“Turkey at a Crossroad: Democracy or Military Rule?” by Firat Demir

“Turkey at a Crossroad: Democracy or Military Rule?” by Firat Demir
March 5, 2010
For Syria Comment

The Final Showdown is Near

The Final Showdown is Near

The single most important event in the recent history of the Middle East is now taking place in Turkey. At stake is whether a Muslim Middle Eastern country can build a true democracy?  Turkey’s “democracy” has long been overseen and periodically reshaped by a paternalistic elite, made up of the military, the state bureaucracy, and the judiciary. It has meant that although Turkey has had many of the trappings of democracy, it could not stand on its own two feet. Four times since WWII, the military has intervened in the democratic process. The last major intervention was twelve years ago on February 28, 1997 when the Turkish military presented an ultimatum to the Islamist-dominated coalition government following a meeting of the National Security Council (MGK) . The Turkish military had previously carried out coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980. In the course of the military intervention in 1997, General Cevik Bir, the deputy chief of general staff, cynically declared that the aim of the army “was to readjust the balance of democracy.”  The Armed Forces were non-accountable for what they said or what they did. For the first time, they are being held to account

Today, the need for a nursemaid elite is being questioned. The events that have been unfolding since 2007 are crucial if Turkey is to evolve toward real democracy. The changes are long overdue.

Over the last three years, more and more Turks have begun to question whether they need a guardianship of the Kemalist Elite. Indeed, the very notion that Turkey’s elites act paternally and in the interests of all is being questioned. Increasingly Turks are coming to the conclusion that the elites are driven by narrow self interest and that they cling to the status quo in order to preserve their monetary and political privileges, not because they are acting as true custodians of secularism and people’s liberties.

The political and economic benefits that accrue to the top military brass, government bureaucrats and judges are only too visible to the average person in Turkey. You can find a detailed discussion here).

Top Turkish officers charged over ‘coup plot’
Thursday, 25 February 2010, BBC

Seven senior military officers have been formally charged in Turkey with attempting to overthrow the government.

They include four admirals, a general and two colonels, some of them retired. The seven were among more than 40 officers arrested on Monday over an alleged 2003 plot to stir up chaos in Turkey and justify a military coup. President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan have called a meeting with General Ilker Basuk, the head of the armed forces, on Thursday.

The meeting was called after the country’s top generals and admirals met at short notice on Tuesday to evaluate what the military called a “serious situation”.

Turkish police arrest 49 military officers over suspected coup plot|
Robert Tait, Guardian, Monday 22 February 2010

Turkey’s once all-powerful military is facing the biggest challenge to its authority in decades after 49 senior officers were detained on accusations of plotting to topple the country’s Islamist-rooted government in a violent coup.

A former deputy chief of the army, a retired air force chief, the chief of the navy and several generals and admirals were among those detained by police in a sweep carried out in eight Turkish cities. Hurriyet reported on its website that the round-up included 17 retired generals, four serving admirals and 27 lower-ranking officers.

The detentions dramatically raised the ante in a rumbling power struggling between the Justice and Development party (AKP) government and the armed forces, and prompted the army chief of staff, General Ilker Basbug, to call off a trip to Egypt.

They represented the boldest assault yet on the military’s elevated status by prosecutors, who have been investigating alleged conspiracies by secularists to unseat the AKP for more than two years. The army, which has dispatched four governments in the past 50 years, was once considered all but untouchable in its role as custodian of Turkey’s secular state.

The increasing intensity of the conflict between pro-democracy and pro-authoritarianism groups, however, does not mean that the AK party is the champion and savior of democracy in Turkey.

In the nine years since it was established, the AK party has not always acted more nobly than an amateur belly dancer. Some of its more ignoble acts are:

  • The justice minister called the organizers and participants of a 2005 conference on the Armenian genocide “traitors” and accused them of “stabbing us in the back.”
  • A state prosecutor seeking to bring charges against military officers caught red handed attempting to blow up a book store in the city of Semdinli was fired.
  • PM Erdogan himself has resisted lowering the minimum threshold for party representation in Parliament from ten percent, which prevents small parties from entering the parliament. The main reason for resisting reform is to prevent Kurdish parties from gaining a foothold in parliament. With the power struggle between the military and the government at its height, the two antagonists agree on marginalizing Kurds. Last year, they arrested hundreds of Kurdish politicians and even many children as young as 12 on grounds of supporting terrorism. The Kurdish (and Armenian) problem is the one issue they all agree on.
  • The public distrusts the government’s attitude toward the free press. In the past 9 years, the government has gone after journalists and publishers for back taxes and on charges of insulting Erdoghan. In fact, PM Erdogan (who was jailed for four months for reciting a poem in 1998) himself sued several caricaturists for their depiction of him in popular comics magazines (see a selection of the cartoons here). Another recent example of the PM Erdogan’s attitude towards press freedom can be found here:

Edoğan’s ‘Warning’ to Columnists Creates a Growing Stir
Erol ÖNDEROĞLU Istanbul – BİA News Center, 04 March 2010, Thursday

A steadily increasing number of journalists voiced their criticism after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodoğan issued his ‘warning’ to the press last weekend. Among other things, Erdoğan said, “You are paying the salaries of the columnists. You have no right to complain tomorrow”.

