May 31, 2012, Thursday

Ode to inconsistency

The most important outcome of modern education has been to give the masses the habit of reasoning and consistency, and Turkey has had its share of this kind of education as well. In politics, however, it has been difficult for politicians to shake off the patriarchal culture inherited from the past. Consistency, though an institutionalized trait of the business world, has never been a fundamental characteristic of politics.

On the other hand, in the past the state and the Kemalist regime itself were relatively consistent. A political structure had been put in place with a Turkish and secular identity at its center that used laws to ensure its precedence, and civilian politicians were subordinated to the security bureaucracy. Moreover, this structure was protected by both informal institutional traditions and ideological indoctrination perpetuated through education.

Today the evolution of such a system faces major difficulties as it is impossible to sweep away the old system and build a new one from scratch. On the other hand, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is unable to espouse a political ideology and organizational structure with consistency and integrity. Rather, it holds on to a complicated configuration developed as the result of a process of social change spanning the past 20 years. Indeed, the government is trying to push the army out of politics using the trials of alleged members of Ergenekon -- a clandestine organization nested within the state accused of plotting to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government -- and the Sledgehammer coup plan while seeking to hold a reliable army in reserve. It trims the Kemalist tendencies of the high judiciary through reforms while paving the way for the fragmentation of the judicial system.

Given the fact that the AK Party is still dominated by its leader, it is predictable that the mood of its leader will shape the course of political events. Thus today we are faced with a government that makes statements according to the changing winds of the agenda and that is experiencing difficulties complying with its own oft-voiced principles and preferences, a party without a clear idea of how to tackle the fundamental problems of the country.

The Kurdish issue offers innumerable proofs of the structural inconsistency of the AK Party. A compilation of statements made by government officials over previous weeks regarding 34 smugglers killed in Uludere is proof enough. Recently Leyla Zana was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of referring to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan as the “leader of the Kurdish people” and failing to refer to the PKK as a terrorist organization in some speeches.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Appeals, which will review the Zana ruling, has quashed a local court’s decision penalizing some Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) members for referring to Öcalan as “esteemed Öcalan.” Regardless, it is impossible to predict based on this decision whether the high judiciary will reverse the Zana decision as well. It may depend on which chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals the case file goes to. Even if it goes to the same chamber that overturned the decision against the BDP members, there is no guarantee that the same chamber will hand down a consistent decision.

The government, on the other hand, continues to lend support to cases against the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) and claim that it is normal to keep thousands of people in prison. However, when pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem was shut down by a court, the government openly interfered with the matter and ensured the reversal of the decision. In fact, several recent developments give us reason to be optimistic about the attitude of the government and the judiciary. For example, an investigation was launched against the deliberate execution of two PKK militants and a young person in their company by a group of soldiers in Van several years ago and has resulted in the arrest of 17 soldiers. This is a first in the history of the Republic of Turkey, the first time the state has stepped in to protect the rights of people it considers terrorists. Yet the same government is extremely hesitant to actively investigate the mass killings in Uludere, seeming instead to wish to cover up the incident.

Typically, the government may be described as consistent in line with the enforcement of human rights and the rule of law. Unfortunately, political consistency requires ideological cohesion, and the AK Party has none. As a result, change occurs in some parts and not others, in an inconsistent manner. As a matter of fact, it is hard to tell whether the government is seeking to achieve consistency. Perhaps they fear that if they attach too much importance to consistency they might end up consistently in favor of the status quo rather than reform. Indeed, injustice and discrimination are natural components of politics in Turkey, with the potential to suffocate all reform initiatives. If Turkey is to be more democratic it seems this change can occur only in an inconsistent manner.

Previous articles of the columnist