Thursday evening saw a breakthrough decision by the judiciary to arrest former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ after he testified as a suspect in an investigation into an alleged Internet campaign to discredit Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
The decision is of utmost significance due to the fact that Başbuğ is the highest-ranking officer to be caught up so far in a widening probe into the so-called Ergenekon network, an ultra-nationalist group accused by prosecutors of conspiring to topple the government.
Sabah’s Mahmut Övür points out that seeing a former chief of General Staff who once brandished his finger at the media and the judiciary testifying to a court is one of the greatest proofs of Turkey’s democratic development. Övür highlighted that there have been previous testimonies given by other commanders and military officials as part of investigations into coups. However, Başbuğ’s arrest represents something far more significant due to his former influence at the top of the military hierarchy. Up until now, it has not been uncommon to see junior military staff imprisoned while higher-ranking officers walk free. This has damaged the public’s trust in the judiciary and has also failed to prevent other military officers from potentially staging a coup d’état. This is why Başbuğ’s testimony symbolizes a change in Turkey, noted Övür.
This change is not simply about trying high-ranking military officers in court, but also exploring other unsolved murders and cases. Övür prompts his readers to remember that the court which investigated the Susurluk affair, a scandal in which the close relationship between the government, the armed forces and organized crime groups was exposed, was not able to listen to testimony from retired Gen. Veli Küçük and the former chief commander of the gendarmerie forces, Teoman Koman. Övür’s hope is that this event signals the dissolution of the deep state in Turkey.
Taraf’s Ahmet Altan describes Başbuğ’s arrest as such a great development in Turkey’s democratic progress that it could not have been dreamed of five years ago. However, we should not now rest on our laurels, according to Altan, who believes that we should never say “enough” regarding these developments. Turkey has structural challenges that are still waiting to be dealt with. For example, formalizing the link between the General Staff and the Ministry of Defense would represent great progress in terms of democracy. Altan argues that we should be able to hold politicians responsible for the crimes or mistakes of the military, referring to the accidental killing of 35 civilians by military forces due to false intelligence. “We are democratic enough to bring a chief of General Staff to trial, yet we are not yet democratic enough to reveal all the information about the case to the public. There are a great number of questions that remain unanswered, but the more we insist on asking those questions, the more people avoid admitting responsibility. Finally, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) denies having provided false intelligence to the General Staff, said Altan, highlighting that “we can try many commanders and General Staff presidents, yet as long as we have a government that does not take responsibility for anything and a media that is not bold enough to seek out those responsible for the incidents, we can neither have a proper democracy nor become a state of law.” Hürriyet’s Taha Akyol also asks why, after Başbuğ was arrested, no one is doing anything about former Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt, who issued the April 27, 2007 memorandum on the General Staff’s website? He pointed out that though the actions of the government can be regarded as making positive improvements, there is still a long way to go before we have a perfect legal system in Turkey, says Akyol.