12 January 2011

Today ESI published a new report – Murder in Anatolia – Christian Missionaries and Turkish Ultranationalism. Below is more background for those of you who want to find out more about one of the most important court cases in Turkey today.

Is the deep state still smiling?

In early February 2008 one of the Malatya victims’ lawyers, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, published a series of four articles entitled “The Deep State is smiling at me in the Malatya massacre case” (see below).

From the beginning of the trial, wrote Cengiz, there were signs that some people were unhappy about the strong legal team that had come to the defence of the victims’ interests:

“We first went to Malatya a few days before the first hearing. Then we realized that there had already been a local media campaign against me and the legal team. It was quite surprising to see the hostility towards us … In addition to that, when we looked into some of the details in that news we came to the conclusion that some of the information contained in these pieces could not have been gathered without intercepting our telephone conversations and electronic communication.”

The trial had started on a bad note. In addition to the indictment, there were 32 additional files prepared with the help of the police. Remarkably, only 8 of them dealt with the crime, while the rest contained information about Christians in Malatya. Umut Sahin, general secretary of the Association of Protestant Churches, later told us:

“At the beginning there was an attempt to turn the trial against the murderers of Christians into a trial against Christians. That is why these folders contained information from the victims’ computers: what articles and books they read, their bank details. But there was nothing from the computers of the murderers.”

So what can one say about the way the Malatya trial has unfolded since 2007? Already the length of the trial has proven to be encouraging for the victims’ legal team. As lawyer Erdal Dogan told ESI in October 2009:

“Initially some wanted to finish the Malatya court case as quickly as the Santoro murder case in Trabzon. The indictment was short and focused only on the 5 main suspects. But here this did not work. We succeeded in bringing many details to the attention of the court. We urged them to conduct further investigations. We have seen that the prosecutors and judges changed their attitude during the trial. This is already a success.”

In 2006 the trial into the killing of Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in Trabzon closed after nine hearings, which took place between 15 May and 14 October 2006. Santoro’s 16 year old murderer was sentenced to 10 years and 5 months behind bars. A court of appeals later confirmed the verdict. Nobody investigated the question whether somebody else might have incited a 16 year old (and provided him with a weapon) to kill a priest of a church that had already been a target for ultranationalist groups before.

Further reading on Malatya:

Here are a few recommendations for those who want to know more about the case.

First, media which regularly cover the Malatya trial in English online:

Second, there are a number of articles by lawyer and columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz on the Malatya trial, including an article series published in February 2008 (refered to above):

More recently Orhan Kemal Cengiz wrote an article (in English in Today’s Zaman):

There is also a documentary about the murder and the trial by director Nolan Dean and released in October 2009 (in English, 69 minutes). The trailer (3 minutes) is here.

And then there are the following books by or about people close the the trial:

Filed under: Turkey — Tags: , , , , — Gerald @ 2:03 am
1 March 2010

Today I will give a presentation at the Kennedy School on an issue that has become ever more interesting in recent weeks: what is happening in Turkey currently in the field of civil-military relations? For more details please go here.

Turkey’s current transformation – in particular concerning the changing role of the Armed Forces – needs to be put in a wider context, both global and European.

As I noted in the seminar here last week it is not long ago that military interventions in politics were everything but rare. In 1962 successful coups took place in Burma, Argentina and Syria; failed coups in Lebanon, Portugal, Venezuela and Turkey. The Times noted in 1960, following the first Turkish coup against an elected civilian government, that “this has been a good year for generals.”

Since the 1960s the Turkish military has been carrying out many more interventions. However, while the officer corps has remained isolated from wider changes in Europe as well as in Turkish society the international acceptance of any military intervention has declined significantly – in Europe it has now reached a point of zero tolerance.

the man on horseback ruling but not governing
Recommended Reading

A good book for a historical perspective is Samuel Finer’s The Man on Horseback – The Role of the Military in Politics, published in the 1960s. Finer tries to quantify military interventions: he examines the 76 independent states which existed in the world in 1955 and finds that there had been military interventions in 47 of them.

