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March 03, 2010, Wednesday

‘Mother of all problems’

History has proven Ümit Cizre right. As one of the most prominent experts on civilian-military relations in Turkey, Professor Cizre has persistently developed the thesis that the military was the “mother of all problems,” that all the maladies which made Turkey unmanageable or ungovernable by the elected had its roots in how the military viewed and positioned itself in the political life.Each and every micro-development in the context of civilian-military relations pushed forth this picture, proving every scholar or media observer who agrees with Cizre correct, that the more the powerful generals are invited by “convincing” or by “using democratic means” to the notion that their place in this millennium is the barracks and defense of the territories, the easier the transition to full democracy.

For this, the urgency is how (quickly) the stubborn sympathies for coups will be defeated and  how (quickly) the seemingly endless junta formations will be rounded up to surrender for good. The latest developments in Erzincan, focusing on the activity in the Third Army, gives some further clues. After a nasty legal battle, the court there has now officially approved an indictment, alleging that Saldıray Berk, a four-star general commanding that army, has been acting as the “number 1” figure in terrorist activity aimed at ousting the government. The detained chief prosecutor in Erzincan, İlhan Cihaner, is said to be “number 2” in the hierarchy, with the addition of high-ranking gendarmerie commanders as other top figures.

Let us leave aside the dramatic character of the development, namely the fact that a high-ranking commander (still) on duty is now the top suspect. (This is yet another “first” in history.) But, if we try to see what lies beneath for the judges to uncover, we are faced with the question of how strong the “alliance for undemocratic order” between the army and the judiciary is and, indeed, how widespread it is. It has now also become a fact that what constitutes the so-called “deep state” (the state within the state) has been a “sworn cooperation” between these two.

Considering also the fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan -- as the well-informed columnist Şamil Tayyar has claimed repeatedly -- has been subjected to at least 14 assassination plans and attempts, the spooky part is how “alive” and “awake” the core of the junta formation within the army is.

Prime Minister Erdoğan now seems fully intent to penetrate the heart of the top command, merely in order to “build bridges” of trust with Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ and his closest circle to deal -- once and for all -- with the “monster within.” This is the most vital part for potential success, if the democracy will give a sigh of relief in the future. Erdoğan seems to reason, too, that the deeper cooperation is with the top generals, the easier it will be to “talk reasonably” with the other “tough nut” -- the high judiciary -- on major reforms.

The late reports stating that the military judiciary is also actively collaborating are interesting signs: This is not only to be seen as a “calming maneuver” for mid and low-ranking officers but also as a message to the civilian high judiciary figures “in categorical opposition” that the top command is determined to go all the way in this “cleansing.”

But at this stage the key word is “trust.” Erdoğan expects that Başbuğ is sharply analytical of all those surrounding him in the headquarters. The latter was embarrassed when a document he called a “piece of paper” was proven genuine. Now that a military prosecutor has described those documents as “possible coup plans,” Erdoğan hopes that Başbuğ will be much more careful. All that we learned over the years about the obscure activities within the military confirms the belief that the institution, closed and defensive, is a snake pit. A stiff training ideology has blindfolded many generals, and ruthless careerism also adds to the mistrust.

One can say that Başbuğ learns the hard way. His army needs a reform and a new perspective in domestic matters. He urgently needs to assure Erdoğan that no “illegal political activity” will go on in his institution any longer. “Trust” seems necessary for Başbuğ, too, because most of the work by the civilian prosecutors and judges has shown that they have constantly been “onto” something. Should he resort to a stiff defense in an aggressive manner, he may realize that there may be more to come. At the moment, we must work with the assumption that the “cupboard is filled with skeletons.”

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