[email protected]

February 17, 2013, Sunday

The dangers of a wounded guardian authority

Can there be such a thing as the law of the “select and the esteemed”? This has been a frequent topic of debate -- and even a whole approach unto itself -- during eras in Turkey when the guardian authority has been at its most powerful.

You might recall that the official ideology’s description of citizenship was a state of being focused not on “rights but rather duties.” Certainly you will remember the popular debates about “whether votes cast by a shepherd and a professor can be considered equal.” All of which is why it has been surprising to hear spokespeople for a political party which set out to wrestle with the guardian authority, and which has made great strides on the road towards democratization -- backed by resolute encouragement and support from civil society -- spout an opinion to the effect that “esteemed people ought to be tried while free (as opposed to imprisoned).” We have difficulty understanding the real meaning of these words and this approach. Are they referring to the suspects in the Balyoz or Ergenekon cases?

Turkey has truly made great strides in dealing with coups. But there is still a great lag when it comes to its final goal, the general mission to see a fully democratic system set up and to complete the laws that would go with this system. The current period is one during which debates swirl more around “What sort of presidential system should we have?” rather than focusing on the issue of a civilian constitution. We are also witnessing a campaign aimed to convince the public that the suspects in the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases are “completely innocent and have been victimized.” We do hope that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will not arrive at the point of losing its extreme sensitivity and awareness when it comes to these illegal and bloody organizations which have all democratic institutions in their sights and which aim to eliminate the AK Party itself.

Without making the military sensitive to and respectful of democratic values and without eliminating the junta organizations and their various leaders, there is no way the guardian authority structure will pull back. It is possible to vanquish these junta-supporting fantasies, dreams and climate if the military were to truly do its job in a true and healthy manner. When the Democrat Party government in Turkey was overthrown with the May 27, 1960 coup, the then-chief of General Staff, Rüştü Erdelhun, was also arrested by lower-ranking junta officers and tried (with a possible death sentence) in the Yassıada courts. At this point, I would like to relay a talk given by Gen. Erdelhun -- who was not only a patriot, but a democratic soldier -- on the topic of “democratic regimes and the military.” These are words that are of manifesto quality. Written by Fatih Uğur and Mustafa Gürlek, the book titled ‘50 Yıllık Sır; Genelkurmay Başkanı Rüştü Erdelhun’un 27 Mayıs Cuntasını Deşifre Eden Günlükleri” (A 50-Year-Old Secret: General Staff Head Rüştü Erdelhun’s Junta-Deciphering Journals) (Zaman Books) is an important reference source for historians, members of the military and politicians.

It reads as follows: “In 1912, during the Balkan War, the armed forces divided into two parts, the ‘ittihatçı’ (members of the Committee for Union and Progress, also known as Young Turks) and the ‘itilafçı’ (those supporting the Hürriyet and İtilâf Organization during the Meşrutiyet era). With the chain of command and general executive orders basically broken down, the Ottoman Empire broke into pieces. All of these instances were movements made because some members of the military wanted to force the regime to give them rights and recognition they were not getting, or because they were extremely patriotic, or because they wanted to move up quickly. The armed forces are a power in the hands of the parliament and the government it creates. In democratic regimes, parliaments and governments come about as the result of a nation’s votes. Those who pick up the most votes within their parties come to power. Today it is the Democrat Party that is in power. The Armed Forces are at the command not of a political party, but of an elected government. If the Halk Party were to win the elections tomorrow, the military would be obliged to take orders and follow the commands of its leader. And when there are problems concerning any leadership or party that comes to power, it falls to the nation of people to decide this. They will then elect or bring down such government.”

For as long as the level of awareness you read above is not achieved, it is simply being overly optimistic to believe that the struggle is over. We need to pay heed to the warning offered up by AK Party deputy Şamil Tayyar that “when this structure … [the guardian authority] makes the AK Party into a shield for itself, or protects itself by staking a place within the ranks of the AK Party, it is engaged in the struggle to dispose of political will and volition.” The guardian authority is dangerous, but a wounded guardian authority is even more dangerous.

Previous articles of the columnist