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January 17, 2012, Tuesday

A panoramic view of Turkey

Foreigners who have a hard time understanding Turkey shouldn’t worry too much as even Turks sometimes have great difficulties understanding what’s going on in their country. It is unusual for a democratic country to have so many journalists in prison, to witness deputies’ houses being searched or to accuse and incarcerate so many people for being terrorists.

It’s also rare in a democratic country to have both members of this country’s armed forces and organizations like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) detained on similar charges. That’s why it is not surprising that those from European institutions who look at Turkey think Turkish democracy is not progressing but regressing.

It is true that many things in Turkey are not compatible with an ordinary democracy, such as the way its legal system functions, especially when you think about the long detention periods, many clauses of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) or the Counterterrorism Law (TMK). However, it is also true that many democratic breakthroughs happen in Turkey that usually don’t in many ordinary democracies.

It is claimed that there are people in Turkey who did everything imaginable to overthrow or paralyze a legitimate government elected through free and fair elections, that they plotted, founded websites to spread propaganda against the government and even hoped to start a war with Greece. Most of these people were working within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). In other words, the Turkish Army has spent most of its energy against its own government and not against foreign security threats.

No one yet knows how the trials concerning these accusations will end, but the majority of the population is convinced these accusations are true; everyone has witnessed with their own eyes dubious bomb explosions or political killings such as the murder of Hrant Dink.

The existence of a serious terror problem in Turkey is a reality. The terrorist organization is still very influential, and it is in some cases intertwined with the “deep state.” Many mistakes have been made in the past during the fight against this organization, mistakes that have only worsened the Kurdish issue. Some Kurds are trying to make their choice between violent and political means to express their identity, but sometimes they are not able to make a clear-cut choice.

It is not unexpected that such a country will be difficult to understand for foreign analysts. However, all of the abovementioned problems are old and deep-rooted difficulties. The main issue is that Turkey is trying to rearrange the relations between its military and civilian institutions. This is progress in and of itself, but mistakes made in the judicial domain cast a shadow on its overall success. All of this would perhaps not have happened in a democratic country, but these things are to be expected in a country undergoing democratization.

While serious steps reinforcing civil rights and liberties are being taken regarding the Kurdish issue, some judicial and penal procedures undermine progress in this domain. It seems there is a gulf between the present situation and what the government really wanted. In fact, one can even suggest that some judiciary processes aim to prevent the government from functioning properly. The government itself has noticed that these processes, and especially prolonged detention periods, are being used to put pressure on it. The only way out of this vicious circle is to adopt a new constitution. This will open the way to the revision of the entire legal system, probably better protecting the judiciary from daily political struggles.

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