Erdoğan’s new friends: generals

February 15, 2013, Friday/ 17:28:00/ EMRE USLU

Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan has been giving very interesting, often conflicting messages in recent months. As Erdoğan changes his position his media outlets too change their arguments. Recently Erdoğan harshly criticized the judiciary and started defending the military generals who have been jailed for their alleged involvement in plots against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

For instance Erdoğan has become more vocal in criticizing the judges who put İlker Başbuğ behind bars for his involvement in anti-government projects and plans when he was the chief of the General Staff. According to penal law it is an obvious crime to commit a plot against the government. Therefore, the judiciary is simply doing their job. At the beginning of the investigations against the military generals Erdoğan vehemently supported the judiciary and even went into a severe battle with the opposition party. He once even said that he is a prosecutor in these investigations.

Because of his political stance in favor of these investigations, prosecutors and police were confident to arrest military generals. Otherwise it was impossible for police and prosecutors to investigate military generals.

A good example of how Erdoğan's support of the investigations changes the attitudes of police and prosecutors is related with the Council of State attack. When a lawyer killed a judge at the Council of State back in 2006 police found evidence that the perpetrator, Alparslan Arslan was connected to a retired military lieutenant who lives in İstanbul. When the police in Ankara requested that the police in İstanbul arrest the retired lieutenant the İstanbul police were reluctant to do so. They said it would be too risky for them to arrest a military officer, even if he is a retired one. This example shows the police culture and attitude toward military officers until the Ergenekon investigation. Because Erdoğan strongly encouraged police not to hesitate to investigate the military and if evidence was found to bring the suspects to court, police gained the confidence to conduct operations against military generals.

Thus, one should admit that without Erdoğan and his courage it would not be possible for police and prosecutors to launch investigations into Ergenekon. This does not mean that the Ergenekon investigation is a politically motivated investigation. Up until Erdoğan gave a green light to the police to investigate the wrongdoings in the military, everyone knew that military generals always made plans and plots against the civilian government, but no one had the courage to investigate these plans and plots.

Because Erdoğan's support is so important for the Ergenekon and other investigations his U-turn could risk the future of these investigations. From now on, no one may feel confident enough to launch an investigation against wrongdoers in the military. The important question to be answered is the following: why did Erdoğan change his position? Erdoğan's open support of the suspected generals, such as his visit to Ergin Saygun, shows that Erdoğan is following a new political agenda. It seems that he intends to have better relations with military generals, no matter what action they take against his government, in order to ensure that he erases any existing anti-AKP sentiment among the neo-nationalists.

As Erdoğan launched a grand peace project with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), he feels that he needs to lower the tension among neo-nationalists because if the project fails and does not reduce the tensions those neo-nationalists might harm his political career. By getting closer to the neo-nationalists, Erdoğan is also sending a message to the religious networks that have been his long-term supporters to show he could use nationalists to punish them. Despite the fact that pro-Erdoğan media outlets try to “explain away” Erdoğan's attempts to get closer to nationalist circles by sending sympathetic messages to generals, it is obvious that Erdoğan is indeed in a process to change his political position. I think the change in Erdoğan will be one of the main determinants of the future of Turkish politics in the coming years.