Ilıcak: ‘Civilian dictatorship’ debate is unsubstantiated

Ilıcak: ‘Civilian dictatorship’ debate is unsubstantiated

Journalist Nazlı Ilıcak

February 01, 2010, Monday/ 16:16:00
Nazlı Ilıcak, a Sabah daily columnist, said a discussion on whether Turkey is facing civilian tutelage under the single-party government of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is groundless.

“How could this be a civilian dictatorship when there are elections?” she asked, recalling that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan changed the frequency of elections from every five years to every four years and that future presidents will be elected by popular vote.

“This debate about civilian dictatorship looks like a quest to find grounds to initiate another closure case against the AK Party,” she told Today's Zaman for Monday Talk. Ever since the argument was brought forward by columnist and academic Nuray Mert during an interview, it has been adopted by anti-government circles who expressed fears about Turkey becoming an authoritarian country at a time when Turkey, a country with a history of military interventions, has been trying to normalize civilian-military relations.

One of the military’s attempts to intervene, called the Sledgehammer Security Operation Plan, was revealed recently, and Ilıcak’s name appeared on a “to be arrested list” compiled by the military coup planners in 2003. The “to be arrested list” named 35 journalists and writers. Ilıcak, together with 27 others who were listed, filed a criminal complaint against all the people who contributed to the Sledgehammer plan. They also condemned the coup planners’ categorization of 137 of their colleagues as potential “collaborators.”

According to the Sledgehammer plan, allegedly prepared by Gen. Çetin Doğan, which first appeared in the Taraf daily on Jan. 20, the junta group would have arrested 35 journalists and “made use of” 137 others to drum up public support for the coup. According to Taraf, there is no indication that the potentially useful journalists were in on the coup plans or had any other connections to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).

Ilıcak answered our questions on the journalists’ responses to the plan and more.

Why did you feel the need to file a criminal complaint against the people behind the Sledgehammer plan?

It is the duty of intellectuals to file such a criminal complaint. The saddening thing is that when it is obvious that Turkey has a tradition of going through coup d’états and there are several documents regarding new coup attempts, we are still trying to prove that this is not a war game but a coup plan. We all know that a war game can be planned against foreign enemies. This game even has the names of journalists who will be arrested! The game also talks about arresting hundreds of people who are thought to be against the regime of Turkey and says Parliament will be threatened in order to force the deputies to call for martial law. You cannot put of all that into a war game. Even writing these plans is committing a crime. This is stepping outside the boundaries of the duties given to the military.

You indicated several times that there should be unity, especially among journalists, on that matter and that they all should be against coups. But in reality, the situation is the opposite.

Our colleagues whose names are on the list of journalists who were to be “made use of” were offended. But what they should do is to come together like we did and make an announcement that this act of categorization is a criminal act, and they should even go further and file a criminal complaint against the coup planners who carried out this classification. This is the right attitude to take, regardless of whether or not it will bear results. It would at least show society the incorrect nature of such classifications and categorizations. But I can see just a few journalists acting in that way. Many others even say they don’t believe the reality of such documents; apparently, the ones who claim that deserve to be on the list!

Have you received support from the journalists who reacted against the preparation of such lists?

Not much.

Wouldn’t this present an opportunity for the journalists to show solidarity?

When the society has been polarized like this, people in the media cannot act in solidarity. And most of the ones in the “make use of” list find us biased or pro-government. Biased, but for what? My answer is that we are for democracy. Our position was clear in the Feb. 28 [1997] process when there was another government. At that time, I was supporting [Bülent] Ecevit and [Süleyman] Demirel against the coup plotters. We were on the opposite side of DİSK [the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions] prior to the Sept. 12 [1980] coup d’état, and I repeated several times that we were used in that conflict, which concentrated on exaggerated scenarios about the spread of communism. Therefore, I am very certain that we are going to be against divisions, but we are biased in support of democracy. And it is apparent that there are coup plans.

‘Gen. Hilmi Özkök should testify again’

Gen. İlker Başbuğ had a strong reaction following the revelation of the alleged plans. How do you interpret his remarks?

First of all, we expect him to go forward with an investigation to reveal the perpetrators of alleged crimes. We see the Sledgehammer plan and others in the investigation into Ergenekon. Here is the situation: EMASYA [the Protocol on Cooperation for Security and Public Order] allowed some members of the military to look for an opportunity to act unlawfully. By using EMASYA, they stepped outside their boundaries because they were able to carry out operations and collect intelligence for internal security purposes without authorization from civilian authorities. With EMASYA, they had ample opportunities to do that. Not only in Sledgehammer, but also in other plans, such as the recent 2009 Cage plan [which plotted to assassinate non-Muslim community leaders], there are efforts aimed to achieve the same purpose, discrediting the government. There are people involved in anti-democratic formations within the Naval Forces Command, as the Cage plan reveals. The Council of Forensic Medicine [ATK] confirms the authenticity of the Cage plan documents. There are admirals Feyyaz Öğütçü, Kadir Sağdıç and Fatih Ilgar, who are frequently mentioned in the Cage plan. Now back to your question, when there are so many revelations, the General Staff should concentrate on investigating the real criminals rather than focusing on who the whistleblower is.

Gen. Başbuğ made some remarks stressing support for democracy. He actually said that elected governments should only go through elections. Was he throwing enough support behind democracy?

Gen. Başbuğ’s remarks were not really satisfying. He might personally support democracy. He also says there are not going to be anymore coup plans in Turkey. But how do we know that things will not change and that there will be no more coup plans after he retires? There are apparent links between the Sledgehammer plot, the previously revealed coup plans and the Cage plan. There is a need for Gen. Hilmi Özkök to testify again.

