To witness the country's “almighty” top commanders being sent to jail was unimaginable for the mortal citizens of Turkey. Once upon a time, it was also unthinkable for any civilian prosecutor to even dare to include as suspects in a civilian case officers involved in illegal political activity, or “dirty warfare” against dissidents or Kurds. As late as 2005, a weekly (Nokta) was forced to discontinue publishing -- a decision then applauded by a militarist “mainstream” media -- simply because it had “dared” to publish the diaries of a naval commander, Özden Örnek.
Now, after six years, a former chief of General Staff has joined other generals in prison. Fifty-eight of them are on active duty (held in military prison), 81 of them are retired. With the court ruling on his detention, İlker Başbuğ is the 140th and the highest-ranking officer behind bars.
One hundred forty: This figure signifies an institution under the severe scrutiny of the law. It does not just limit the period of illegal military activity back to 2002, when the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power. It encompasses a period back to 1997, when the politically legitimate but ethically troubling Tansu Çiller-Necmettin Erbakan coalition was forced by the top brass to quit power. In other cases it covers a period of the state when it was taken over by a political mafia, from 1990-1997. Then, with the recent indictment accusing two senior leaders of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d'état, Gen. Kenan Evren and Gen. Tahsin Şahinkaya, it extends way back to put the coup perpetrators of 1980 on trial.
There is no doubt about the military commanders' endless appetite for engineering Turkey's politics by saber-rattling. But the question is, how on earth could such an institution manage to remain so “frozen” in its collective mindset, so unable to correctly analyze the changes taking place all around itself and around the country, so obstinate in applying methods that are useless in serving its purposes -- it has been consistently “unsuccessful." It has never been able to learn lessons from its endless erratic behavior in meddling with politics.
Take the case of Başbuğ. Anti-government propaganda activity online, as we now know, has been confirmed by at least three high-ranking officers under arrest who in the end all pointed to him as the man at the top. The critical time frame in the indictment is the period 2008-2009. Başbuğ will have to defend why he as the top commander let continue such online activity, which was initiated during the tenure of his predecessor, Yaşar Büyükanıt. It is an important point because the period I mentioned overlaps with the aftermath of the general and presidential elections of 2007, which reaffirmed the power of the AK Party and put Abdullah Gül in power. The closure case against the AK Party was launched in early 2008 by the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, with the “evidence” (a blend of planted disinformation in the print press and online) using many of the websites as sources.
The pattern of behavior at “headquarters,” revealed by three officers pointing to Başbuğ, tells us of a massive delusion. The so-called “e-memorandum” -- as a result of intense activity in Ankara in the spring of 2007 -- backfired in the face of the top brass; Gül managed to become president by legitimate vote, and the AK Party increased its voter base, but the army's decision makers simply continued with their intent -- at least -- to remain in the domain of politics, instead of seeking agreements with the government and of launching a reform of their institutions. They laid more mines in the fields -- a suicidal act.
We know that a reasonable number of the officers, who desired to remain in the defined domain of their duty, felt ill at ease before this sort of obstinacy. But they could not openly come out and challenge it. The reason? It was apparent that the end of the Cold War had alienated the Turkish military, turned it inwards, with the delusion that it could remain almighty and engineer governments, no matter what the world thought of it.
The delusion was endorsed on daily basis by a military-worshipping press in the “mainstream.” Since the early 1990s it has been consolidated by the top brass only choosing commanders who would pursue this approach. This created an internal climate in which lying, concealing true intentions and fear dominated.
This was a Soviet model, and as it proved itself flawed, it was undermined by its own staff, which no longer saw a future for their institution and started fighting it through leaks. Still, the top generals refused to get out of the very cage they had built.
But the jailed generals, ongoing trials and a key institution with self-inflicted, deep wounds do not together mean an end to military tutelage, as some naïve observers claim. The trials (no matter their outcome) will not come to mean much for normalization unless the government pulls itself together and amends all the laws that still give the military privileges, special status and a lot of pretexts and grounds to act like it has. The Internal Services Law (of the army) is only one example; it remains “untouched,” like many others. The analysis by Abdullah Bozkurt in Sunday's Zaman yesterday is very illuminating on the inactivity of the AK Party on reforms; it has been able to pass only one law in the six months since its re-election to power.