Finer’s table: states and military interventions:

before 1861 6 states in the world military intervention in 26
1861-1899 2 more states (Serbia/Bulgaria) military interventions in 2
1900-1917 3 more states military interventions in all 3
1918-1944 10 more states military interventions in 7
1945-1955 15 more states military interventions in 9

A second interesting book focusing on Turkey is Gareth Jenkins’ Context and Circumstance: The Turkish Military and Politics. It appeared as an Adelphi Paper, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in 2001. While I find Gareth Jenkins writings on the Ergenekon trial unconvincing and at times misleading – more on this here later – his text on the Turkish military is a very good introduction.

Jenkins sets out the structural features and ideological motivations and historical references that have set Turkey’s civil-military relations apart from those elsewhere in Europe. As Jenkins notes at the very outset, his book wants to explain, not judge, an exceptional situation:

“the continued domination of Turkish politics by the country’s military appears to be an anomalous anachronism, even an anathema. As a result, discussions of civil-military relations often become coloured by moral judgements as military involvement in politics is seen as not only undesireable but almost an affront to a natural order. The purpose of this paper is neither to condemn not to justify the Turkish military’s involvement in politics; merely to try to understand and explain.” (p5, emphasis added)

At the heart of the Turkish exception is the ideological nature of the Armed Forces’ commitment:

“But what makes the Turkish military unique is that it sees itself as having an almost sacred duty to protect an indigenous ideology, namely Kemalism, the principles laid down by the founder of the Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk. This ideological dimension to the military’s perception of its role has meant that its definition of security extends beyond public order and Turkey’s political or economic interests to include threats to the country’s Kemalist legacy.”

Central to the world-view of the Turkish officer is the sense that both external and internal threats have enduring roots in Turkey’s past. An important element of military education is the Nutuk speech made by Ataturk, in which Ataturk describes Turkey’s enemies during the War of Liberation (1919-1922):

“Ataturk’s Great Speech of October 1927, the Nutuk, in which he summarised the Turkish War of Liberation, has a position akin to a sacred book and his pronouncements on a vast range of subjects are cited to support arguments as if they were virtual holy writ.” (p 32)

Jenkins notes that this is true not only for the Armed Forces but pervasive in Turkish society and in its national education system:

“Turks are taught, and most believe, that their country is under continual external and internal threat, both from other countries plotting to divide or acquire Turkish territory and from internal forces seeking to change the constitutional status quo. The result is often a virtual siege mentality, riddled with impossibly intricate conspiracy theories.”

“Turkish schoolchildren are taught that the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, which, though never ratified and subsequently superseded by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, foresaw the allocation of large tracts of modern Turkey to Greece, Armenia, Italy and France (the latter two in the form of mandates), and the eventual creation of an independent Kurdish state, still represents the real intentions of the West towards Turkey.” (pp16, 17)

However, such views are particularly strongly represented among those who pursue a military career, where they form the core of the curriculum:

“The teaching of history in the military academies places considerable emphasis on the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Cadets are taught that the Ottoman Empire was eroded by a combination of foreign avarice and a paucity of patriots prepared to defend the homeland. (p 32)

In January 1999 the military academy in Ankara published a booklet calling for a second ‘War of Liberation’ against Islamic fundamentalism:

“Continual exhortations to identify with Ataturk and to see him as an immortal guiding presence effectively brings the past into the present. Indeed, cadets are explicitly taught that, although circumstances and methods may change, the external and internal threats to the country – threats which they are legally as well as morally obliged to repulse – are fundamentally the same as in Ataturk’s lifetime … international pressure to allow greater political pluralism appears reminiscent of Allied attempts to divide Turkey at Sevres.” (p 33)

Jenkins quotes General Nahgit Senoglu, the head of the Military Academies, who told the new intake of cadets in 2000:

“You will see that Turkey has the most internal and external enemies of any country in the world. You will learn about the dirty aspirations of those who hide behind values such as democracy and human rights and who want to take revenge on the republic of Ataturk.”

