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May 27, 2012, Sunday

Taking lessons from previous experiences with the military

It is a fact that the Uludere disaster has become the most challenging issue for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). That the disaster coincided with a period in which the ruling government thought that it had put the army in its place and taken it under control increased the depth of this challenge.

In an era in which just a few years ago military coups were still being planned against the AK Party and in which the second-most-recent head of the military is kept under arrest pending a trial for anti-government activity, the AK Party is pursuing the strategy of reforming the military by extending this process over a period of time and not aggrieving its members. If you assume that this strategy will decrease probable conflicts and that it will avoid startling Kemalists, who still regard the army as the assurance of their continued existence, you may consider it a positive strategy. However, people who are at all knowledgeable about Turkey’s past know that a 700,000-person armed force that regards itself as the founder and the protector of the country and the regime will not easily undergo a reform under this strategy.

Contrary to what is known, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) isn’t inclined toward this or that ideology. It cares about its own constituent power and by behaving as a political unit it cooperates with political movements or powers that support its power. In the 1970s, a majority of leftists exalted the 1960 military coup and thought of the TSK and Kemalism as socialist. There were actually left-leaning military officers in the army but the majority of leftists weren’t aware that this inclination of certain military officers didn’t represent that of the TSK. Just like the way they supported Stalinism, they were prone to consider the crimes of the TSK and those of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which was the representative of the TSK in Parliament, as “bitter yet necessary” interventions that occurred in the process of constructing a socialist society. Their plan was to make use of the weapons of the TSK on the way to revolution and take care of “the rest” afterwards. In other words they didn’t have any plans or projects in their hands for “afterwards.”

Actually the left wing was in a conflict that directly involved the parliamentary system. In other words, the ideas of governments sweeping to power as a result of elections and forming the political opposition within the rules of parliamentary politics were nonsense for them. This point of view was same as the TSK’s -- i.e., Jacobean Kemalist seculars’ -- viewpoint. Dealing with the public would take a long time. The public was ignorant. And in countries where the public is ignorant, democratic elections could only be like “a grenade with the pin removed.” The public would select imperialists and conservatives and then revolution would fizzle out. You can see that the leftists have the same viewpoint as TSK in this respect. That is why they supported the 1960 and 1971 military coups.

However, the true colors of the TSK came out with the September 12 military coup in 1980. The assumption that the army was socialist was disproven. Yes, it was true that the Sept. 12 military coup struck a blow against rightists but it also walked all over leftist groups and organizations. Then socialist leaders who were capable of doing some analysis saw that being fellows with the army wasn’t only a strategic mistake but also a moral problem. And they criticized themselves. Today this group of people, known as prestigious opinion leaders in Turkey, are still blamed for being “deviationist” and attacked by sectarian leftists.

Although the May 27, 1960 military coup was a complete disaster that involved the execution of a prime minister (Adnan Menderes) and two ministers (Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Hasan Polatkan), today there are still people who defend this coup by saying it was a “good” and “libertarian” coup. Maintaining a public image and laziness are what underlie the problem of leftists defending of the coup. In other words, the problem is about a superficial mindset that has no relationship with the public, one that doesn’t make a mental effort to question the ideology in order to deepen and liberalize it. Other factors include regarding violence as a solution and not taking away weapons. It is impossible for groups who consider armed struggle good not to be corrupted in time and become a “toy” of the deep state. Today these groups that cooperated with the army in the past have either ended up being supporters of Ergenekon or integrated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the most powerful armed group in the country, in order to turn their fantasies into reality. They are expecting from the violence of the PKK what they expected from the army in the past.

The AK Party should also take lessons from this painful history. Yes, it is true that the AK Party isn’t an organization but a political party that has been ruling the country for three terms. However, unless the TSK’s education system -- which produces junta and coups -- and its economic power gained via uncontrolled giant companies like Turkish Armed Forces Assistance Center (OYAK), plus the double-headedness of the judiciary caused by units like the military high court are dealt with, the AK Party’s assumption that it can tame the TSK will become a similar mistake to that made by the left wing before 1980. There can’t be a mistake more serious than trusting an institution which is responsible for four coups in its history and hasn’t yet undergone a thorough reform. The Uludere disaster should also be considered from this aspect.

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