This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
March 9, 2010
Summary: A quarrel has erupted within the Turkish judiciary over an investigation into Operation Sledgehammer— an alleged plot by some elements in the military to take over the government. Despite complaints of improprieties committed in the process of arresting people and searching homes, the government has decided to back the investigation. While it is clear that the military has lost its political clout and that the probability of a military intervention has all but disappeared, such changes do not confirm that Turkish democracy is deepening. To consolidate democracy, Turkish politics is in need of a grand compromise.
Less Military May Not Mean More Democracy
by İlter Turan*
ISTANBUL — Parts of the Turkish judiciary have recently launched a new investigation on an alleged plot by some elements in the military to take over the government under the code name Operation Sledgehammer. Retired four star generals as well as dozens of active duty and non-commissioned officers have been taken in for questioning. Some remain in custody while others have already been arrested. This is in addition to the ongoing Ergenekon trials, which allege that a major clandestine organization has been bringing retired military officers, bureaucrats, university professors, and other civilians together to take over the government by unorthodox means. In addition, a recent quarrel has broken out within the judiciary regarding the improprieties public prosecutors and judges have committed in the process of arraigning people and searching homes. The government has become party to the quarrel, appearing to side with those who are investigating the military, but not others who have chosen to investigate activity that allegedly violates laws to protect secular nature of the Republic, its bureaucracy and educational system. Turkish politics seem to be ridden with seeds of instability and uncertainty. What is the background to this state of affairs?
Ever since the transition to political competition (1946-1950), Turkish politics has been characterized by fluctuating tensions between the institutions of state and those of politics. In Turkish political jargon, the institutions of state refer primarily to the military, the courts, the bureaucracy, and the universities while those of politics comprise the legislature and the Council of Ministers. The office of the president, viewed earlier as a state institution, is nowadays coming to be viewed as an institution of politics. The distinction, connoting that certain domains of governmental activity are matters of state and are outside the discretion of elected politicians, became important after Turkey made a transition to competitive politics since the men of state, feeling themselves responsible for preserving the achievements of the republic, wanted to make sure that these would be protected against the whims of politicians whose interest in getting votes was likely to undermine them. The Democratic Party governments of Adnan Menderes that ruled Turkey after the transition to competitive politics during 1950-1960 were highly suspicious of bureaucrats, thinking that they had close ties to the opposition Republican People’s Party, the founding party of the republic. Men-
Offices Washington, DC • Berlin • Bratislava • Paris Brussels • BelgraDe • ankara • BuCharest
lter Turan is currently a professor of political science at Bilgi University, where he also served as president between 1998-2001. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF).
deres tried to co-opt the upper ranks of the bureaucracy to achieve control. His populist policies eventually produced economic hardships and loss of voter support. It tried to compensate the loss by restricting opposition and offering symbolic concessions on the regulation of religion. These were judged by the state establishment as undermining the secular foundations of the Republic. Turkey’s initial democratic experiment was ended by a military junta of lowerranking officers. The military rulers made a new constitution through which they tried to delineate the domain of the state. A National Security Council was established to advise the government on protecting the Republic against internal and external enemies, the court system was rendered fully autonomous from elected officials, a Constitutional Court was established and the powers of the Council of State, a high administrative court, were expanded. Full university autonomy took away any powers the government had on appointing administrators and running universities. The fact that the 1960 military intervention had been carried out by a clandestine committee of lower-ranking officers encouraged the post-1960 military leadership to assume a more activist stance vis-a-vis politics so as to restrain the interventionist tendencies of lower-ranking officers. Twice, in 1971 and 1980, the top command of the armed forces intervened in the political process, indirectly and directly, respectively. The 1980 intervention, by writing a new constitution, went far in consolidating the position of the military as a veto group that sets the limits of political decisions. This position was used often to arrest or even reverse changes intended to enhance the public role of religion, especially in light of the fact that after 1983, main political actors almost always included a religiouslyoriented party in government. In this endeavor, the military also found support in the court system, with the Constitutional Court leading. On a regular basis, the Constitutional Court determined that religiously-oriented parties had used religion for political ends and closed them down. The military and the courts were the two highly professional organs of the state that party politics had been able to penetrate least. They remained as the pillars of the state that had otherwise been slowly conquered by electorally-based politics. The bureaucrats, for example, whose appointments
