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July 14, 2009, Tuesday

Turkish security almanac contributes to civilianization

It was only a handful of academics and journalists who got together in 2004 in Ankara to prepare Turkey's first almanac with the intention of addressing the problems facing the country's security sector that have long hindered progress in democracy and in economic growth.

The aim of this work was to contribute to the democratic reform efforts of the decision makers in meeting the European Union's membership criteria. The road towards establishing the supremacy of the rule of law and, thus, democratic principles has been rocky and full of mines. Because Turkey's powerful armed forces, enjoying an autonomous status, have been resisting changes that will ultimately bring them to EU standards where militaries are under civilian democratic oversight to enable that democracy to function fully with all its institutions. Added to the problem is the absence of cohesion among the political parties in making democratic reforms.

İstanbul-based liberal think tank the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) initiated the almanac project. TESEV already has several projects, such as a handbook for parliamentarians titled “Parliamentary Oversight of the Security Sector, Principles, Mechanisms and Practices” aimed at helping legislators to do their job in ensuring the democratic oversight of the security sector.

Mainly out of fear of feeling the heat of the severe criticism of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), very few parliamentarians and bureaucrats were ready during the launch events of the TESEV projects at the time. The parliamentarians' lack of will in using their rights to make the TSK accountable to legislators stands as an important problem in ensuring this security sector's transparency.

It was against this background that a handful of academics and journalists, altogether 10, gathered at a university room in Ankara to outline the first almanac project. The first edition of “Almanac Turkey: Security Sector and Democratic Oversight” was thus published in May 2006 with Professor Ümit Cizre of Bilkent University being the editor of the book.

The almanac covered all the areas related to matters concerning the Turkish security sector and the reforms made in this respect, highlighting serious deficiencies existing in the civilian democratic oversight of this sector.

Touching on Turkey's decades-long taboo issues was not easy at the time, as it still is not today.

The purpose of the first-ever almanac as described by editor Cizre at the time was “a presentation of objective and reliable information and analysis of the ways in which the units within the security sector are organized, their acknowledged and secret operating principles and activities, the civilian authority to which they are subject, the legal framework and basic philosophy they have adopted ... as well as the changes and roadblocks that have occurred along the path to full membership in the European Union.” Cizre noted how ensuring that the public is made aware of this information and analysis increases public interest and appreciation for the issues of security, threats, defense and insecurity, which is one of the most crucial dimensions of the process of democratization.

Indeed, it is highly important that public interest should grow in Turkey over security matters so that the country's citizens can fully participate in the democratization process and understand the critical importance of making the security sector accountable and transparent for the sake of ensuring a prosperous Turkey.

The first almanac published was in this sense contributing to the democratic process though it has been moving very slowly.

The strong reaction that came from the then-Turkish chief of general staff, now retired Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt against the first almanac, proved at the time that the project succeeded. Gen. Büyükanıt held a press conference at the time aired live by almost all the TV channels. His speech was intended to smear all the authors of the almanac attempting to discredit them in public simply because the almanac was contributing to the democratization process of the country.

Since then many events have taken place. These include the release of a late night e-memo by the Turkish General Staff famed for its four earlier direct or indirect interventions in Turkish politics as well as the alleged unconstitutional acts that senior retired generals and active officers were also involved in, as the ongoing Ergenekon investigation and trial have revealed.

In the midst of serious power struggles among the TSK-led secular establishment and the elected authorities, came the launch on July 8 of the second almanac covering the years 2006 and 2008.

Twenty-six authors from different professions contributed to “Almanac Turkey 2006-2008, Security Sector and Democratic Oversight,” edited by Ali Bayramoğlu, columnist and Professor Ahmet İnsel. The number of contributors to the almanac has jumped from 10 to 26.

Doesn't it show, despite the serious roadblocks ahead of us towards civilian democratic oversight, that an increased number of Turkish intellectuals are ready to share their views with the public over the problems surrounding the Turkish security sector?

It also indicates that Turkey has begun to create public awareness over the poor state of the security sector and the necessity for its serious overhaul.

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