In a world of politics, deception and trickery are natural and seen very often. It has been observed throughout history that some politicians have a superlative piece of skill that is very subtle (Freedman, 2013). Despite the fact that there are multiple forms of corruption, the German sociologist Max Weber (1964) views it as a State-centered phenomenon reflecting the malfunctioning of a rationalized bureaucracy. Thus, “in the political field, the traditional concept of corruption was strictly related to the morality of societies, rather than to the actions of individuals” (Terracino, 2012: 8). Many corruption scandals usually “involve more than one person, the presence of mutual obligations and benefits, and an attempt to camouflage by lawful justification” (Alatas, 1990: 213). Corruption and governments are no strangers to each other, and Turkey is no exception. The infamous corruption scandal of December 17 and 25, 2013 is a great example of the recent past.
One can also observe that there has been no straight path towards the democratization of Turkey. Indeed, years ago, Burhan Kuzu, a constitutional law professor, former head of the Constitutional Commission at the Turkish Grand National Assembly, and former member of the AKP, described Turkey as “the country of zigzags” regarding its politics (1992: 216). If one wants to resemble Turkey’s quest for more life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to a journey on a highway to heaven called ‘democracy,’ one can see three types of major setbacks on its path: the ‘bumps’ in the road are the military interventions; ‘cracks’ in the road caused by the ‘deep state structures; and, finally, ‘the sharp turn ahead signs’ is the display of an authoritarian model of government. This article briefly examines the bumps, cracks, and the sharp-turn ahead signs in modern-day Turkish political history. The recent shifts in Turkish politics should be read as part of the continuum of this line as well. Below is the never-ending story of Turkish democracy.
The Birth of a Nation and the ‘Bumps’ on the Road
In the first quarter of the last century, the late Ottoman era witnessed a few government changes orchestrated by a mixture of young Ottoman military officers and civilian intelligentsia. In 1923, the world saw the rise of a new nation under the genius military commander and statesman, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. During Ataturk’s presidency (1923-1938), a grand revolution and transformation occurred under the single-party rule, the People’s Republican Party (in Turkish: Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi – CHP). Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was not entirely opposed to military interference in politics but wanted “the armed forces to become an imperium in imperio” (Hanioglu, 2011). After the death of Ataturk in 1938, the remaining leadership of the CHP pursued even more aggressive and autocratic policies. Between 1923 and 1950, Turkey was ruled by the single-party regime; and the development of opposition movements had constantly been subjugated during this time. More specifically, even after the multi-party era in 1946, the power control continued clandestinely, in a way. “The armed forces routinely exercised behind-the-scenes influence by engaging in dialogue with civilians and used more direct methods when informal mechanisms failed” (Gursoy, 2011: 2).
For almost two centuries the Turkish elitists have been represented both by the central bureaucracy and the military. The wealthy minority groups were repressed to be involved in the Turkish politics. CHP represented both the state and the society as a single authority between 1923 and 1950 (Hermann, 2014: 88-9). Ultimately, the political atmosphere did not allow the political opposition to breathe for a while, because there was no clear distinction to draw the line between political dissent and high treason. Then, anyone who opposed the ruling party (CHP) would be perceived as going against the state as well as the whole government. There was a strict authoritarian regime more so than a democracy.
The single-party era finally ended after a 1950 election claimed victory for the opposition, the Democratic Party (in Turkish: Demokrat Parti). On May 27, 1960, a small clique that was mainly formed of colonels and below ranks within Turkish military overthrew the first democratically elected government. From this day on a “fear of coup” had been created as a chronic ailment of the Turkish politics. This was also the first “bump” on the path to democracy, which resulted in the executions of a Prime Minister and his two ministers, followed by the arrest and exiles of hundreds of people. In 1962 and ’63, there were also two additional failed attempts.
In 1971, in which the Turkish military came with a stern ultimatum resulting in the removal of the government and replacing it with another cabinet favored by them. In the next nine years, the unsolved economic and social problems and partial paralysis of politics made Turkey a vulnerable state before its next coup. Finally, on September 12, 1980, the Chief of Staff (head of the National Security Council – aka Milli Guvenlik Kurulu) acted to save the weakened state and the Kemalist reforms in Turkey.
