‘Democracy is not a priority issue for Turkey’
Retired Brig. Gen. Nejat Eslen
Retired Brig. Gen. Nejat Eslen, who became well known when he challenged journalist Şamil Tayyar to a duel, believes the July 22 election results constituted a counterrevolution.
Eslen stresses that the military is obligated to protect the republic and serve as its watchdog, adding that this duty should be performed in compliance with the law and democratic rules.
According to Eslen, who asserts that Turkey's priority issue is not democracy, what needs to be done immediately is creating a new definition of strategy, discussing the merits of Eurasianism and Turkey turning its face from west to east. Eslen states, "Turkey will eventually be either a European, Middle Eastern or Eurasian country," and believes that the Eurasianist movement within the army will settle down and the military will do the right thing. He finds the allegations against former Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök and current incumbent Gen. Yaşar Büyük-anıt grave, if they are accurate. He further notes that personal ambitions should not affect state governance.
You may know retired Brig. Gen. Nejat Eslen from his contributions in the Radikal daily, television appearances or his challenging journalist Şamil Tayyar to a duel. He is a strategist.
He is a Eurasianist who does not ignore the West. He is a republican. He believes that the July 22 election results constituted a counterrevolution. He says, "Democracy is not a priority issue for Turkey." According to him, what needs to be done right away is for Turkey to redefine strategy, discuss Eurasianism and turn from the West to the East. He holds that the Eurasianist movements within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) will settle down and the military will do the right thing. He further asks the liberals to refrain from looking at the process of Eurasianism gaining ground as "an ox takes a look at a train."
You believe that there is an ongoing struggle between Islamists, nationalists/Eurasianists and liberals. Obviously, this conflict takes place within the army as the clash between pro-NATO actors and Eurasianists. How will the impact of the Ergenekon case on retired Eurasianists affect those still on active duty?
I do not know. I have no contact with military officers on active duty. But there may be officers in the army who hold that relations with NATO and the US should be preserved, as they were in the Cold War era, while there may also be some other officers who think as I do. I am saying that our interests and the American strategic and security vision are not compatible in the post-Cold War era.
Is the 'east not westwards-facing' view overwhelmingly held within the army?
It is natural that there is such a movement within the army. These views will become integrated over time, based on accurate threat perceptions, without causing any serious conflict.
We first heard about alignment with Russia and Iran instead of the West from National Security Council (MGK) Secretary-General Tuncer Kılınç. Kılınç said Turkey would be rid of Western hegemony when it leaves NATO. So this is a matter of discussion within the military.
Some circles … [portray] Eurasianism as a bad thing. In the world, the US is the most eager country seeking influence in Eurasia, because it hosts energy wealth. Turkey's interest in Eurasia is logical, just as the US and the EU want to maintain influence in the same region. Many Turkish holdings have investments in Central Asia. The holdings close to the government and even the holding that owns Sabah daily, Çalık Holding, have investments in Central Asia.
But this does not prove that Çalık Holding is a Eurasianist. It is something different. It is an ideological continental movement that includes Russia and its strategic partner, Iran…
You are talking about the concept promoted by Alexander Dugin [the Russian political activist and ideologist of the contemporary Russian school of geopolitics often known as "neo-Eurasianism"]
Of course, is he not the most important theorist of Eurasianism?
It is quite meaningless to criticize proponents of Eurasianism by associating Dugin's Eurasia concept with those who propose Turkey's move toward Eurasia. Turkey should develop its own geopolitical vision and see where its interests lie. We allocate the majority of our political energy to the EU membership [goal]. Why don't we think about … [benefiting] from the riches of Eurasia as major powers do?
Is Eurasianism so innocent? Doesn't Russian Eurasianism aim to destroy Turkishness, weaken the nation state and incite ethnic conflict in Turkey? Are you able to say that Dugin's theses have not been adopted in Russia?
