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April 30, 2012, Monday

State of Turkish military’s autonomy

It would be naive to believe that the ongoing trials and investigations being conducted against some army members and their civilian extensions, over charges of fomenting coups to unseat the government as well as over charges of staging coups, have almost ended the Turkish military’s power in politics.

The army has lately signaled its resistance to civilian orders. Gen. Hayri Kıvrıkoğlu, commander of the Turkish Land Forces Command (TLFC), has rejected the idea of downsizing the conscript-based Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), despite the urging of Turkish President Abdullah Gül to this end. He, however, has stressed that they will become more efficient under a reorganization plan. He was responding to a question that I asked during the April 23 National Sovereignty and Children’s Day held at Parliament. Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, during the same reception, ruled out, upon another question, that the TSK will create an all-professional army, reiterating his predecessors’ policy of a mixed system composed of conscripts and professionals.

Whereas Turkish President Gül, commander of the TSK during peacetime, urged the TSK to introduce comprehensive defense reforms that, he said, could have been realized a long time ago, during a speech on April 6 to young officers at the İstanbul-based War Academies Command. He suggested the necessity of downsizing the TSK as part of the defense reforms.

Responses given to journalists by the top commanders during the reception marked the TSK’s resistance to obeying civilian orders. This is despite the fact that downsizing the military while making it efficient is a necessary measure that the TSK should take to meet 21st century threats that require smaller but efficient armed forces.

With about 800,000 personnel, Turkey has the second-largest armed forces within NATO after the United States. The TSK is populous but not efficient in a NATO sense, of which it is a member.

In the meantime, a recent study reveals that the level of the Turkish military’s autonomy has decreased from very high to high, especially due to democratization reforms toward the fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria of the European Union (EU) that stipulates the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

Consequently, says the same study, the Turkish deep state has declined gradually, but it still exists. (“Informal institutions, forms of state and democracy: the Turkish deep state,” Mehtap Söyler, Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany, Feb. 14, 2012, Routledge)

The deep state arises in defective democracies that lack democratic civilian oversight:

The military is either -- as in tutelary democracies -- devoid of any control, or it is under undemocratic civilian control.

The genesis of military tutelage in Turkey can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire, Söyler says. “Since the transition to democracy, Turkey has been a tutelary democracy governed by the deep state. By invoking Kemalism, the TAF (or TSK) suspended democracy through two coups d’etat in 1960 and 1980, and two ‘unarmed’ military interventions

in 1971 and 1997. Political autonomy has empowered the TAF to rule the military-industrial complex. Since the first coup in 1960, the military has played a pivotal role in shaping the neo-liberal financial capital accumulation strategy through the Army

Mutual Trust Fund (Ordu Yardımlaşma Kurumu, OYAK), a ‘military holding’ in terms of its membership, decision-making and operation,” she adds.

Söyler furthermore underlines that since 2008, the court cases against alleged coup planners have discredited military interventions. The ongoing court cases have certainly undermined the moral authority of coup plotters. But, they have not challenged the impunity of a great deal of autocratic cliques, she emphasizes.

Democracy can be consolidated if military autonomy is further decreased, and the divide and distrust between those who regard the deep state as a real danger and those who see it as a conspiracy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to punish opponents are addressed carefully, she stresses.

Mehtap Söyler underlines a critical point on the AK Party’s policy. She says that the AK Party has no proven track record; it has been silent on judicial malpractices that poison coup trials.

Against the backdrop of the declining deep state and its record elections result in 2011, the AK Party has more responsibility than ever before to prevent further bloodshed (occurring as a result of terrorism) and adopt a new civic constitution that recognizes fundamental human rights, such as the cultural and political rights of citizens with a different ethnic identity.

The deep state cannot be abolished without such a commitment to peace, she concludes.

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