
And, journalists from all over the world in "action outfits," most of them defense industry experts, some of them embedded in the teams of defense industry companies.
This is show business but very serious show business. All these people have flocked to Paris for the past many days for the 48th International Air Show at le Bourget, one of the biggest air shows of the world. Paris hotels, as well as hotels in suburban towns, are all fully booked, and though it might be no news for Istanbulites who are fighting with traffic every day, due to increased traffic because of the air show, the already unbearable traffic in this one of the most beautiful cities of the world has come to an almost standstill.
Thus, being so close to Paris and not being able to stroll in the beautiful city for some time Ğ except a dinner at the famous Fointaine Gaillon restaurant owned by a living cinema industry legend Gerard Depardiou Ğ was itself a manifestation of the success of the air show that attracted over 600 leading defense industry and avionics companies and several thousands of "decision maker" or "industrialists" guests, apart an army of journalists.
As for Turkey, it was unfortunate not to see any senior Defense Ministry executives or Air Force generals around, except Defense Industry Undersecretary Murad Bayar and his team, who on the sidelines of the air show met behind closed doors, for obvious reasons, with both the AugustaWestland and Sikorsky companies, ahead of the scheduled July 1 meeting of the high defense group under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
At that meeting, Turkey is expected to finally announce which of these two short-listed companies will be given the contract of the 109 "public sector general purpose helicopter" tender.
So far it appears that AugustaWestland, the company which already successfully continuing the attack helicopter program of the Turkish military, has the upper hand with its co-production in Turkey, know-how transfer pledge and third-country export permission, while Sikorsky, for obvious reasons, has the political upper hand besides the sympathy of some top generals of the Turkish military for American companies.
Indeed, that sympathy of some Air Force generals have so far prevented Turkey joining the Eurofighter program as the fifth partner, though if some programs are not undertaken without further delay, in the not so distant future, there apparently will be a serious air defense deficiency with the already 40-45-year-old F-4 phantom planes becoming obsolete. Turkey has so far agreed to be part of the Joint Strike Fighter program, but the JSF is a strike fighter, as is defined so, and will not meet Turkey’s probable gap in air-to-air defense systems.
Now, Turkey has yet another option to consider joining the Eurofighter program as the current partner countries and companies have started preparations for Tranch 3 program. What we hear lately indicates that Turkey has started developing some interest in the Eurofighter program, which like the copter deal with AugustaWestland and unlike some alternate offers, offers Turkey to be a partner in the project, technology transfer and production of some key components in Turkey. Besides, winning Italy as a strategic partner in Europe will best serve Turkey’s national interests while at the same time our country will eradicate a potential deficiency in its air defense systems.
Of course, though our prime minister still pretends as if the global crisis will pass Turkey tangentially, in this time of crisis, what to spend and where to spend must have been a very difficult decision to make.