Of course they must have been affected by these. It is also true that Dugin was close to the administration. But we cannot possibly say that Russia closely followed Dugin's concept, because he realized that he made mistakes as well and noted that cooperation with Turkey was needed. Of course, the Dugin concept has supporters in Turkey, like Doğu Perinçek, [leader of the ultranationalist Workers' Party] and his followers. Dugin came to Turkey upon the invitation of this group. They invited me as well, but I did not attend. I did not attend the meeting held by the Marmara Group on Eurasia.
Dugin said his book, 'Foundations of Russian Geopolitics,' is used as a textbook in Turkish military schools. Could this be true?
Courses on geopolitical theory are offered at the War Academies. I do not know whether his thoughts are instructed in this regard.
The International Eurasian Movement, led by Dugin, said, 'These arrests are an act of defiance against Russia,' when Perinçek and others were taken into custody. Is this Russia's official line?
The arrest of Doğu Perinçek upset Dugin; I do not know what the official Russian policy on this matter is. Dugin is one of Russia's most important geopoliticians. He wants to make Russia a global power based on Slavic nationalism. However Russia is currently dealing with serious minority problems and its population is shrinking. For this reason it is not possible for Russia to become a global dominant power. What makes Eurasianists in Turkey stronger is not Russia, but the impositions of the US and the EU. If today Eurasianism in Turkey and the possibility of Turkey's shift toward Eurasia are being discussed, then the West should engage in self-criticism and ask itself, "Where did I go wrong with regards to Turkey?" Turkey's cooperation with Russia will certainly change the balances in the Middle East and Eurasia. If Turkey shifts its geopolitical axis from the West to the East, this will do the greatest damage to the US and Europe.
So if Turkey changes its bloc, a world war will inevitably break out?
No. Why would it? Turkey's redefinition of its geopolitical identity is inevitable. In the end, Turkey will become either a Western, Middle Eastern or Eurasian country.
Is not Turkey's alienation from the West a dangerous adventure?
We have options. We may try to enter Eurasia together with the EU, the US, China or Russia. Or we may act independently. The Marmara group wants to do this with the US. The Doğu Perinçek group wants to do it with Russia. It is not a crime to think about these options. Turkey's alienation from Europe and America is impossible. Europe is our biggest trade partner. Turkey cannot survive without the West.
You say this, but the Eurasianists of Ergenekon describe the EU and US as hyenas. They call Hilmi Özkök a 'horse thief.' They have made some allegations against Büyükanıt.
It is too bad if this is true. The military has the duty to protect and preserve the republic. For this reason sometimes they do some brainstorming. They have to do this in compliance with the democratic rules and laws. Personal ambitions should not affect state governance. In my opinion, this is a game played on us by the West. The West has concerns: Will Turkey shift its geopolitical axis toward the East? Will it develop cooperation with Russia, or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)? What can we do to prevent this? We must eliminate, denigrate and discourage those who may steer Turkey away from the West. This is the gist of what is currently happening in Turkey. The West has started to such an operation in order to eliminate the neo-nationalist groups, i.e., those intending to steer Turkey toward Eurasia.
So you think those who were denigrated did nothing bad?
Some of them might have committed some offenses and crimes. The judiciary will make the final decision as to who did -- and did not do -- what.
You challenged Tayyar to a duel because he criticized you. You responded to those who criticized your invitation by saying, 'Dueling is an activity suited to the nobles and knights.' Is there any such class of nobles and knights in Turkey?
All military men are nobles and knights. Military men are trained with a noble spirit.
Then they commit a noble coup?
No. Protecting the mainland, protecting the republic gives them nobility.
As a Eurasianist, did Russia inspire you to call for a duel?
No, not at all. This is out of despair. I am 66 years old. Why does a man at the age of 66 challenge a younger man? Şamil Tayyar lied about me; he defamed me. If I sue this man, the case will take at least five years. By then I will be 70 years old. I defied him. He got scared; he did not challenge me.