“The Kemalist principles of nationalism and secularism succeeded in creating a modern society, but Kemalism as an ideology failed to modernize itself, and consequently it became authoritarian. This is because Kemalism as understood by the military failed to internalize two crucial aspects of modernity: democracy and a fully autonomous civil society” (Yavuz, 2003: 265).
The vicious cycle of military interventions demonstrated that democracy is nothing but the end; it merely serves as means. Between 1983 and 1993, there was a glimpse of reassurance of some political stability by Turgut Ozal, who was a legendary Turkish politician, prime minister turned president. Ozal was the anomaly or an outlier in this so called ‘Kemalist power balance design,’ because he had been the ‘unwanted child’ for the hardliners within the military and bureaucracy.
“The military staged coups every decade or so in the name of secularism or anti-communism, each time shattering the country’s diverse political longings and enfeebling its government. The pattern changed somewhat in the mid-1980s when Prime Minister Turgut Ozal liberalized the economy, which allowed a capitalist class of small-town entrepreneurs and fledgling corporate bigwigs to take root” (Hansen, 2014, February 9).
In 1993, Ozal’s civilian reign ended when he passed away abruptly in skeptical circumstances. Indeed, between January and November of that same year, there were several notable deaths of prominent individuals including Ozal’s confidante, Adnan Kahveci, Commander of Gendarmerie, Esref Bitlis, prominent leftist journalist, Ugur Mumcu, etc. Evidently, as depicted in Table 1 below, the year 1993 was the subject of a covert political transformation by the hands of a deep state.
The Significant Deaths of 1993
Jan. 24: Ugur Mumcu, a secular journalist, killed when his car exploded in front of his home
Feb. 5: Adnan Kahveci, Minister of Finance and a potential replacement for Ozal, killed in a mysterious traffic accident while traveling with his family.
Feb. 17: Assassination of Esref Bitlis (Commander of the Gendarmerie)
Apr. 17: Turgut Ozal, 8th President of Turkey died due to the claims of heart attack
May 24: Thirty-three soldiers killed by PKK in Bingol province
Jul. 2: Thirty-five people killed in the Madimak Hotel in Sivas Province
Jul. 5: Thirty-three civilians killed in the village of Başbaglar in Erzincan province.
Oct. 22: Assassination of Gendarmerie Brigade Commander Bahtiyar Aydın
Nov. 4: Assassination of Ahmet Cem Ersever (Major – founder of Gendarmerie Intelligence Unit – JITEM)
In 1994, something unexpected happened; the conservative right-wing Welfare Party (in Turkish: Refah Partisi – RP) became the popular party in local elections. In the general elections of the 1995, the RP became the top party not with great percentages though. Historically, the political parties under ‘the National View’ (in Turkish: Milli Gorus) conservative ideology with different names never garnered more than 10% of the votes in the elections, with one or two exceptions. However, such success was not acceptable to the hardliners, and eventually, it did not take long for the Turkish military to intervene. On February 28, 1997, the National Security Council came with a stern warning and a checklist, which the conservative party led-coalition government could not comply, so it was replaced by another coalition that was more favored by the military. The media and the academia called it the ‘post-modern coup ‘or ‘February 28 era.’ Overall, the 1990s seemed to be the “lost decade” for Turkey in many levels: short-lived coalition governments, unsolved assassinations, escalating PKK terrorism followed by the financial crises. Turkey entered the 21st century with economic despair and political instability.