Such as threat perception also serves to legitimise the privileged position of the Armed Forces:

“The military’s role is further bolstered by public perceptions of the security environment, where external and internal threats are often inflated and distorted by conspiracy theories in which even Turkey’s NATO allies are secretly plotting to weaken and divide the country.1 In such a situation, it is to the military that most Turks turn […] .”(P 9)

Being educated as a military officer also includes other messages, writes Gareth Jenkins,

“From the moment that they enter the military academies officer cadets are told that they are joining an elite, […] with a sacred mission to protect Kemalism.” (p30)

Jenkins explains that the “strict military hierarchy starts in the military high schools and academies”, and even underlines that “military officials admit that the hierarchies and deference to authority in Turkish society, particularly within the family, play a significant role in enabling cadets to adapt to a military environment.” The “relative social isolation of the academies and the inculcation of a sense of being distinct from society at large inevitably combine to produce an increasing identification with their fellow cadets and the armed forces as an institution.” (p 30)

Jenkins writes that the Turkish military has “traditionally vigorously resisted any attempt by the civilian authorities to investigate allegations against serving or retired officers.” (p 29), refusing to

“cooperate with investigations into, allegations of corruption or human rights abuses involving members of the security forces, especially the gendarmerie, apparently because it believes that even an investigation would harm the image of the armed forces. For example, in spring 1997 the TGS refused to allow a parliamentary committee investigating allegations of collaboration between elements in the security apparatus and the Turkish underworld to question members of the gendarmerie. Similarly, it has refused to allow external investigations of allegations of the use of beatings, usually by NCOs or lower-ranking officers, to discipline conscripts, insisting that such cases must remain the exclusive prerogative of the military courts. (p 30)

(To read more or to order the book go here).

Finally, let me recommend one more thought-provoking book: Steven A. Cook’s Ruling but not Governing on militaries in Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, published in 2007.

Cook examines what he calls “authoritarian stability” in “military-dominated states”. In such systems democratic facades allowed officers to rule without having to govern. Cook notes that in Turkey for a long time “pseudodemocratic institutions give the military the respect and admiration of large majorities of the Turkish people. Although the officers are responsible for the political order, the presence of institutions resembling a democratic polity effectively shields them from any public dissatisfaction.” (p.106)

Cook quotes a Turkish officer telling Mehmet Ali Birand:

“We are opposed to anybody, no matter whether they are there by the grace of the ballot box or the votes of the National Assembly, who attempts to violate Ataturk’s principles. We have a right to act to this end in the interests of our own people, and for their protection.” (p 102)

He examines how “Turkey has been able to undertake an extraordinary and wide-ranging program to dismantle its authoritarian institutions” in recent years, a transformation he considers “extraordinary”: while changes to the structure of the National Security Council in 2001 were still cosmetic, by 2004 they significantly downgraded the formal power of the military to influence civilian decision making. So did other changes, including a constitutional amendment in 2004 that rescinded the military’s exemption from Court of Auditors’ oversight.

In this transformation the role of the EU is decisive. Cook wonders whether there are any general lessons in this, but does not elaborate:

“It is fashionable, particularly among Arab elites, to say that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside, but the lessons of EU-Turkey relations indicate that the United States and France can play a role facilitating conditions more conducive to democratic change in Egypt and Algeria. … “

Cook rightly underlines that the Internal Service Act (1961) remains intact, including article 85 which states that the “Armed Forces shall defend the country against internal as well as external threats, if necessary by force.” This is but one sign that Turkey’s democratic revolution is not yet complete. He lists the following institutional innovations as essential:

  • to subordinate the General Staff to a civilian minister of defence
  • to empower the Council of State and other parts of the judicial branch to overrule the Supreme Military Council
  • to overhaul the internal service codes of the armed forces, which justify the military’s intervention in politics
  • to alter the curriculum at military academies and staff colleges

I would add a few additional concrete steps to this essential list, including:

  • to clarify the limitations of the military judicial system
  • to finally implement Turkey’s commitment to allow conscientious objectors to do alternative service
  • to undertake the full regular auditing of military expenditures in line with the 2004 constitutional amendments

I share Cook’s fascination for Turkey’s recent transformation and his assuymption that it holds a lot of interesting lessons. He concludes on an optimistic note: even in the Middle East

“countries with authoritarian political systems are not necessarily fated to manifest nondemocratic politics in perpetuity – forever is, after all, a long time … the Turkish transition highlights how external actors can nurture a political environment more conducive to peaceful, democratic change.”

This is an issue I hope to explore more with my students in the seminar on intervention in coming weeks.