were more open to the discretion of the political leadership, had gradually accepted the idea of receiving instructions from politicians while the universities had been penetrated by prevailing political tendencies with faculty members becoming highly fragmented. Starting in 1980, rapid changes in Turkey and in the world began to erode the unique position of the military. The abandoning of import-substitution oriented economics in 1980 initiated a period of growth rendering the new highly complex economy much more sensitive to political events. Centers of power multiplied, and governance became complicated. Furthermore, the end of the bipolar world for which the demise of the Soviet Union constituted a coup de grace transformed the international environment such that a military intervention became a political near impossibility. The sustenance of democracy was particularly important for Turkey as a member of NATO and an EU candidate. Some military leaders appear to have appreciated the implications of these changes for the political role of the military while others thought military interventions were still an open option. Public comments by retired generals revealed a split among the military leadership. Those opposing intervention apparently had the upper hand. The judiciary also became affected by the changes. With the expansion of the university system, law schools began to produce a larger number of graduates. Many from conservative backgrounds with degrees from provincial universities began to join the court system. Their social and political outlook was in greater harmony with the conservative politicians that ruled Turkey than their more senior colleagues. In 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which recently splintered from the more radically religious Felicity Party, won the elections. In 2007, it won by a bigger margin and elected one of its own as president. The secularist state establishment feared that all state defenses against elected politicians were falling, allowing the government to implement its presumed hidden agenda to dismantle the secular state. In a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, whatever the government did was seen as having a religious purpose. The government, ignoring the criticisms whether justified or not, argued that it was simply democratizing the system. In retrospect, it seems that the ascent of AKP to power was a
triggering event for some military elements to plan clandestine measures to “save” the secular state. Such planning appears to have been facilitated by NATO-derived practices and institutional frameworks developed during the Cold War to fight the adversary behind the lines if national territory fell under occupation. Under the pretext of special warfare, plans appear to have been made for a military takeover. These have now been exposed, hence the Ergenekon and Operation Sledgehammer cases in court. Initially defending its men, retired or not, recently the military leadership seems to have decided that facilitating investigations is preferable to maintain credibility. Public prosecutors, on the other hand, have come up with major conspiracy plans but with scant evidence. Some subjects will probably receive sentences, but many are likely to get acquitted. The implication of some prosecutors and judges in the conspiracies has also initiated a battle between the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors and the Minister of Justice on who has the power to do what. The prime minister, joining the debate, has signaled that powers of the courts are too wide, that the elected officials should rule supreme. Inviting the opposition to cooperate in amending the constitution, he has threatened that otherwise he will proceed to affect changes by submitting them to public referendum. The opposition is calling for early elections. It is clear that the military has lost its political clout while the probability of a military intervention has all but disappeared. The courts, on the other hand, are no longer as uniformed on what defending the interests of the state means. Such changes do not, however, confirm that Turkish democracy is deepening. Checks on the government’s exercise of power have been weakening. The prime minister has been growing more authoritarian in word and deed, while the government has began to behave increasingly partisan in its daily conduct of business. The country is deeply polarized and faces an impasse. An election 18 months away may or may not offer a way out. Turkish politics is in need of a grand compromise to consolidate democracy. Political will, however, seems currently to be sorely lacking.
İlter Turan, Professor, Bilgi University
İlter Turan is currently a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, where he also served as president between 1998-2001. His previous employment included professorships at Koç University (19931998) and Istanbul University (1964-1993), where he also served as the chair of the International Relations Department (1987-1993), and the director of the Center for the Study of the Balkans and the Middle East (1985-1993). Dr. Turan is the past president of the Turkish Political Science Association and has been a member of the Executive Committee and a vice president of the International Political Science Association (2000-2006). He has served as the program chair of the 21st World Congress of Political Science in Santiago, Chile, July 12-16, 2009. He is board chair of the Health and Education Foundation and serves on the board of several foundations and corporations. He is widely published in English and Turkish on comparative politics, Turkish politics, and foreign policy. His most recent writings have been on the domestic and international politics of water, the Turkish parliament and its members, and Turkish political parties. He is a frequent commentator on Turkish politics on TV and newspapers.
About the GMF
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is a nonpartisan American public policy and grantmaking institution dedicated to promoting greater cooperation and understanding between North America and Europe. Founded in 1972 through a gift from Germany, on the 25th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has seven offices in Europe: Berlin, Bratislava, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, and Bucharest.
About the On Turkey Series
GMF’s On Turkey is an ongoing series of analysis briefs about Turkey’s current political situation and its future. GMF provides regular analysis briefs by leading Turkish, European, and American writers and intellectuals, with a focus on dispatches from on-the-ground Turkish observers. To access the latest briefs, please visit our web site at www.gmfus.org/turkey or subscribe to our mailing list at http://database.gmfus.org/reaction.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.