The first election of the new millennium signaled the changes in Turkish politics. On November 3, 2002, the Justice and Development Party (in Turkish: Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi – AKP) finished first with 34.28% of the votes in their first election. Despite the fact that the majority of the founders of the AKP were once the members of the pro-Islamist Welfare Party (RP), which was shut down during the ‘February 28 Era’, the AKP leadership believed that the formers were polarizing and still radical for the Turkish politics. Thus, they established new party goals to become a more centrist party and be largely accepted by the Turkish public. In its first four years, AKP directed its focus to many democracy oriented political moves in many problematic areas. Indeed, the main driving force for Turkey was the long-lived dream for European Union (EU) membership, which they immediately began to pursue it. The initial reaction of the Republican elites was not sincere because many were angry and despair of long gained interests. However, in his first term, “to all these groups, Erdogan promised honest government, democratic reforms, civilian-led rule, the restoration of the proper role of Islam within the state, and economic prosperity” (Fradkin and Libby, 2014). In fact, between 2002 and 2011, the AKP instituted many democratic reforms and gained the popular support from almost all walks of life in Turkey. In the meantime, the Republican elites along with the ‘Hawks’ both in the military and bureaucracy closely scrutinized the AKP’s policies and its leadership. With luck, they avoided the following “bumps” on the path for democratization:
- In March 2007, a Turkish weekly political news magazine, Nokta (“dot” in Turkish) revealed a confidential campaign of the military blacklisting of some journalists and press organs, based on a leaked report prepared by the Office of the Chief of General Staff categorizing journalists as “trustworthy” / pro-military and “untrustworthy” / anti-military (Altintas and Yavuz, 2007, March 09). On March 29, 2007, the Current Affairs weekly also published the online diaries of the former Navy Commander Admiral Ozden Ornek (Hale and Ozbudun, 2010: 89), which contained detailed plans for several attempted plots called: “Blondie” (in Turkish: Sarikiz), “Moonlight” (in Turkish: Ayisigi), and “Glove” (in Turkish: Eldiven). These were allegedly to be part of a three-staged coup plan.
- In the middle of the night on April 27, 2007, in the midst of the Presidential election debates, the Turkish public was shocked to learn about the “e-mail coup / E-Coup” when a warning message was posted on the Chief of Staff’s website. The message was written by then-the Chief of Staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanit explicitly to prevent the election of Abdullah Gul, then the foreign minister in Erdogan’s cabinet, for the presidency. The military temporarily blocked his election, but their effort backfired when the government went to early national elections (Harrington, 2011: 37).
- On March 31, 2008, the Chief Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation (Yargitay) acted to close down the ruling AKP and to ban 70 of its members from active political life including Erdogan. This legal action was the culmination of some attempts over the years to destabilize the government in power. This Judicial-Coup or a.k.a. J-Coup was the mastermind of the Republican elites through its long arms within the judiciary. The AKP avoided the disaster luckily with one vote short in the Constitutional Court’s verdict. Instead, the High Court monetarily penalized the party.
- On June 12, 2009, the Taraf daily newspaper published a military action plan, which was discovered from the documents and schemes indicating intends to fight against reactionism (in Turkish: Irtica). The details of the plan included a meticulous defamation campaign and antipropaganda against the AKP government and the various groups that provide support to the ruling party.
- Between January 20 and 21, 2010, Taraf daily also published a military plan called the Operation Sledgehammer (in Turkish: Balyoz Operasyonu) for the first time. The military plan itself was five thousand pages and confiscated in the computer of then-chief of staff for the First Army with the rank of full colonel.
The AKP felt the temporal shock from that internecine strife between the Republican elites and itself, which finally resulted in a referendum on September 12, 2010. Approximately 77% of the population voted for the change of “a package of 30 amendments to the country’s current 1982 constitution, promulgated by a military junta during the country’s last coup-led government” (Ciddi, 2011). In this way, the military tutelage era, a significant bump in the road to attaining more democracy, would have been neutered as a force in Turkish politics. However, the final blow would come after the July 15, 2016, failed military attempt, which the military lost its full power over Turkish politics.
The Cracks in the Road: the concept of Deep State
In this section, let’s take a look at the deep state phenomena in Turkish politics. Secret societies or organizations have been known to people for many years, but only a few could conspire to prove the existence of such underground organizations. “The origins of the ‘Deep State’ can be traced back to the late Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century and the decades that followed the formation of the Turkish republic in 1923” (Skinner, 2008: 22). Indeed, it is no mystery to those who are intimately familiar with the Turkish political system that the existence of intra-state circles includes members from the state, the police, and the criminal underworld. Analogously, the elements of the deep state look like the cracks on a highway; the deeper and the larger the cracks, the more dangerous they become. They see themselves as “patriots with no boundaries” who continuously reflect the idea that Turkey is under threat and are willing to defend it (Hermann, 2014) against external and internal enemies that they determine subjectively.