Further reading:

Filed under: Books,Europe,Turkey — Tags: , , , — Gerald @ 5:45 am
19 July 2009

One faithful reader tells me every time that my articles on this blog are too long. I tend to agree and apologise at the outset for this particular (long) entry.

ergenekon_015_2008_oct_20
Outside the courtroom – Turkey’s trial of the Century @Jonathan Lewis

In April 2008 we put on our website the picture story The battle for Turkey’s Soul. Party closures, gangs and the state of democracy. There we told the story of the military coup dairies, found on the laptop of Admiral Ozden Ornek, the former Turkish navy commander, and published in the magazine Nokta on 29 March 2007:

“The diary entries contain detailed plans for a military coup, prepared jointly by the commanders of the army (Aytac Yalman), navy (Ornek himself), the air force (Ibrahim Firtina) and the gendarmerie (Sener Eruygur) in 2004.

According to the diary, it was only the opposition of the Chief of Staff at the time, Hilmi Ozkok, which prevented the coup plans from being put into action. The code name for the coup was “Blond Girl”. Later, these dairies suggest, Sener Eruygur had begun to plan another coup, code named “Moonlight.”

On 12 April, Nokta‘s offices were raided by the police in a 3-day operation at the request of the military prosecutor. Subsequently, the owner of the magazine decided to shut it down altogether.”

The authenticity of these coup diaries has since been confirmed during another court case against former Nokta editor-in-chief Alper Gormus. Tomorrow they are for the first time at the centre of the most complex court case in recent Turkish history: the so-called Ergenekon case.

A lot has happened since we wrote Turkey’s Dark Side in April 2008 and introduced the debate on what has since become known in the courtroom as the Ergenekon Terror Organisation (ETO).

A quick overview:

First, there was a wave of spectacular arrests in summer 2008. The most prominent arrest was of the former Commander of the Gendarmerie, retired General Sener Eruygur … the person singled out as the most eager general to carry out a coup in the Ornek diaries.

Then, in July 2008, the first Ergenekon Indictment was presented to the court. The document, 2,455 pages long, listed 86 people to be put on trial, among them 12 retired members of the Turkish Armed Forces. Veli Kucuk, allegedly both a leader within Ergenekon and one of the founders of the paramilitary gendarmerie unit JITEM (accused of involvement in extrajudicial executions for many years) was the most prominent.

Kucuk had also been a leading ultra-nationalist figure in the protests against Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, shortly before Dink’s assassination in early 2007. The main charge in the indictment was that Kucuk and other former military, together with police officers, nationalist journalists, academics and civil society figures, had formed an organised terror network to create chaos and thus trigger a military coup.

Weapons had been found, linking some of the accused directly to attacks against different institutions, including an attack on the highest administrative court (the Council of State) in 2006, which left one judge dead. Documents were found outlining the strategy and organisational structure of the Ergenekon network. Assassination plans were discovered, targetting politicians, liberal journalists as well as writer Orhan Pamuk.

The Ergenekon trial based on these charges began on 20th October last year.

ergenekon_003_2008_oct_20
“Ergenekon lie, American game” – Protests before trial starts October 2008 @ Jonathan Lewis

Since then there have been many more arrests. In another dramatic turn, a court decided in February 2009 that there was a strong enough case to merge the Ergenekon case with the case of the brutal murder of three Christian missionaries in Malatya (who were killed, after being tortured, in April 2006). In March 2009 death wells were opened in South East Anatolia and human remains exhumed (leading to further arrests of active military). Illegal weapons continue to be found in houses and hidden in places, marked on maps found among those arrested.

In March 2009, the second Ergenekon indictment, this time listing 56 suspects (among them 17 members of the Turkish Armed Forces, and for the first time 9 still active military) on almost 2,000 pages, was accepted by the 13th Serious Crimes Court in Istanbul. It is on the basis of this indictment that the next phase of the court case is set to begin tomorrow.

(A third Ergenekon indictment is expected to be submitted to the court any time soon).

It is certainly not surprising that this case has been controversial in Turkey almost from the beginning. Never before have so many prominent personalities, accused of being associated with the so-called deep state in Turkey, been put in court for such serious allegations. Never before have members of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) been put in a civilian court accused of planning to topple a civilian government.

ergenekon_010_2008_oct_20
He is not happy with the course of Turkish justice (Silivri, Ergenekon trial) @ Jonathan Lewis

And yet, while the judicial inquiry is continuing, extra-judicial challenges against the trial continue.

