Turkey’s leading liberal columnists have all but lost their hope that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is going to fulfill the liberalizing mission that they had presumed that it shouldered. Indeed, there are even conservative, pro-AKP columnists that express astonishment at some of the policies of the AKP government. The prolonged detentions of dissidents who are accused of being terrorists, the ongoing mass arrests of Kurdish activists, the imprisonment of nearly one hundred journalists, the apparent unwillingness of the AKP government to change the draconian anti-terror laws and the penal code that severely curtail the expression of freedom lead liberals to ask aloud if the AKP has once and for all assumed the role as a typical, authoritarian Turkish state party. They also warn that the authoritarian measures of the government and the judiciary serve to de-legitimize the trials of the very real coup conspirators, and that Turkish democracy is imperiled.
Cengiz Çandar in Radikal writes that he was very disturbed by the arrest of the former Chief of the General staff İlker Başbuğ. I was disturbed, although it may seem odd, since I have personally been one of the victims of the military, because the arrest of Başbuğ was made with reference to the anti-terror law, which has come to legitimate all sorts of anti-democratic measures in this country; and Başbuğ was accused of having organized and led a terrorist organization.
Now, you can accuse Başbuğ of many things, and during his tenure as Chief of the General staff he certainly did display many of the bad habits that come with military tutelage, but as the evidence in the ongoing coup trials document, Başbuğ did not participate in those coup plans. You just cannot accuse him of being a coup-monger, and absolutely not of having set up and led a terrorist organization.
Aslı Aydıntaşbaş in Milliyet notes that the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey has recently been reported in the New York Times, and that the Financial Times and Newsweek commented the arrest of the former Chief of the General staff İlker Basbuğ in articles that made mention of drift toward “authoritarianism”. Even though our own media has fallen silent, the rest of the world is fast disengaging from the old paradigm that carried Prime Minister Erdoğan to the cover of Time and according to which Turkey was a model country for the Islamic world.
The personal friendship that he has established with U.S. president Obama and Turkey’s approval of the missile shield ensures that Turkey will not be facing any serious criticism from the West. The White House is not going to cause any troubles for Ankara by making an issue of democracy, the Kurdish question or the freedom of expression when Iran/Iraq/Syria require attention, even though media in the West carries articles about the authoritarian trend. However, the government’s main problem is not the foreign perception, but the internal unease. The measures of the government and the judiciary create new victims everyday; they unite the fifty percent that did not vote for it in a shared sense of victimization. There is only one person that can defuse the tension.
Ahmet Altan in Taraf writes that the most frequent question that he hears being asked these days is ”What does the AKP want to do?” It’s not an unwarranted question. There is a huge difference between the AKP today and the AKP before the referendum (on constitutional amendments in September 2010), and the difference is most palpable regarding its stance on “the crimes within the state”. The AKP that once sought to shed light on these crimes and that asked for the support of the people in order to bring the perpetrators before justice is now trying to cover up the crimes, attempting to evade transparency. I think that when the history of the AKP is going to be written in the future, the tragedy at Uludere is going to be described as one of the crucial stages in the transformation of the AKP. If a government is still murmuring “if there was any mistake” after an incident where 34 civilians were shredded to pieces by bomb planes, then that is a government that has cuddled up to a state that has not been cleansed from criminality and that has become alienated from its people.
What does it mean “if there was a mistake”? If there was not a mistake, then it means that the bombing was intentional. And there are indeed serious suspicions that point in that direction. Why is the government hiding the truth about this terrible massacre from the people? Why has the AKP that once was a force that opposed the system become a party of the state that upholds the system? I think the answer is that Prime Minister Erdoğan and the AKP believe that they have taken control of the state. As far as we can understand it, they are not concerned with “the dysfunctions of the system” provided that it remains under their own control; on the contrary, this system that allows for the unrestrained execution of power appears very appealing to them.
It wants to preserve this lousy system. This is nevertheless a system that produces crime and those who collaborate with it inevitably become accomplices, soiled by its criminality and turn into political cadavers. (Former Prime Ministers) Süleyman Demirel, Mesut Yılmaz and Tansu Çiller once also tried to get in charge of the system, reaching an agreement with the system, and we all know in what condition they are now. The AKP is deluding itself when it thinks that it has the army under its control.
Hasan Cemal in Milliyet writes that the indictment of the former Chief of the General staff İlker Başbuğ as a terrorist does not seem convincing or serious. Another point that annoys me in this case is that the “law” only seems to matter when mighty pashas are arrested; yet there are so many others, not least journalists, who linger in our prisons since more than a thousand days, accused of being terrorists. It is truly annoying that so little attention is being paid to their fate, with only Başbuğ pasha being remembered. By all means, let İlker Başbuğ pasha stand trial without being detained, but shouldn’t the former Chief of the General staff answer for the directive to set up sites on the internet (against the government) that was the product of his own staff?
Isn’t a bit shameful that this matter is somehow being overlooked, as we get mired down in discussions about the accusations of terrorism, the detention of Başbuğ and the question of which court the trial should be rightfully held at? And isn’t it very strange that the former Chief of the General staff Yaşar Büyükanıt, who has admitted that he personally penned the e-memorandum on April 27, 2007, still remains at large? Or did he and Prime Minister Erdoğan really reach a secret agreement that year, at their meeting at the Dolmabahçe palace in Istanbul?
Orhan Kemal Cengiz in Radikal writes that the ruling AKP is now in full control of the state, and that the old division between the state and the government no longer has any relevance. Yet, media outlets that are sympathetic to the AKP government nonetheless prefer to criticize the Kemalist state which is no longer in power, instead of scrutinizing the policies of the government. There are obviously reasons for continuing this shadow-boxing; the arguments against the old Kemalist order are well thought out and well articulated after many years of usage, while grasping, and scrutinizing, the emerging new power realities require new analytical tools, a new paradigm, and thus require an intellectual effort, as well as intellectual courage. But to refrain from issuing warnings to the government and instead continue to pound the defunct Kemalist system is in fact to do Turkey a great disservice. In fact, it leaves the door open for a future, not impossible return of military tutelage; because it is only when democracy has been firmly rooted in Turkey that the military tutelage will finally have been disposed of at the heap of history.
This article was first published in the Turkey Analyst (www.turkeyanalyst.org), a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center.