In the modern sense, the beginning of the Cold War intertwined with the formation of the deep state structures in Turkey (Hermann, 2014). Indeed, the concept of the “deep state” goes back to the 1950s, in which the NATO countries established “stay behind” forces as part of Operation Gladio. First revealed by Italian PM Giulio Andreotti in 1991, Gladio from the Latin word “Sword” (Floyd, 2005, February 18), was a code name given to a clandestine NATO operation in Italy during the Cold War. In Turkey, people hear a lot about the ‘deep state,’ the shadowy network thought to carry out assassinations and other chaotic incidents. The unveiling of the deep state structures could be construed as a blessing in disguise. “Every now and again the Turkish public gains a glimpse of this almost mythical entity” (Anthony, 2007, May 20).
The question of ‘state within the state’ surfaced for the first time with a traffic accident. Indeed, on November 3, 1996, a black Mercedes full of passengers crashed into a truck with full of load. This accident, which happened near the small town of Susurluk in Balikesir province (Western Turkey), has also come to be known as the “Susurluk Scandal.” The notorious ‘Black Mercedes’ contained four different characters: police chief, Huseyin Kocadag, wanted right-wing hitman, Abdullah Catli, and his mistress; all died in the accident. The only survivor of the crash with serious wounds, Sedat Bucak, a member of parliament for the ruling True Path Party (Dogru Yol Partisi-DYP), was also the leader of a Kurdish clan as well as the pro-state militia known as “Village Guards,” used by the government in its war against the PKK. Susurluk went beyond its name and became the symbol of corruption and dark relations between state, gangs and politics.
The modus operandi of the Turkish deep state as follows:
- The deep state looks like water; odorless and colorless. It both controls all mainstream ideologies and their counter-ideologies at the same time and later successfully steer them into whatever direction it wanted.
- For them, everyone is expendable. This illegal structure did not hesitate to target its own sympathizers “to provoke crises by shifting the blame onto leftists, Kurds, and Islamists” (Park, 2008, August 7). Samil Tayyar, an investigative journalist and the former member of AKP as a parliamentarian, believes that the grand scheme of this secret circle was not only to eliminate the prominent figures of the government, liberal intellectuals, and minority leaders but also to attack Kemalist newspapers and intellectuals and then shift the blame to Islamists (2008).
- It is like a Chameleon; adapts and shifts the direction. More specifically, individuals, institutions, and organizations that had been previously seen as potential dangers or rivals to its existence were constantly accused of the most dangerous threats to the secular regime.
- The group members operate under the guise of “national interest” despite the fact they strive to serve and protect their interests and profits, which are promised by the underground elites. The hope is that this would later transform itself into a closed, ultranationalist, and ultra-secularist authoritarian regime ruled by decree. In other words, the guardians of the regime allow those deep state structures to operate freely until the conditions are ripened for them to intervene. Some might consider the July 15th failed coup and the purge aftermath within the concept of ‘reverse engineering.’
- On the verge of the new millennium, democracy in Turkey was still receiving blows from hidden power structures. Strangely, some mysterious events started to take place particularly between 2003 and 2011. The action and the commotion of the events involved deception, defamation, street clashes, and murders of innocent people framing the other ‘bad guys.’ Many tactics aimed to generate fear and tension, which would lead to a justification for a military coup against a democratically elected government, the ruling AKP. The plots signaled to create a favorable climate for a coup. One of them was the discovery of a collection of weapons and ammunition in a suburban house in the Umraniye district of Istanbul in 2007. Below displays their modus operandi on causing a climate of fear in Turkey:
- On December 18, 2002, just forty days after the general elections, unknown assailants shot pro-secularist Necip Hablemitoglu, an associate professor of history, in front of his house at Cankaya District in the capital of Turkey, Ankara.
- On November 9, 2005, a bomb exploded in a bookstore killing one in the small town of Semdinli, which is in the Hakkari Province (southeastern region of Turkey). Police arrested a sergeant and a non-commissioned Gendarmerie intelligence officer, along with a PKK rebel turned police informant as the main culprits (Gorvett, 2006). During the search, police seized several car bombs, a list of names, sketches of households, and offices of some town people from the car (Gezici, 2008: 37).