First there was the discovery, publicised in an article in June 2009 in the independent daily Taraf, of a plan by the Turkish military to help their accused colleagues by presenting the whole Ergenekon case as a campaign by followers of the (US-based) Sunni-preacher Fetullah Gulen; and by an AKP government bent on turning Turkey into Iran.

The document, called “Action Plan to Combat Reactionaryism” (sorry for this translation) was found in the office of lawyer Serdar Ozturk, who had been arrested as part of the Ergenekon investigation. It appears to be a product of the Support Section Directorate 3 of the Operations Department in the Office of the Turkish General Staff, drafted in April 2009! The text bears the signature of Naval Infantry Staff Senior Colonel Dursun Cicek. The text expresses profound dismay with the course of the Ergenekon investigation. It also suggests concrete ways to change the course of the case.

The Taraf article quotes directly from the text:

“Intensive activities are carried out by the religiously reactionary groups to erode the image of the official institutions of the state, particularly TAF (Turkish Armed Forces) as efforts are under way to blacken the names of retired and active military staff, who have made substantial contributions to TAF, by charging unfounded allegations against them as part of Ergenekon.”

“It will be ensured that any TAF staff members seized or agreeing to disclose would make statements in line with the themes determined by us and that such disclosure would have wide coverage in the press. “News articles will be fabricated that TAF staff members arrested under Ergenekon investigation are innocent and that they are slandered just because they effectively fight reactionary Islam. “News articles will be commissioned that no action being staged by PKK terrorist organization against any schools, classrooms and hostels in the Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia regions as well as in the north of Iraq, which are owned by Fetullah Gulen followers is a clear sign of a link between the two networks and also of an agreement between them.”

The plan calls for the following:

“to put an end to the hesitancy over this issue by revealing the internal face of the religiously reactionary elements and eradicate public support for such networks. To minimize the impact of the erosive campaigns staged under Ergenekon, to put an end to the negative propaganda carried out against TAF”.

“Information support activities will be executed to bring out to light the facts on the radical religious groups, particularly AKP government promoting the idea of establishing an Islamic state based on Islamic Law by overthrowing the secular and democratic order and various groups and Fetullah Güven group supporting it, to break the public support and put an end to their activities”.

Part of the plan covers “Black Propaganda Activities”:

“The theme, “Fettullah Gülen (FG) followers have gotten out of control, directly attacking TAF”, will be covered; in this scope, campaigns will be staged causing the citizens to comment: “This is beyond the limit! We are Muslim like them but FG followers are obviously making provocation to attack TAF”.

“Voice recordings which would be identified as having been broadcast by the religiously reactionary elements and cause listeners to find us justifiable will be arranged in order to create information pollution over the issue of voice recordings which have recently led to considerable repercussions.

“It shall be ensured that any staff members captured by fabricating cause publicly in connection with various information and documents would provide statements that they were FG followers and once such staff members were made public by the press, news articles shall be ordered about their morally negative aspects.

“It will be ensured that any objects associated with any elements (Jews, CIA, MOSSAD, Moon Sect, Khomeni, etc.) through which a link is intended to be established with FG followers, apart from any weapons and munitions there, would be on the same location by causing house raids to be staged on the basis of tips.

“It will be ensured that information and documents rekindling the Anti-Alavite feelings would be present in such houses as part of house raids.”

If you want to read the document in Turkish, go here. For the English version of the article go here. The debate about its authenticity (challenged by the military) will likely continue in the course of the ongoing Ergenenkon investigation.

If, that is, the investigation is allowed to continue normally. For there has been another major challenge recently.

Last week the Turkish press reported that some members of the Higher Council of Judges and Prosecutors in Ankara proposed to remove the current judges AND prosecutors from the ongoing Ergenekon trial. The annual decision on the rotation of judges and prosecutors has not been announced so far; it appears as if this issue has been holding up a decision.