How could he possibly challenge you? Would you duel using a gun, sword or the tongue?
Now you will get credit by this interview through mockery. He would choose the gun. Dueling may be done in different forms and styles. It could be on the basis of thought as well. This duel thing became popular on Internet sites. Why didn't my interview with Tempo become so popular on Internet sites?
I read that interview, and I am asking: Is the republic or democracy in danger?
The republic is in danger. Turkey's priority issue is not further democratization. Beware, the priority issue is the republic. This is because the republic comprises democracy as well.
‘Republic, not democracy is what matters’
I may challenge you to a duel if you say democracy is not a priority issue.
Beware, the priority issue is the republic. This is because the republic comprises democracy as well.
Is that so? What would you say about the Islamic Republic of Iran and United Kingdom?
Where can you find absolute democracy? Is the US a democratic country?
Is our republic not a military guardianship regime?
This is your view. Turkey's unitary structure and its regime are in danger. We must first concentrate on these issues.
If it is to maintain cooperation with our Eurasianists, will Russia want to see a unitary or partitioned state?
Russia would want Turkey to be a strong nation state against the US. It is the West which does not want a strong Turkish nation state. But you would do better to ask this to Dugin.
Yes, Alexander Dugin says let us divide and partition Turkey.
He abandoned these views. Do not consider every Eurasianist in Turkey a Dugin supporter. Europe seeks to contain Russia by enlarging NATO in the Balkans, Black Sea region, Central Asia and the Caucasus. The installation of antimissile systems in the Czech Republic and Poland are part of this. That is why Russia is concerned. Of course, Russia may want to alleviate these concerns by cooperation with Turkey. For this reason Russia would like to cooperate with a stronger and integrated Turkey.
You also have a complaint about the liberals.
Liberals fail to adequately comprehend this process. They have to question themselves as to whether it is accurate to extend unconditional support for the current administration. Beware: An ox watches a moving train, but it fails to perceive it was a train on time. It starts running after the train has passed. This moderate Islam train may hit the liberals as well.
Do you call liberals oxes?
No, of course not. I am taking a picture. In this process, the Islamists are ahead. But the end of the process is not clear. There are announcers at Kırkpınar. They say, "Wrestler, do not become upset because you are losing; do not become joyful because you are winning." Liberals should learn a lesson from this. The current situation may not go like this. New social engineering moves may take place.
Will the ultranationalists who still have not been arrested do this?
I am not saying this. Chaos cannot go on like this; it goes through a transition. I do not know what it will turn into
Hopefully, this will be toward democratization. But you do not have such a demand…
A lot of references are made to coups in Turkey, but a counterrevolution took place against the republic in Turkey. We saw it on July 22. Forty-seven percent of Turkey voted for the AK Party [Justice and Development Party].
Do you call the election results a 'counterrevolution'?
Of course, social engineering was implemented in Turkey.
I cannot find anything to say about this remark…
Who voted for the AK Party? Wasn't it those who received small grants of potatoes, onions, coal? [President] Abdullah Gül's headscarf-wearing wife's promotion to [the presidential residence] Çankaya [Palace] is part of this counterrevolution. The regimes in Ukraine and Georgia have been changed via democratic means. Please recall that the German undersecretary for the Defense Ministry has said: "Turkey is secretly becoming Islamized. It is taking place not from above but from below. This is a pretty dangerous approach."
When the EU representatives oppose closure of the AK Party you react strongly. But you also quote such remarks by Europeans who point to an Islamic threat.
The closure of the AK Party will be decided depending on the political environment. There is an ongoing power struggle between two sides. On one side is the issue of the closure of the AK Party, and on the other side is the Ergenekon issue. From time to time, these sides make their attempts to gain advantage. I want the republic left to us by Atatürk to be protected. I don't want to see a headscarf-wearing president's wife in Çankaya.