- The event brought tremendous media attention because this was the first incident where some people with their hands tied to the state structure had been arrested. It was also the second tip of the iceberg since the Susurluk scandal of 1996.
- On February 5, 2006, Andrea Santoro, a 59-year-old Italian priest, was shot dead in the courtyard of the Santa Maria Catholic Church in the northern city of Trabzon. The 16-year-old murder suspect, a high school student, was arrested two days after the killing with the 9-mm pistol in his possession. Again, religious radicals were declared as the primary suspects. The primary audience for the attack was obviously the outside world, and the message aimed to reassure outsiders that there was no tolerance against minorities in Turkey.
- In early May 2006, the Cumhuriyet Daily, one of the oldest leftist-media outlets known by its strong laicism position and specifically highly valued by Kemalists was targeted. Three attempted bomb attacks took place within six days in Istanbul.
- The immediate blame was directed toward to Islamists because the newspaper had published a comic mocking the wearing of headscarves before the bombings. The main aim was to stir the political tension and played off two opposite sites by pitting one group against another in an ideological war. Police identified Alparslan Arslan, a young lawyer with shady ties, as the primary instigator in the attack against the Cumhuriyet Daily. The grenades had the same source of origin as explosives found in Umraniye raid in 2007. Indeed, the government weapons factory (MKE) also confirmed the records of the grenades, which were handed over to the Turkish Army between 1975 and 1985 (Gezici, 2008a: 78).
- On May 17, 2006, during morning hours, Alparslan Arslan (suspect of the Cumhuriyet Daily bombings) fired his gun at the judges of the Second Chamber of the Council of State, (in Turkish: Danistay) the highest administrative court located in Ankara. The shooting resulted in the death of the head judge and injury to four others (Council of State investigation, 2006, May 24). Indeed, the attack had come in the wake of the anti-headscarf decision made by the Higher Court. The suspect, Alparslan Arslan, was apprehended and confessed.
- On January 19, 2007, Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist and the editor of the Armenian-language “Agos” newspaper in Istanbul, was shot dead in broad daylight outside his workplace. Dink was a very outspoken journalist about Turkish politics and was the best-known face of the Armenian community in Turkey. Two days later, the suspect, Ogün Samast, a 17-year-old jobless high-school dropout from Trabzon province, seemed to be hailed as a hero in a photo taken with some police officers inside a police station at the time of his arrest (Witness says two others were with Hrant Dink killer, 2011, June 1).
Several factors resulted in these cracks (deep state entities):
- Political confusion is the first prerequisite for the birth and emergence of the deep state. The political instability happens more mostly during coalition governments or where certain serious decisions were delegated more to the one branch of the government or external forces like the military.
- When the “invisible hand” becomes concerned about losing its interests, clandestine organizations attempt to secure it. In Turkey, historically, the ultra-nationalists along with the Elites are used to create these “cracks” especially when they see the secularist nature of the country in peril or jeopardy. Thus, the deep state creates a climate of fear allowing the guardian of the regime to intervene on behalf of the secularist regime. The problem with the “invisible hand” lies in the ambiguity of the extent of secularism and the fear of losing it. As a matter of fact, for years, the Turkish intelligentsia could not agree on a definition of secularism. Thus, the perception of danger can only be defined by the Republican elites in times of despair.
- In countries where democratic principles and the rule of law are not deeply rooted and established like Turkey, the armed forces would exhibit itself as the protector of the existing norms and status quo. Such a perception for any armed forces, beyond their traditional roles, forms an intense skepticism between them and civilians. Eventually, all politicians, no matter how much public support they receive, will be portrayed as an incompetent group of people. The only way to make them efficient and resourceful is done by creating the deep state to eliminate both the barriers and enemy of the states.
