He pointed outside. Kaya saw a large group of soldiers marching in the yard. This was the part of 2,500-man strong Presidential Guard -- all elite soldiers. “Do you see?” Demirel asked Kaya. “I am surrounded by them. Every day and every night. Do not forget that.”
This was the Demirel-style confession of his limitations as a civilian politician. He was “sharing” with Kaya that he – and many others in key positions like him – had to know their limits and not rock the boat in order to “survive.”
“I ended up in jail by directives,” explained Prime Minister Erdoğan in his weekly address to Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies. He was talking about the legal investigation into abuses of power -- and related crimes -- in the period known as “Feb. 28, 1997 intervention,” which led to arrests of some high-ranking officers on duty at that time. He was referring to the jail sentence he was given for reciting parts of a poem. “Could it be possible that a mayor is imprisoned for reading a poem which was approved officially? This could only happen by directives from over there [the military headquarters in Ankara].” [Editor’s note: This explanation was added by the author.]
There is enough reason to believe that he is right. I was given many accounts of how a top general (his name was also mentioned) at that time had called the so-called State Security Court (a type of court established to replace the military courts of the coup era) in Diyarbakır at that time and had openly threatened the judges to make them do what his superiors wanted: “Sentence him or face consequences.” The hope, of course, is that the truth behind this incident will also come out with the Feb. 28 probe.
As of spring 2012, the Turkish “glasnost” continues. Not so long ago, two junta members of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup were indicted, and now we are in the initial phases of the “Feb. 28 soft coup” trial. With every new judicial inquiry, people who were pushed to dark fatalism do start to believe that oppressors might be held accountable, after all (the years).
The Turkish “glasnost” may continue, but the crucial question remains: Is the military tutelage over?
It may be that with every unprecedented event some utterly naive observers jump the gun to proclaim that “the second republic” has begun, and civilian control over the military is now a reality. The answer is “no.” This control is still illusory.
There is nothing wrong with the probes and trials. Confronting the past, as well as punishing all who are responsible, must continue to be supported. But something is not being done right on the path to “the new Turkey,” something that raises the risks of backlash – or of oversight.
First, the way the prosecutors deal with coup or conspiracy trials leaves questions to be asked. The two top generals, for example, should (also) have been accused of “crimes against humanity. All the ongoing “political” trials involving the military must also help the public understand whether or not the ground on which the officers operated was legitimate, and guide Parliament to engage in getting rid of all legal instruments that give pretexts for military tutelage.
In other words, “glasnost” can only be meaningful if it involves judicial trials that deal with undemocratic activities of the past, in synch with the executive power to amend laws to consolidate civilian rule. But in Turkey’s case the legal reforms clearly lag behind the trials. The tutelage is scrutinized; it may have been partly weakened and deteriorated, but is not yet fully dismantled by the Constitution and related laws.
What is at stake in Turkey, as of 2012, is whether or not the “1980 regime” will be discontinued. If so, a new Constitution with a clear guarantee of civilian rule must replace the current one. This means all top officers must be elected by the government, and the chief of General Staff be made subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and the separate “military judiciary” be abolished. The gendarmerie must be made “civilian.” The top secret, so-called “national security document” must be debated publicly and approved by Parliament. The military budget should be entirely transparent. All the laws that contain articles which give the military pretexts to maintain its tutelage and privileges must be amended. The curriculum in military schools must be radically reformed. Conscientious objection must become a right.
The military must also be made invisible in civilian life. Its facilities must be pulled out of the cities. The presidential guard must “retreat” from the Çankaya Palace, leaving the security to elite police forces.
So, the real test from now on is the swiftness and fairness of the trials and Parliament’s willingness to “cleanse” the legacy of the military, which left the impression of political engineering as a disaster in the national psyche.