Turkey’s anti-deep state fight may set example
Retired Brig. Gen. Veli Küçük, a suspect in the trial against the Ergenekon network, is depicted giving testimony during a hearing in this drawing. (Court sketch: Salih Tekin)
A fight that Turkish security forces and judicial bodies have been engaged in for several years against clandestine networks nested in various state bodies, an alliance that is often referred to as the “deep state,” may set an example for other countries which suffer from similar networks, according to political analysts.
Turkey’s fight against the deep state has, on various occasions, been praised by many, including domestic and foreign observers. They believe a country like Turkey, which has been a place where hidden powers inside the state staged events to mold public opinion according to their own political agenda, is unlikely to democratize or normalize unless it roots out the deep state.
They also think the experience Turkey has gained in its fight against the deep state and criminal gangs is indeed a good example for other countries that also host such a clandestine phenomenon, but whether they too start an anti-deep state fight is dependent on certain conditions.
“Turkey’s experience [in the fight against the deep state] may set an example for other countries, but it depends on some conditions. For example, events ahead of the constitutional referendum in Egypt suggests that the deep state is stronger there [than in Turkey], and an element of the deep state seeks opportunities to block the country’s transition to full democracy. Those elements also attempt to show any mistake [made in the administration of the country] as a mistake of democracy and look for ways to return to the old days,” Professor Vedat Bilgin of Gazi University told Sunday’s Zaman.
According to Bilgin, countries should meet certain conditions to launch a fight against the deep state. Among those conditions is the strengthening of civil society so that people will demand a stronger democracy. “In addition, political parties should grow stronger, and they should have a better perception of civilian opposition,” he stated, and added: “Our neighbors [countries] have a long road to go [to launch an anti-deep state fight]. Turkey now has a great deal of experience to set an example for them. They may benefit from Turkey’s experience and use it as a roadmap in the long run.”
In Turkey, the term deep state became popular after a car accident in 1996 -- widely known as the Susurluk incident -- in which a member of Parliament and a senior police official were traveling together with a fugitive ultranationalist. The incident made clear that intelligence units employed gangs to do their dirty work. Several people were taken into custody in the investigation of the Susurluk gang -- and in dozens of similar cases -- but most suspects have been released.
Associate Professor Yusuf Tekin, a political analyst and deputy minister of youth and sports, also praised Turkey’s struggle against the deep state, but believes that it could be strengthened. He said the fight against the deep state initially aimed to root it out, but in time, the fight changed course. “Our problem with the deep state is whether to root it out or change its form. Turkey has not made a radical decision on this issue. But there is a perception that they [opponents of the deep state] preferred the state to change its form. Anyway, it is praiseworthy that the fight has remained within the boundaries of the law. With this point in mind, Turkey’s fight against the deep state may set an example to other countries,” he noted.
He also said the anti-deep state fight has stretched over time and therefore is taking longer than expected, which could be a point of criticism, and that the fight has yet to be concluded. “A more healthy evaluation [over whether Turkey’s experience against the deep state may set an example for other countries] may be possible after the fight is concluded,” he added.
In Turkey, the term deep state brings to mind Ergenekon, a criminal network believed to be nested within the state bureaucracy. The group is accused of being behind a number of political assassinations and mass murders that rocked Turkey in the past and was believed to be working to overthrow the government. Dozens of its suspected members are on trial on coup charges.
Prosecutors investigating Ergenekon have found that the gang is linked to the deep state that staged attacks in the past, using “behind-the-scenes” paramilitary organizations to stir up chaos to urge governments to act in line with interests of the deep state or to get rid of the governments.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week that it is not possible to say that Turkey has managed to eradicate the deep state. “Our fight against this [deep state] will continue. I would not possibly claim that we have rooted out or eliminated the deep state. There is a deep state in every country, and they cannot get rid of it completely. The deep state is like a virus; it re-emerges when favorable conditions come into existence,” he said.
For Professor Mehmet Altan, who teaches in İstanbul University’s department of political economy, Turkey had a good start in its fight against the deep state, but it later slowed down due to the reluctance of the government. “Had this not happened, Turkey could have rooted out the deep state and become a very good example for other countries,” he said, adding, though, that Turkey is very late in getting rid of the deep state because other countries managed this shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Altan believes Turkey has a long path to go in order to successfully conclude its fight against the deep state and criminal gangs. “The political power [or the government] is not fighting the deep state with due diligence. Such a fight without changing the legislation enacted after the 1980 coup or making the legal amendments [to become a more democratic country] will not yield any positive results. … How can you do civilian politics in a country where the Law on Political Parties [a product of the coup] remains unchanged? And how can you end military tutelage without abolishing the National Security Council [MGK]?” he asked and added that it is very unlikely Turkey will make such amendments with its own dynamics and without a push from the EU.
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