“We as the undersinged columnists think that Prime Minister Erdoğan’s statement that the newspaper bosses should control the columnists is contrary to obligatory press freedom and opposes the ideal of a ‘democratic Turkey’.

The following is from the European Commission’s 2009 report for Turkey:

“There is a growing awareness in the country that Turkey’s Constitution, drafted in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup, needs to be amended in order to allow further democratisation in a number of areas and give stronger guarantees of fundamental freedoms in line with EU standards. These include, for example, rules on political parties, institution of an Ombudsman, use of languages other than Turkish and enhancement of trade union rights.

However, to give credit to the Erdogan government, their limited attempts so far to change the constitution has been blocked by the judicial system. For example, “in June 2009 Parliament passed legislation providing for civilian courts to try military personnel in peacetime for crimes subject to Heavy Penal Court jurisdiction under article 250 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, including in the event of attempted coups d’état, crimes affecting national security and organised crime” (European Commission, 2009). This, however, got overturned by the Supreme Court in January, 2010 (for a discussion see here).

On the economics side, there is little difference between the AK Party and its rivals (including the military), especially with regard to their loyalty to Wild-West capitalism in Turkey. Recent remarks by AK party members calling TEKEL workers (the recently privatized public enterprise producing cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol and spirits) who went on on strike protesting “the move of the AKP government to veto the workers’ existing contracts and force them to accept part-time conditions with significant loss of pay and of social rights” as PKK terrorist, or Mr. Erdogan himself advising the workers to give up strike because of the availability of millions of unemployed who will be happy to replace their (low-paid) jobs are just quick examples of this (for a discussion on this strike see here). In fact, the current Vice Prime Minsiter and the minister of state H. Yazici blamed the PKK and the Satan for provocating the TEKEL workers.

Regarding the ongoing battles, we entered 2010 with an increase in the degree of misinformation campaign regarding the significance of the fact that for the first time in Turkish (and for that matter Middle Eastern) history, the all powerful military and its top ranking generals who staged three and a half coups and who have the habit of regularly issuing ultimatums to the democratically elected governments of the country, and threaten the general public or intellectuals and academicians (who dare to question their sacredness and untouchable status) with various sanctions  (including warnings not to test their patience threshold), and who have the habit of lecturing the public on issues ranging from the ‘dangers of postmodernism’ to constitutional law, politics, or economics are brought to the same level of common man with regard to the rule of law. The question is whether or not the military should be able to continue lecturing academicians on topics ranging from constitutional law to the evils of postmodernity, and to continue playing the role of an ‘armed’ opposition party to the democratically elected governments.

What’s Really Behind Turkey’s Coup Arrests?
Soner Cagaptay, Foreign Policy, Februray 25 2010

“All signs point to Fethullah Gülen, whose shadowy Islamist movement is rapidly extending its tentacles into all aspects of Turkish political life.”

Is that really so? Should we treat such opinion-pieces as ‘opinions’ or a part of broader propaganda campaign by the ultra nationalists and anti-democratic forces to reduce the legitimacy of the court cases against former and active duty soldiers including high ranking generals?

Turkey is indeed a county of many wonders and the flow of breaking news is a just a fact of daily life. This week (first week of March), the military itself had to admit that an important piece of evidence that the Chief of Staff earlier called “a piece of paper” is authentic:.

Credibility of plot deniers decreases with military acknowledgement
Şule Kulu, Today’s Zaman, March 4, 2010

A new military investigation into a coup plot allegedly drafted by a colonel on active duty after fresh evidence was acquired pointing to the plot’s authenticity has put the credibility of those who strongly deny that authenticity under the spotlight.

The General Staff announced the new development in a statement posted on its Web site on Monday. The General Staff also announced on Monday that a military prosecutor had demanded the arrest of Col. Dursun Çiçek.

The General Staff’s announcement immediately called to mind those who lodged a strong denial of the plot’s authenticity, including Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who harshly denied the plot after it was exposed.

During a press conference at General Staff headquarters a week after the publication of the plot in June of last year, Başbuğ termed the alleged plan “a piece of paper” and urged a civilian court to find out who was behind the document outlining the plot, which he said was aimed at discrediting the image of the military. “We believe this piece of paper was prepared with the aim of damaging and defaming the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK]. Now it rests on the shoulders of the state’s relevant judicial bodies to find out by whom and for what reason it was prepared,” said an angry Başbuğ at the briefing held on June 26, 2009.

He was referring to the Action Plan to Fight Reaction, which was first published in June by Taraf, a left wing daily. The alleged action plan bears the signature of Col. Çiçek and describes a plot to bring down the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the faith-based Gülen movement by framing individuals via planting weapons in their homes and manufacturing false news stories.

The chief of General Staff underlined several times that the alleged plot had been created by certain circles to undermine and besmirch the TSK.