The Sharp Turn Ahead: Signs of the Recent AKP Policies
In her thesis at Claremont McKenna College, Julie Soo Jung Ahn presented a comprehensive landscape of domestic events in Turkey that clearly indicated a grand democratic backsliding, particularly between the years 2011 and 2014. Ahn examined the following five areas: media freedoms, the judiciary, corruption and graft, the nature of the opposition, and civil liberties and finds concrete proof that democratic backsliding is very apparent in Turkey (2014: 8). The question of whether President Erdogan is the same leader, who achieved many things in the name of liberal democracy, begs the answer. “That was certainly the case during the initial phase of rule by his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, from 2002 to 2010” (Akyol, 2014; December 23). The early years of the AKP leadership delivered a great effort to modernize the country, “from the standpoints of both the state order and human freedom, with the EU Harmonization Packages in a way that was very worthy of praise. But particularly starting in 2011, it has day by day grown more authoritarian” (Oran, 2014, December 14). Evidently, the recent political events in Turkey confirmed the past predictions of emerging authoritarian rule in the country. Erdogan’s ambitions for power finally clashed with the liberalism-oriented EU criterions. Erdogan is “obsessed with his enemies, increasingly erratic and dictatorial, and seeming to have little to no interest in further structural reform” (Hullsman, 2014, December 22). This form of ‘civilian tutelage’ is the result of AKP’s “intensified efforts to consolidate more power at the expense of independent institutions, including efforts to undermine judicial independence” (Bozkurt, 2014, December 15). Below are some of the distinctive signs of an authoritarian model of government in Turkey particularly after 2011:
- In October 2012, a new law was passed to cripple much of the investigative powers of the Government Accounting Bureau (in Turkish: Sayistay) as well as its independence. “Literally, the government institutions have not provided a line-by-line description of their resources, spending or assets from the previous year” (Tremblay, 2013). In fact, one of the secretly reported tapes that were released on YouTube in October 2013 revealed a confession between an AKP official and a bureaucrat from the Prime Minister’s Office. During that conversation, it could be clearly heard the following statement, “if the reports had come before the Turkish Parliament, it would shatter the AKP” (Sayistay raporu gelirse, 2013, October 03).
- The corruption scandal that went public on December 17 and 25, 2013, and implicated then-prime minister and current President Erdogan, members of his family, senior government officials, and some businessmen involved in some sweetheart deals. In a way, police operations caught them in the form of ‘in flagrante delicto.’ Within the rule of law principle, the government should have empowered the public prosecutors to continue their investigations. Later, the judges should have been able to decide whether there was sufficient evidence for a legal matter to be resolved in each of those investigations and then proceeded accordingly. Instead of this routine judicial process, the government expeditiously changed regulations, forced security forces to violate the rule of law, shuffled and re-shuffled an enormous number of police officers. Erdogan administration introduced some new bills not only attempting to cover up the level of corruption within but also aimed to restrict the constitutional rights of Turkish citizens. For example, the day before the New Years Eve of 2014, the High Council of Prosecutors and Judges (in Turkish: Hakimler ve Savcilar Yuksek Kurulu –HSYK) suspended the prosecutors of the graft investigations. The government’s retaliatory actions raised more questions than answers.
“Millions of dollars were said to have been suddenly discovered in shoe boxes in a closet belonging to the chief executive of a bank. Shady gold-for-oil schemes with Iran were exposed. Bribery for construction projects unexpectedly came to light. Corruption is an open secret in Turkey, but the AKP had been untouchable” (Hansen, 2014, February 9).
As a result, the AKP leadership empowered the executive branch over the Legislative and Judiciary, which was done knowingly and maliciously, violating the principles of the rule of law. The AKP leadership asserted a conspiracy allegedly masterminded by Fethullah Gulen. They alleged that Gulen attempted to overthrow the government through its followers in the state apparatus. The government even further contended that members of the Hizmet movement (in English: Service) are “traitors and terrorists allied with foreign interests” (Sterling, 2014, December 10). Fethullah Gulen is a Sunni, Turkish Islamic thinker, who has been in voluntary exile in Pennsylvania for over a decade. He inspired and encouraged many people, who are part of a movement called ‘Hizmet,’ to open numerous schools, universities, companies, cultural centers, foundations, and media outlets across the world. “His work helps to redefine the nature of Islamic discourse in the contemporary world” (Voll, 2003: 238). His special interest concerning the development of democracy in the entire world and the Muslim East is worth mentioning. Gulen “suggests strong integration with Western institutions such as the EU and defends the continuation of close relations with the United States” (Kosebalaban, 2003: 173). Gulen neither develop a political goal nor have any desire “to establish an Islamic state as a political entity that would lead to a unified Muslim ummah, or community of believers around the globe” (Oktem, 2011: 129).