That this is a serious matter is made clear by a recent precedent. In 2005 a prosecutor in Van, planning to investigate the background of a terror attack against a Kurdish bookshop in Semdinli committed by plain-cloth non-commissioned military officers, was dismissed from his post (and stripped of his right to work even as a lawyer) by a decision taken by the Higher Council of Judges and Prosecutors. The accusation against him was that he was “dishonouring the legal profession.”

The further evolution of the Semdinli case also highlights a challenge to the Ergenekon case. The perpetrators of the attack were first sentenced in a civilian court to 39 years in prison (no questions were asked there about who had ordered the attack). Then a higher court ruled that since this attack was carried out by the accused TAF members engaged in military duty the conviction did not stand. A new trial started, this time in a military court. The accused were set free pending a judgement. The case has not been concluded yet, despite overwhelming evidence (the accused had been captured on the spot after having thrown the grenade).

For the Ergenekon trial the major question has always been: could the same happen here?

This renders all the more significant a recent decision by the Turkish parliament, another unexpected turn in the dramatic struggles reshaping Turkey.

On 25 June the parliament changed the Criminal Procedure Code. It requires, from now on, that civilian courts try members of the armed forces accused of specific crimes, including threats to national security, constitutional violations, organising armed groups and attempting to topple the government. On 8 July this law was ratified by president Abdullah Gul.

But that is not the end of the story. Although the reform is a long demanded adjustment of Turkish legislation to norms prevalent in the rest of Europe, Turkey’s largest opposition party (CHP) has promised to challenge the changes before the Constitutional Court. Then again, CHP leader Deniz Baykal has long attacked the whole Ergenenon investigation as a political witch-hunt, defending general Eruygur as an honourable patriot.

Thus the battle over Ergenekon is not only taking place in a courtroom near Istanbul. It is part of a wider battle over the very soul of Turkish democracy … and over the question whether in the end it is the military or the elected government, and military courts or civilian courts, that have the ultimate say. The jury on this most basic question is, unfortunately, still out.

Filed under: Turkey — Tags: , — Gerald @ 12:46 pm
19 March 2008

Three days ago I wrote about a series of strange and shocking events - murders, rumours of military coups and political conspiracies – that have made headlines in Turkey in the past three years. I listed these events as they came to my mind and as if they were unrelated. This impression of randomness could be seriously misleading, however.

In fact, reading Turkish newspapers and newly published books these days one enters the world of a multilayered thiller – Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose or Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code come to mind – in which every ominous event appears to be linked to the next. It is a world of secret patterns that are only revealed at the very end: a hidden plot that connects the murder of an Italian priest in a church in the Black Sea town of Trabzon in 2006, the attempted murder of a former PKK member in a mainly Kurdish city on the border with Iraq in 2005, the assassination of a high judge in a courtroom in the centre of Ankara in 2006 and the cold-blooded execution of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in the busy centre of modern Istanbul in 2007. Istanbul prosecutors currently seek to prove in an ongoing investigation that there is in fact a link between all these (and many more) crimes: a network of radical nationalist conspirators operating under the name Ergenekon. This in turn is linked to what Turks call derin devlet: the deep state.

What is Ergenekon? And what is derin devlet? Let us proceed cautiously from what is known before arriving at what is only suspected. In matters of conspiracies, it is best to treat carefully lest one gets lost in a fantasy world of multiple echoes and strange shadows.

First, devlet. When I arrived in Turkey a few years ago I was struck how often Turkish analysts would make a distinction between “the government” and “the state” in sentences such as “the state will not allow the government to do this” (for instance, use its sufficient parliamentary majority to elect a new president). I did not appreciate at the time the definition of devlet in the excellent book on Turkey (Crescent and Star, 2001) by former NYT correspondent Stephen Kinzer:

“The dictionary says it means “state”, but it also means something much uglier. Devlet is an omnipotent entity that stands above every citizen and every institution. Loyalty to it is held to be every Turk’s most fundamental obligation, and questioning it is considered treasonous. No one ever defines what devlet means; everyone is supposed to know. Its guardians are a self-perpetuating elite – the generals, police chiefs, prosecutors, judges, political bosses and press barons who decide what devlet demands of the citizenry. This elite has written many laws to help it do what it perceives as its duty, and when necessary it acts outside the law.” (p. 26)

The institutional foundation of devlet was (and is) the Turkish constitution of 1982. It was drafted under the supervision of the Turkish military that had taken power following a coup in 1980. The very first sentence of the preamble of the constitution spells out its underlying philosophy:

