“For all we know, there might be some coup-planning going on right now. It is like a joke: the EU-centered democratization process has seemingly pushed the military out of the foreground, although, ironically enough, not the planning for the coups.” said Professor Ümit Cizre of İstanbul Şehir University, who specializes in civil-military relations and the problems of democracy in Turkey.
Answering our questions, she said that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) can only wish for a different election outcome this year.
“But that is unlikely, too. By associating Turkey’s armed forces with the coup plotters, the Ergenekon affair has already delivered an embarrassing blow to the image that the TSK has favored for itself. So, it is vulnerable to civilian initiatives,” she said, adding that with regard to the reform of civil-military relations, there was very little political will to start with.
“But then -- what with coup plans, dismissals of pious officers from the army or trying to promote high-ranking officers who have been involved in coup plans -- if as a prime minister you cannot define the fundamental parameters of your own politics and live in constant threat of your party being closed, smeared and looked down on and blocked by the old guard of the regime, what would you do?” she asked.
A member of the International Advisory Board of the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), Cizre said the TSK has been fighting its “nuclear war” against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
How do you evaluate the public interest in the year 2011 with regards to military-civilian relations as the issues of security, threats, defense and insecurity are considered some of the most crucial dimensions of the process of democratization?
These issues -- add to them accountability and transparency -- have been on the agendas of numerous countries for many years, ever since the Cold War ended, at least in terms of redefining the new culture of security in the new context. In Turkey, too, they are being increasingly discussed since the first news of Turkish candidacy for the European Union in 1999. However, the point here is that they are on the table not because the military and the ruling party want the public to be interested in them. If we exclude the positive pressure of the EU, the public is obliged to discuss civil-military relations because of the “negativities” of Turkish politics: There is a very serious power struggle between the AK Party and the secular establishment led by the TSK. The TSK has been fighting its “nuclear war” as it were, against this party to block its political existence by every means possible. In doing this, it has militarized politics once more by holding the AK Party as an issue of “insecurity” -- that the AK Party, by its pedigree, is Islamic, implicitly declaring that once Islamic always Islamic -- and that it is by nature not secular. Therefore, it is a security threat to the “republican world.” Needless to say, this understanding of security has nothing to do with democracy.
Have the Ergenekon trials contributed to this interest?
Yes, there has been a new turn in the civil-military equation since the revelations of the “Ergenekon incident” -- the arrests and ongoing trials of officers, generals and their co-conspirators -- and since the historic referendum of Sept. 12, 2010. Both have acted as catalysts for greater recognition of the “military factor” in Turkish politics.
How do you evaluate the political will in scrutinizing these issues, let’s say compared to 10 years ago? Do you think the perception of security by civilian political forces is still largely determined by the perception of the national security state?
Things are very different from that perspective. Compared with the situation 10 years ago, at least there is a shift for the better in the civilian will to democratically control the military. Yet here lie both opportunities and perils.
Well, first, what are the opportunities?
If we leave aside Turkey’s broader democratization, which is an absolute “must” and a precondition for every other improvement, the basic opportunity for the government is to transform the way security is perceived and formulated. It has to arrive at a clear recognition that security is political, central to civilian politics and should be made under their control and guidance in interaction with the military and perhaps with more actors. Government then should build the capacity of other democratic institutions responsible for the oversight and control of the military -- including Parliament, the civilian bureaucracy and financial oversight mechanisms. The National Security Policy Document should be discussed in Parliament. The Defense Ministry should absolutely and definitely be civilianized and empowered to be able to oversee Turkey’s defense and security. These are only the beginning steps. The list is long.
‘Compromise with the military is a permanent feature of Turkish politics’
What would you say about the perils?
Although the AK Party’s suffering due to the TSK-led opposition is great, Prime Minister Erdoğan has been very careful in not crossing the red lines set by the secular bloc. He gives the impression that he can accept compromises and can live with his U-turns as he did so in the past by abandoning his proactive policy toward the Kurdish opening, the EU and the Cyprus question. No surprises here, after all, as compromise with the military is a permanent feature of Turkish politics. More importantly, Turkish politics and society are increasingly polarized and segregated. The secular sector entertains apocalyptic fears and hostilities against another part of the population. Although it won the September referendum, the AK Party still refrains from tampering with the secular order of things until it can achieve a greater consensus in Parliament and society in the next elections. The existing terrible polarization is the key that shapes behavior and policies in Turkey today. Also, the AK Party feels a policy of open conflict with state institutions may not play well on the street.
Was the AK Party well-prepared for this confrontation with the military?
If he were left alone, rather than passing more legislation and following up with more implementation of democratic control of the armed forces, the prime minister would rather concentrate on other issues. If he could, he would also prefer to leave internal promotions, the role and missions of the military to the officers themselves and lead a cozy existence with them. Therefore, regarding the reform of civil-military relations, there was very little political will to start with. But then -- what with coup plans, dismissals of pious officers from the army or trying to promote high-ranking officers who have been involved in coup plans -- if as a prime minister you cannot define the fundamental parameters of your own politics and live in constant threat of your party being closed, smeared and looked down on and blocked by the old guard of the regime, what would you do? He is a reluctant reformer regarding the military. But he can’t get away from it.
What is your opinion about the dominance of the military today as its autonomy has been shaken as Turkey has adopted new rules and regulations along the path to membership in the European Union?