‘Gen. Büyükanıt can still be tried’

What do you think about the prime minister’s messages?

People can carry on a struggle only within their options. Some say the Sledgehammer plans were made while Gen. Özkök was the chief of general staff so he should have carried out measures to prevent it. Imagine the military at that time; it must have been boiling. Gen. Özkök found a way to carry on the struggle by having some of the military commanders retire. But apparently most of the commanders in 2003 were in favor of the military intervening in politics. If he had a total clean-up operation, the military would have been in chaos. Even though there is clear evidence today that coup plans are drawn up in Turkey, it is hard to bring these cases forward. Gen. Özkök was careful, so is Prime Minister Erdoğan. But step-by-step Turkey is moving in the direction of trying its dark forces in the courts. And the Ergenekon case is so important in that regard. More steps can be taken with more ease under the circumstances.

Could Prime Minister Erdoğan unseat the chief of general staff, as suggested by the main opposition leader, Deniz Baykal?

Why would he remove Gen. Başbuğ? He was not even the chief of general staff at the time when the Sledgehammer plan was made. Plus unseating chiefs of general staff in Turkey is not easy. First of all, President Abdullah Gül was not in the top office until 2007. Who would approve it? There has not been such an act in Turkey before, and the country could be in chaos if the chief of general staff was removed. Remember that Gen. [Yaşar] Büyükanıt said after his retirement that he penned the April 28 [2007] warning to the government. This is a crime, it has been accepted and there is the document to prove it. Who would try him at the time? But it might be possible now.

Do you think Turkey will be able to go forward in that regard?

Turkey is already doing so, though only partially. There are some military commanders on trial in the Ergenekon case. And it is very likely that retired Gen. Doğan [commander of the 1st Army in 2003, who allegedly prepared Sledgehammer plan] will be tried.

Do you think a full confrontation is prevented by the polarization in society?

Yes. First of all, there is tremendous animosity toward the AK Party. People were already conditioned during the Feb. 28 process to think that the people of the AK Party are against secularism. Since Tayyip Erdoğan, who came from the Milli Görüş [National View] movement, won strong support and his AK Party came to power, concerns have grown. With the continuation of this polarization, every step the government has taken has been met with the suspicion that it might be against secularism. But the most recent conversation regarding the government’s intentions is more about the doubts about the government’s intent to establish a “civilian dictatorship” than its being anti-secular.

‘Civilian dictatorship not an accurate argument’

Do you see any signs of a civilian dictatorship?

Some people in the media -- I think they are being used although they might not be aware of it -- argue that wiretappings are being carried out in the name of investigations and the media is being pressured, so this is a civilian dictatorship. How could this be a civilian dictatorship when there are elections? Let’s remember Erdoğan changed the frequency of elections from every five years to every four years and that in the future, presidents will be elected by popular vote although the AK Party’s parliamentary majority would be to his benefit. This debate about civilian dictatorship looks like a quest to find grounds to open another closure case against the AK Party.

It is still possible, isn’t it?

It is possible. The European Union has a simple recommendation for Turkey: Decisions on party closure cases should not fall upon one jurist, such as the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, alone. This decision could be made by the deputies in Parliament. If one-third of them have the same opinion, they can go to the Supreme Court of Appeals to demand the closure of a party. But there is a great danger that even one party could do this. This is the democratic way of approaching party closures. However, back to our civilian dictatorship discussion, this is not an accurate argument. There was a civilian dictatorship during İsmet İnönü’s “Milli Şef” [national chief] period, because all provincial heads and governors were also the provincial and district heads of the Republican People’s Party [CHP]. This is what a civilian dictatorship is. Everybody knows that this dictatorship continued with deceptions carried out in the 1946 elections.

You also have criticisms against the government.

Yes, I do. Tayyip Erdoğan should still seek consensus with the opposition despite the fact that he faces fierce criticism to the extent that there are plans to unseat him. He should tolerate all criticisms and not get so angry because he should focus on the results he is going to get with rapprochement. He should show the public that he is ready to talk with the opposition. But both he and his opponents do just the opposite. I suggest that he should take advantage of MHP [Nationalist Movement Party] leader Devlet Bahçeli’s remarks regarding the coup plots when he said that he is not satisfied with Gen. Başbuğ’s explanations. It might be possible for them to cooperate to achieve a constitutional change. The government’s moves should have been based on strategies rather than acting as events force them to act. Still, without the AK Party, there would not be any steps taken for democratic change.

Suggestions aimed at rearranging civilian-military relations 

The journalists and writers who filed a criminal complaint against coup planners also announced their suggestions for an end to such plots. They said:

 A parliamentary initiative is needed to abolish the Protocol on Cooperation for Security and Public Order (EMASYA), which allows military operations to be carried out for internal security under certain conditions without authorization from civilian authorities.

 There is a need to amend the Article 145 of the Constitution to limit the scope of the military courts to the military sphere, and in that regard, the military high administrative courts and military courts of appeal should be abolished.

 There is the need to eliminate the Article 35 of the military’s Internal Service Code in order to prevent misinterpretation of the charge “protection of the republic.”

 There is a need to establish a parliamentary commission to investigate coup plans. This would allow the political parties to take mutual initiatives, reduce polarization and prevent unproductive discussions in these critical times when there is a need for intellectuals to take action together.

Nazlı Ilıcak, Sabah columnist 

She is a graduate of Notre Dame de Sion French High School in Turkey. She studied political science at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. She started her journalism career with the Tercüman daily in 1974. She was elected a deputy for the Virtue Party (FP) in 1999. When the Constitutional Court closed down the party in 2001 for violating the principles of secularism, she was banned from     politics for five years. She has written columns for several different newspapers and has appeared on political programs on television.

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