Public view: Turkish Military still harbors pro-coup faction

Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ (R) addresses the media during a news conference in June. He said a news report that alleged there was a military plot to undermine the government was part of a smear campaign against the armed forces.

January 18, 2010, Monday/ 16:05:00
A considerable part of the Turkish nation believes that a pro-coup formation exists within the military, but a larger part does not think military members would dare to stage a coup d'état, according to the latest results of a monthly opinion poll.

Özer Sencar, Dr. Sıtkı Yıldız and Dr. Ünal Bilir of the Ankara-based MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center conducted a survey on perceptions of the military, democracy and the judiciary. More than 55 percent of respondents said they believe there is a group within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) that seeks to stage a coup. Thirty-six percent said there is no such group, while 8.9 percent declined to comment.

The figures, however, point to a decrease in the belief in a democratic stance on the part of the Turkish military when compared with those in a past survey. According to a poll in July 2009, slightly more than 48 percent of respondents said they believed there is a pro-coup wing within the TSK.

The Turkish military has recently become the center of mounting criticism due to its protective stance toward many of its members who are accused of working to overthrow the democratically elected government. Through frequent press statements, the TSK has stood by its staff and accuses the media of working to undermine the military.

Respondents were also asked about the possibility of the TSK staging a coup d'état. Only 26.9 percent said such a possibility exists. An overwhelming 62.2 percent said the armed forces could not stage a coup. More than 10 percent said they had no idea.

A potential military coup has remained a topic of heated debate in Turkey, particularly after the launch of the trial into Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal organization charged with working to topple the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), and the exposure of a number of suspected military plots to that end. The plots mention military plans to assassinate prominent figures in society and put the blame on the ruling party, which would eventually lead to a coup.

Another important question directed at participants concerned internal unrest within the military against its pro-coup wing, which revealed that respondents were divided into two camps on the question. More than 46 percent said the military carries out a satisfactory fight against that wing, while slightly more than 47 percent thought the contrary.

The TSK has been criticized for failing to take action against its staff members who are suspected of being involved in illegal acts that could be considered preparations for a coup.

Asked whether they believe in the existence of the deep state in Turkey, a crushing 66.2 percent said yes. Only 23 percent said no, while 10.8 said they had no idea.

The term “deep state” refers to illegal formations and gangs. Among those formations are Ergenekon, Gladio and JİTEM, a clandestine illegal unit in the gendarmerie thought to be responsible for hundreds of murders and various other atrocities that took place in the Kurdish Southeast in the ‘90s under the guise of anti-terror efforts.

Dozens of suspected Ergenekon members are currently in jail pending trial on the grounds that they formed an illegal organization working to overthrow the government. Among them are active and retired members of the military, businessmen and journalists. The results of the survey point to a 9 percent increase in the number of those who believe in the existence of a deep state when compared with responses from a February 2007 poll.

Half of respondents think ‘cosmic search’ is legal

The MetroPOLL survey also evaluates the legitimacy in the eyes of the public of an ongoing search at the headquarters of the Special Forces Command by a civilian judge and prosecutor.

The search began in late December after the apprehension of two officers from the Tactical Mobilization Group -- a unit under the General Staff’s Special Forces Command -- as they stood watch near Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç’s house in Ankara’s Çukurambar neighborhood. The search at the Special Forces Command, where confidential military documents are kept in archives referred to as the “cosmic room,” has been applauded by most observers as they believe it will shed light on a number of secretive incidents in the country’s past. The search aims to reveal whether there is a military plot to assassinate high-level politicians.

Some jurists and columnists, however, argued that the search was not legal as a civilian judge or prosecutor was not entitled to examine documents that could include state secrets.

More than 50 percent of respondents disagreed and said the search was legal and was in line with the necessities of the legal order in Turkey. Almost 40 percent said the search was not legal, while 10.1 percent said they had no idea.

Respondents were also asked about the statements of the General Staff concerning allegations against the military. Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ holds frequent press conferences to express the military’s views on developments in the country and responds to questions from members of the press. While 42.4 percent said they find the General Staff’s statements sincere and satisfactory, 45 percent said the General Staff was neither sincere nor satisfactory in its statements.

Başbuğ recently appeared before the press to argue that the TSK is not engaged in any illegal act that could be termed “coup preparations.” However, instead of responding to the public’s questions about an alleged assassination attempt against the deputy prime minister, the military chief accused the media of working to damage the image of the armed forces.

Another question in the survey aimed at evaluating the credibility of the military in the eyes of the public. Asked how their perception of the chief of General Staff and the military was impacted by recent developments in the country, almost 57 percent said their trust in the General Staff and the military had not changed at all. Nearly 30 percent said their trust in the two was influenced negatively, while 10 percent said the recent developments had a positive impact on their faith in the General Staff and the military.

Respondents were, however, not satisfied with the improvement in democracy in the country. According to 37.9 percent of those polled, Turkish democracy weakened in 2009. Only 24.5 percent believe it grew stronger last year, while 37.6 percent said it had not shown any change.

Sixty-six percent of respondents expressed the belief that Turkey is headed for a bad future, while 30 percent said the country is headed for a good future.

The poll was conducted between Jan. 3-8 by telephone on a random national sampling of 1,614 adults residing in cities, towns and villages. The margin of error for the poll was 2.5 percentage points, with a confidence level of 95.

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