“In line with the concept of nationalism and the reforms and principles introduced by the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Atatürk, the immortal leader and the unrivalled hero, this Constitution, which affirms the eternal existence of the Turkish nation and motherland and the indivisible unity of the Turkish state …”

A few paragraphs further down the constitution spells out what this means:

“… no protection shall be accorded to an activity contrary to Turkish national interests, the principle of the indivisibility of the existence of Turkey with its state and territory, Turkish historical and moral values or the nationalism, principles, reforms and modernism of Atatürk …”


Ankara - Ataturk Mausoleum

Ankara – Ataturk Mausoleum

There were many other provisions, in the constitution and in other laws, that buttressed the military’s vision of the national interest in post-coup Turkey: the military-controlled National Security Council, acting as a shadow government, the Higher Education Board controlling universities, laws on political parties (that made it easy to dissolve them) and on associations and foundations (to control these). The outside world was viewed as full of enemies, plotting to bring Turkey down and always looking for and finding domestic traitors to work with. As Stephen Kinzer wrote in 2001:

“Writers, journalists and politicians who critizice the status quo are packed off to prison for what they say and write. Calls for religious freedom are considered subversive attacks on the secular order. Expressions of ethnic or cultural identity are banned for fear that they will trigger separatist movements and ultimately rip the country apart.” (p.12)

This repression was not hidden, however: it was the public face of the state. In fact, the architects of this system and its guardians were unapologetic about the necessity to protect devlet by limiting individual rights and democracy.

What, by contrast, is derin devlet? It is those elements of the state which went even further than the repressive laws already put in place to fight the enemies of devlet with illegal methods.

Again, some things are known about how this worked. There were hundreds of mystery killings in South East Anatolia in particular during the 1990s. A particularly radical group such as (Turkish, no link to the Lebanese organisation) Hizbullah was one of the instruments used. This became clear when hideouts used by Hizbullah, containing bodies of people kidnapped and turtored, were found across Turkey. As Kinzer put it, “the true lesson was even more sinister. Hizbullah had not been a band of outlaws but an arm of the Turkish state. Security agencies in southeastern provinces had made common cause with these terrorists. … Hizbullah thugs were turned loose to kidnap and kill their enemies in the knowledge that the police would not investigate them.” (p. 100)

Then there was the famous car accident in Susurluk in 1996: the people who died in the car crash, sitting in the same Mercedes, included a top-ranking police commander, who had been involved in counter-guerilla operations against the PKK; Abdullah Catli, one of the most famous gangsters in Turkey; and a pro-government Kurdish clan chief and parliamentarian. Evidence emerged that linked Catli to numerous crimes since the 1970s, and that showed that he had in fact been recruited by government security agents as an assassin.

However, even such discoveries did not change the culture of impunity in the security apparatus. Politicians who dared to confront the security apparatus did not get far in the late 90s, and nor did prosecutors. A parliamentary investigation, which led to a thick report in 1997, was prevented to question some key suspects, who could have shed light on events and links between state institutions and the underworld. One of these suspects who were not investigated further was Veli Kucuk, who had been a high level military officer in South East Anatolia allegedly in charge of a special and secret military unit and who had last spoken to Catli before the accident. Kucuk is today once again a central figure in the current Ergenekon investigation and was arrested in January 2008.

In fact, much has changed in Turkey since 2001: torture is no longer tolerated, the formal role of the military has been reduced, the Penal code and laws on associations have been reformed. Many more changes are expected and required, should Turkey’s EU accession process continue successfully. There have also been many changes to the constitution, and following the election victory of the AKP in the summer of 2007 work started on drafting a new constitution - with a new preamble – to turn away from the tradition of devlet embodied in the 1982 document.

And yet other things have not changed. There are still those within the system who believe that there is an immutable concept of nationalism that has to be protected, if need be by illegal instruments, against its enemies. Fast forward to 2006, 2007 and 2008 and it becomes clear that the challenge posed by both the surviving authoritarian state tradition and the threat of deep state structures remains serious. This was never more clear than this week in March

To be continued …

Filed under: Turkey — Tags: , , , — Gerald @ 1:56 am
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