The questions asked by the prosecutors as part of the ongoing investigation focus on the West Study Group (BÇG), the key organization behind the Feb. 28 coup. The group was an illegal, clandestine organization formed within the military. This organization is responsible for the widespread human rights violations during that period. The responses by Bir on the illegal activities of this organization are not adequate. Those who have been placed under arrest in the second wave of the process, including Erol Özkasnak, suggest that the investigation will proceed in this direction.
The BÇG was an organization that kept records of personal information on religious people who were working in public institutions. Those who were flagged in the army were expelled. The criterion for religiosity in these records was whether the relevant person was observing his religious duties, particularly daily prayers. A number of people were expelled or forced to resign from the army just because they were eager to perform their prayers. The details revealed in connection with the investigation by the prosecutors are surprising. The most amazing one is that Bir asked for a convenient place and environment to perform his daily prayers during his arrest.
These details reveal the reality of the discussions concerning fundamentalism and secularism in Turkey in the past. Today, the generals who perform prayers do not attempt to influence the judiciary in an effort to show regret. In other words, they do not pretend. The military servicemen stage a coup; but they do not pretend. The coup makers who chased the religious people in the past now perform prayers five times a day. How can we explain this paradox?
A different version of this paradox has been observed in the past. The pro-coup military officers within the Turkish armed forces were prone to embrace American culture and way of life. The image of Bir in the coup period suggested that he was like an American general. This general who commanded American forces as a NATO commander in Somalia was also known for his close relations with the US in Turkey as well. His fluency in English with an American accent and his professional experience in NATO made him a strong general with pro-American views. His meeting with Henry Baker in the State Department was publicized in the media; so was his request for support from Bernard Lewis. A general who was so familiar with American culture, democracy and freedoms was acting like a dictator in his own country. He is a pro-American general who is observing his religious duties. How could this paradox be explained?
There is one plausible explanation for this paradox of being an observer of religious duties while staging a war against religiosity and religious people: a power struggle. The coups have been staged in Turkey not for an ideal, but for power. Fundamentalism and secularism were used as pretexts and tools to acquire power. There is no other explanation for generals familiar with Western culture to oppose democracy and freedom. You need to have ideological pretexts in order to attain power through staging coups. These pretexts mostly refer to the religiosity of the people. As religiosity is the general character of the people, opposing democracy and freedoms and promoting secularism turn into a political pretext. This means that the polarization in Turkish politics along arguments about secularism is all about polarization between a coup and democracy. The support that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu extends for the Feb. 28 investigation is another proof and confirmation of this. This means that secularism is not at risk. There is no other explanation for a general who is performing his religious duties now despite leading a coup and persecuting religious military servicemen in the army.