The misconstruction of so-called “alliance between the Hizmet movement and the ruling AKP” (El-Kazaz, 2011) needs some clarification. First and foremost, to this day, Fethullah Gulen has never endorsed any political party publicly. “The Gulen Movement, aka Hizmet, is very well known for its capacity to maintain a certain level of distance, and proximity, to all political groups” (Yesilova, n.d.; ¶12). In fact, any political affiliation creates more limitation and incapacitation for the movement.
However, as a citizen of Turkey, Fethullah Gulen has the right to criticize the wrong policies of any government as well as compliment the ones that guarantee one’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, in his opinion article for the New York Times in 2015, Gulen described the so-called alliance: “Our support then was based on principle, as is our criticism today.” Yalcin Akdogan, a former deputy prime minister, and advisor, also stated, “I personally believe that the Movement does not support AKP but rather support the right steps and projects” (Akarsu Celik, 2010, October 17). Furthermore, Mustafa Yesil, former director of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, a Gulen-affiliated organization, described such moral support during 2010 referendum:
“We still think that their efforts (referring to AKP) to curb the militarized system, and prosecute coup perpetrators were correct, and so we supported them. Mr. Erdogan’s attitude and approach at those times were more embracing and liberal” (Arango and Arsu, 2013, December 18).
- In February 2014, the government passed a bill to control the Internet; the new law allows the telecommunications authority (in Turkish: Telekomünikasyon Iletişim Başkanlığı -TİB) to block websites without a court order (Letsch and Russo, 2014, March 28). By late March 2014, the government suppressed and blocked the social media, mostly to prevent the release of the secretly recorded tapes about corruption and bribery within the AKP ranks.
- On April 26, 2014, the National Intelligence Organization, known as MIT, was given unrestricted access to records of state institutions and private companies without a court order. It also introduced prison terms for the publication of secret documents offers agents’ greater immunity from prosecution” (Turkey expands powers, 2014). The opposition politicians claimed that Turkey would turn into a “Mukhabarat state,” or “surveillance state,” the term commonly used in the Middle East to designate authoritarian regimes (Fradkin and Libby, 2014).
- On October 26, 2014, President Erdogan appointed AKP-linked lawyers to fulfill the four seats out of the 22-member judicial body at the Supreme Council of Prosecutors and Judges – HSYK (Benli, 2014, October 27). In other words, the AKP administration immediately purged the prosecutors and judges who were not its supporters (Oran, 2014, December 14).
- On December 16, 2014, thirty-five members of Besiktas’s soccer fan group called Carsi were charged with attempting to orchestrate a coup against the government in the demonstrations during the Gezi Protests. Despite being prosecutors called for life sentences, in 2015, “all 35 defendants were acquitted from ‘attempting a coup against the government,’ ‘forming and managing a terrorist organization,’ ‘forming and managing a criminal syndicate,’ resisting police’ and ‘opposing the law of demonstration and marches’ charges” (All defendants acquitted in coup case, 2015, December 29).
- On April 4, 2015, the AKP administration closed both the Police College and the Academy, which had 10,864 and 17,000 graduates at the time of the decision. The students were unfairly given their certificates and sent to the faculties of economic and administrative sciences at other public universities (Police College students protesting against closure blacklisted, 2015, April 12).
- There have been constant pressure and intimidation against Turkish media outlets in the forms of high monetary fines. “If warnings are not enough to prevent journalists and editors from criticizing the government, they are fired demonstrating the complete intolerance of the government” (Ahn, 2014: 26). Even before the pre-failed coup of 2016, the violations of human rights, media censorship, and government take-overs on critical government institutions had been on the rise.