For all we know, there might be some coup-planning going on right now. It is like a joke: the EU-centered democratization process has seemingly pushed the military out of the foreground, although, ironically enough, not the planning for the coups. To be serious, my answer to this question is that the military’s disengagement from politics can only be illusory and tactical if it is not followed by a whole series of serious and well-planned measures that severely erode the hegemonic power of the military institution. I already mentioned that civilianizing and politicizing national security is a must. But as an institution, the Turkish military is also at a crossroads. It cannot be expected to play a political role as a political party by offering “better” policies than the AK Party government. This reduces its ambitions. It can only wish for a different election outcome in 2011, but that is unlikely, too. By associating Turkey’s armed forces with the coup plotters, the Ergenekon affair has already delivered an embarrassing blow to the image that the TSK has favored for itself. So, it is vulnerable to civilian initiatives.
‘Kılıçdaroğlu’s affair with Ergenekon: A Turkish classic’
Do you think chiefs of General Staff [CGS] make a difference? What would you say about the “Koşaner effect”?
In any institution, obviously the management style and ideology of the leaders make a difference, but in most cases this does not necessarily create a long-term impact. The institution’s culture can win over. Moreover, such an impact is neither easy nor inevitable. Just remember the democratic brakes by Gen. Hilmi Özkök. I wouldn’t dwell much on Gen. [Işık] Koşaner’s disengagement from a too-visible public presence. It has not yet turned into a consistent retreat. On a number of occasions, the General Staff has reacted publicly to politicians and media reports including its strongly worded warning in December 2010 against demands for two languages by the Peace and Democracy Party [BDP]. Even the CGS’s response to Süheyl Batum [deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)] was delivered in a high-handed manner and from a superior position telling him what not to do: “Do not engage in politics through the military.”
As the nation experienced the second wave of Sledgehammer [Balyoz] arrests recently, political leaders seemed to split into two camps over the 163 arrests. What is your evaluation of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s comment saying that he would like to be a member of Ergenekon?
Normally it would be a big risk for an opposition party to align itself with coup plotters and come to their defense on the gamble that the entire affair is fictitious and the evidence planted. But this is another “Turkish classic.” They have historically used alignment with the military to their advantage, the TSK being a natural and long-time political ally in their fight with the other Islamic-friendly parties and now the AK Party.
‘In one area there is consensus: Ending duality in the justice system’
To what degree has Turkey been able to overcome duality in the justice system?
I think this is one area where there is a visible consensus on ending this duality. Turkey is moving in this direction beginning with the trials of those officers accused of coup-plotting in civilian courts. Turkey’s military justice is on the way to being completely integrated with the civilian one. The military justice system does not work in compliance with judicial due process. In a hierarchical system where disobedience to superiors is a serious crime, it doesn’t make sense to have uniformed prosecutors and judges stand aloof from their superiors and be firm in their decisions, independent and impartial. Besides, the military justice system reflects the divide in the country and speaks a militarized version of secular justice.
‘Historically important statute was incapacitated by AK Party amendment’
Why do you think Turkey still has problems regarding transparency of military expenditures although the law regarding the oversight of the Court of Auditors has been passed?
I think what happened in the passage of the Court of Auditors Law in December 2010 shows the existing perils that I mentioned: A long-awaited and historically important statute that could provide accountability of military spending, including extra-budgetary sources, to the Court of Auditors for the first time in the republic’s history, was incapacitated. By an amendment made by the AK Party government, the Court of Auditors will not be able to audit military expenses on efficiency grounds, nor will the results of the auditing be fully transparent for the public to view. The recent EU Progress Report criticized the government’s failure to change the TSK Internal Service Law. It seems that the government will not risk effective democratic control over the armed forces until it can guarantee further entrenchment of its own power in the next election.
‘Kurdish war not a success story for TSK’
As there has been a security-focused approach to the Kurdish problem, the military’s deficiencies have been revealed through the reports of the independent daily Taraf -- as in the case of the Aktütün, Dağlıca, Hantepe, Gedikli and Reşadiye events. Apparently, the scrutiny of the armed forces will not be limited to coup attempts.
The Kurdish war is not a success story for the TSK from many perspectives including leadership qualities, professionalism and use of technology. Add to that the very serious human rights violations involving even its own personnel, we end up in an unacceptable situation. Frankly speaking, there has been no accountability for as long as we remember in our life time regarding the war in the Southeast. This situation, more than anything else, is responsible for the spiraling of militarism and security-minded politics in Turkey creating the conditions for questioning the military.
‘What is the point of making a new constitution?’
You work in a committee of TESEV [Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation] in regards to the design of a new constitution. What should be the main element of the new constitution to get rid of the “state comes first” approach?
That will be a big challenge. All I can say personally at this stage is that yes, if there are no unqualified rights for individuals rather than the state in the new constitution then there is no need to go ahead with the committee work. If the state is not de-ideologized and does not stop having and defining an identity for everyone and does not stop meddling with religion in the name of “secularism,” then why a new constitution?
‘Egyptian army doesn’t enjoy special privileges’
As authoritarian regimes have been threatened, especially in Turkey’s neighborhood, there have been recent comparisons between the Turkish and Egyptian militaries. What would you say about this?
These are two very different armies. However, the two basic commonalities are to be found in their engagement in commercial enterprises -- Turkey’s OYAK [TSK Assistance Center] and the Egyptian military’s countless business holdings -- and their seeming engagement in guarding the republic. Other than that, they are totally incomparable. The Egyptian army does not enjoy special social privileges; they don’t even have their accommodations in special compounds; their power depends on the president, the authoritarian character of the regime and the unending emergency rule. They lack an ideology with which they can take the measure of civilian power holders -- not that there have been any freely elected civilians -- they do not have the position and capacity for permanent supervision and guidance of politics and policymaking; the officers are conservative and pious. I am told by an Egyptian retired general that 98 percent of the officers have wives who wear headscarves. This is considered to be a normal symbol of religiosity.