Monday, 2 March 2009
Plus ça change: Turkey 12 years on
This Saturday past marked 12 years since Turkey’s latest coup.
Twelve years is a long time. A lot can change in twelve years. And a lot has changed in Turkey, in the 12 years since the post-modern coup of Feb. 28, 1997.
It is now legal to broadcast in Kurdish, family law has been liberalised, Turkey has deepened its rapprochement with Europe and, in economic terms, the Anatolian heartland is flourishing. Even the make-up of the National Security Council has been changed to achieve increased civilian control over the army.
Things have undoubtedly changed.
In 1997, the religious Refah party was ousted by army memorandum.
Twelve years on, the AK party (openly religious and counting many ex-Refahites among its members) has been governing for the better part of a decade.
The AK party is itself proof of profound change – the secularists have changed enough to endure it and the Islamists have changed enough to join and vote for the reformist, Euro-phile AKP. Even the army are yet to take drastic action against them. And many believe that the fact that the AKP is still around is proof enough that the TSK (Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri, the Turkish Armed Forces) have also changed.
When the AK party was investigated for unconstitutional activities and acquitted, some hailed the end of an era. When the TSK failed to intervene as pious Abdullah Gül was elected to the revered office of the President of the Republic, some were convinced that was the end of the TSK as we knew it. Just because they did not intervene.
Are we not forgetting something?
The army didn’t get the troops out in 1997 either. But a government fell nonetheless.
The TSK has not changed since 1997.
The TSK is done changing.
Between 1960 and now, they have perfected the art of interfering without intervening. Why change any more?
The position of the TSK within the polity is clear:
Past and present versions of the constitution and the uniform code of military justice recognise the TSK's duty to protect the land, the people, the Republic and Atatürk’s legacy from enemies within or without.
So Turkey has changed. But within certain limits.
After all, protecting a legacy from enemies within clearly means that the TSK are there to block the wrong kind of change.
In fulfilling that duty, the TSK intervened once every ten years, never holding onto power for long, between the advent of multi-party democracy in 1950 and 1980 when it appeared that a more ‘lasting solution’ was needed. Thus far, the army had been intervening in a correctional manner, addressing a perceived problem swiftly and returning to barracks. It was actually widely believed that to hold onto power too long would corrupt the corps.
But in 1980 things were different. Turkey was in chaos. Basic good shortages, government failures and violence on the streets meant that this time, when the TSK intervened, they were reluctant to withdraw immediately. Or even soon.
General Kenan Evren would retain power until he has satisfied the system had been re-jigged appropriately.
That took three years.
Before returning to democratic politics he made sure he had given Turkey a new constitution, new institutions and himself as President of the Republic for the next 7 years.
Since then, the army has interfered a lot and intervened little.
Although in 1997 some tanks did leave the barracks – in the city of Sıncan, following an unfortunate incident including a fiery oratory and the Iranian ambassador – 1997 was a very civilised coup, done via communiqué rather than military action.
Since then, the TSK’s unquestionable power has been turned into diffused influence. So diffused, you can hardly see it. But that doesn’t make it less real or less potent.
Of course, it helps that the core principles of the constitution are the TSK’s guiding principles. And it also helps that the current constitution is a heavily amended version of the document the junta drafted in the early 80s.
It also helps that the TSK have a say in all high-level judicial appointments. They have influence over all high-level state university appointments as well as in a number of other areas including a number of regulatory bodies.
Of course things have changed. But plus ça change…
Granted, the TSK don’t always get their way.
Neither Erdoğan nor Gül are to their taste. And they are both still around.
But neither Erdoğan nor Gül have pushed through any particularly controversial legislation, despite numerous tense stand-offs. Somehow AKP politicians manage to reign it in before it’s too late. For instance, Erdoğan tried, early on in his first term, to criminalize adultery, yet he soon dropped the issue like the hot potato that it was. The EU saw it as a sign of respect for the Copenhagen criteria.
But the secular TSK knew better.
The EU was also pleased when the number of civilians in the National Security Council was increased and the TSK chiefs were given ‘line managers’ lower down the food chain – from the head of state to the minister of defence.
The EU stopped being so pleased when they realised that the change in the National Security Council make-up had absolutely no bearing on the Council’s decision-making patterns as the TSK’s views still carried the day and that Army chiefs carried on being treated with deference by their civilian superiors.
Turkey has changed, say the EU observers, and now it’s time for the TSK to do the same.
Look again, says me.
Turkey was Atatürk’s project: an exercise in collectivism, statism, secularism and modernisation. The project is working, the legacy is upheld and the TSK is overseeing proceedings.
Of course Turkey has changed since 1997.
Turkey has been changing since 1923. It has been changing according to Atatürk’s plan and legacy. And since 1923, the TSK has also changed, to ensure it remained best placed to protect and forward the plan.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is the plan.
The TSK made sure of that.