“We see this as part of an organized smear campaign to weaken the military. This is an attempt to stir up and divide the military. As the commander of the armed forces, I am telling you very clearly: Take your hands off the armed forces and stop defining your political position in the armed forces. Stop carrying out an asymmetrical psychological campaign against the armed forces in the media,” he remarked.

Comments (7)

Jamal said:

Let us all pray that Turkey comes through this and does not turn ugly with those elites destroying it. Thank you for highlighting it. The potential is there, and the threat of dragging the neighbourhood down with it.

Here is a more upbeat topic:


From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life. As a new exhibition opens, Paul Vallely nominates 20 of the most influential- and identifies the men of genius behind them


March 6th, 2010, 12:33 am


majedkhaldoun said:

It will take more time, but Turkey is on the right road,I am looking forward for an alliance between Turkey,Iran,and greater syria

March 6th, 2010, 3:06 am


almasri said:

First you need to get rid of Israel Majed. How are you going to do that? Do you have a plan? It could happen if Turkey takes Iran’s position and calls for the elimination of Israel. Otherwise, I do not see it happening.

I’m inclined to think that these recent events in Turkey have a Mossad connection. I am also inclined to think that the Mossad is going to get more active stirring trouble for the Turkish government. The Turkish government’s reaction however, may turn out to be very swift and it could cost Israel dearly. Turkish people have become very anti Israel and they would support their government in any action it takes against zionist conspiracies targeting their country.

March 6th, 2010, 4:12 am


serdar said:

One must be very careful, and the comments so far about what’s happening in Turkey are quite naive, while the balance of articles provided by Syria Comment are quite good.

An authoritarianism is being displaced by another one which is forming its own security structures and apparatus. The coverage in the international media has so far been quite one sided.

If Erdogan & party genuinely want to enable more democracy they have to:

1. Remove the immunity from prosecution armour around MPs, where it applies not only to freedom of speech related matters but also to plain corruption cases/enquiries. There are many such strong cases against their MPs including Gul and Erdogan themselves.

2. Enable reform of the judicial system, by improving the funding for the courts, part of the problem is that cases take forever to resolve.

3. Remove the 10% barrier to representation in Parliament as mentioned in one of the articles quoted above.

I think one should not get too carried away about Zionist conspiracies and the like. The Turkish people still overwhelmingly trust the army (77%) than the government (55%) or the political system. Of course the army should not have intervened in 1997 the so-called “soft coup” which removed Erbakan, but this enabled AK Party members to break off from the previous Islamist party of Erbakan and take a more centrist position. The army enabled AK government to an extent. The inner workings of the army are largely modern and meritocracy based, the officer class is very well trained and professional, and face it, it was an officer of the Ottoman army who founded the republic. The army has a great stake in protecting the republic.

In the final analysis, I don’t think AK party and the military will have a final confrontation, but they will come to an accomodation.

Who do you think is monitoring phone conversations, discussions in meetings (both in Ankara and in Brussels) among the top brass of the army and leaking it to the pro-AK Party press. This has taken place more than a few times over the past few months. My candidates are foreign intelligence services–but they are leaking them to the anti-Army faction.

Look, US is very nervous that Turkey will move away from the NATO camp, it is actually the more pro-Eurasian, more pro-Kemalist and anti-NATO officers that are being targeted in the recent goings on. Yes, these officers are also anti AK Party, but this is not a distinguishing feature, almost all officers are anti AK Party. If anything the US administration prefers this “moderate Islamic” Turkey to a more nationalistic secularist and anti-NATO Turkey.

I know this is going to raise eyebrows, but it is hard to understand what’s going on in Turkey on the basis of the analyses in the foreign press. The (essentially) only English language Turkish paper Today’s Zaman is extremely one-sided with a very strong Pro AK Party bias.

Thanks to Joshua for the wonderful forum Syria Comment.

March 6th, 2010, 7:54 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Turkey today is more democratic than it was in ’97. The Turkish army understands it’s limitations, and I find it hard to believe that the generals will go against the obvious decision and will of the Turkish people.

It is about the privileges of the elite, and so they will find the appropriate solution, to maintain some privileges, and give up some.
Erodoğan isn’t Erbakan. Erodoğan is much smarter, less ideological and more logical. And most importantly, he’s popular (with periodic ups and downs). So the Army will find it quite difficult to get rid of him, and of the popular AK.

Recent opinion polls in Pakistan show that the Pakistanis want an Islamic way of life, according to Islamic traditions and values. But they also want democracy. Pakistani elections of 2008 show this clearly. The Islamists suppered heavy blow. The same goes for Turkey.

March 6th, 2010, 11:27 am


trustquest said:

Syrian’s Deputy foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, calling on the western countries to learn Democracy from Syria.

The reason is because to the first time in 60 years, a democratic election is happening in Syria, why because the Iraqis are going to the poll to elect their reps democratically.

March 6th, 2010, 1:44 pm


Off the Wall said:


??????????!!!??!! >>>>>>> 🙂 or actually 🙁

March 7th, 2010, 6:52 pm


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