The ruling party showed a model of more ‘absolutist behavior’ and displayed a dominating force that had the ambition to control every institution in the country. “Once hailed as the leader of model Muslim democracy, Erdogan has created a political disaster at home, transforming Turkey into an authoritarian state that poses dangers not just for itself but for its allies in NATO, including the United States” (Bilefsk, 2014, January 22). Instead of limiting the power of the government for people, the AKP policies have been empowering the Erdogan almost indefinitely. The ruling AKP is building its’ version of democracy in Turkey, which resembles a more authoritarian model. The new Constitution that the Turkish people aspire never came as promised during constitutional referendum in 2010 campaign. Instead, the EU membership process seems to be entered into dire straits; the foreign policy of ‘zero problems with neighbors’ pushed Turkey into more isolation. The AKP leadership changed the balance of power between government institutions and resulted in polarization among Turkish society. The latest government infringements, under the AKP rule, are textbook cases of flip-flop politics with the intention to suppress the opposition in the pursuit of the more authoritarian model of government.
A decade ago, President Erdogan, then-prime minister, was the “most likely candidate to lead the Islamic world” (Finkel, 2014, December 22); and now “is in the grips of pathological self-arrogance” (Kenes, 2014, December 22). When everybody was hoping drastic changes and more prosperity after the Referendum 2010, the AKP political powerhouse, unfortunately, took a sharp turn and showed attrition. The Separation of Powers eroded among the government branches. President Erdogan seized the moment for the wrong reasons; instead, he chose to consolidate his power to build his own regime. The failed coup of July 2016 was an intriguing disaster for Turkish politics but the enigmatic destruction began later.
Turkish politics are complex, and it takes audacity to swim against the powerful crosscurrents of political life in Turkey. Indeed, “for much of the country’s history, the military had exercised tutelary functions without overtly intervening in democracy” (Gursoy, 2012). Now, there seems to be a shift in those fault lines towards to civilian tutelage. Turkey, indeed, received blows both from military interventions and the secret clandestine organizations that mostly operated to protect the interest of Republican elitists. The country lacks the liberal democracy but shows an electoral democracy, because Turkey still does not have the culmination of democratic consolidation (O’Donnell, 1996). Turkey is now an ideal worldwide observation post for being a textbook case of “absolutist behavior” of a political leader for the eyes of political scientists and the gentlemen of the long robe. The paranoid authoritarianism resulted in several infringements of the Turkish legal system.
In short, “a totalitarian ideology has started to be shaped that those who are against the government are the enemies of the nation” (Mert, 2014, December 22). There is an intriguing story behind Turkey’s journey to democracy, and yet it has not been fully achieved. First of all, a simple explanation of the military interventions as historical events would underrate the players and actors behind them, along with the fact that viewing the procession of the coup, as either fortunate or pestiferous incidents would be a sightlessness of the history. This is because the coup tradition is not a product of a few soldiers’ passion and greed with governmental power; rather, the roots go beyond the comprehension of many people’s imagination.
Second, years ago, Gary Allen, a conservative journalist found the extreme events of the history were good to be true. He said: “We believe that many of the major world events that are shaping destinies occur because somebody or somebodies have planned them that way” (Mars, 2000: 9). The implication of Allen’s theory into the ‘theory of zigzag in Turkish politics’ for the last 60 years clearly demonstrates that the interruptions instability were not born solely out of their natural courses or conditions or necessities of the time, but were created to control the larger populations in accordance to a very small number of power greedy peoples’ own interpretation of democracy. For more than five decades, the Turkish people have been reminded of the hidden power structures, as in the form of a vicious cycle that has appeared in almost every decade. It should be noted that this vicious cycle did not serve as a constitutional system of check and balances but as an adjustment bureau of power politics. As a result, plans and plots for military interventions have always clouded the Turkish democracy. In sum, the path to real democracy in Turkey is full of zigzags. Turkey has been facing its demons once again. Once again there is an increasing fear for the future of democracy in Turkey. It is confirmed by recent abusive policies that once a government seizes power; it will never give it back unless there is a strong demand by the people. The AKP is now on the path of destruction of democratic principles. In other words, the military tutelage period seems to be shifting its shelves to another tutelage with an emphasis on the term, ‘civil.’ The problem with Turkey involves identity crises as well as democracy crises.
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