From this perspective, the judicial processes concerning Ergenekon, a clandestine organization nested within the state trying to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government, the Sledgehammer (Balyoz) coup plan, the Sept. 12, 1980 coup, and the Feb. 28, 1997 coup have an aspect of revenge about them, but they have to. This is because all coups nurture an implicit tendency to take revenge. The “republican” regime in Turkey not only saw society in general, and pious Muslims in particular, as a “backwards” mass and kept them outside the public sphere, but also treated them with an open contempt, without feeling the need to hide it. On the other hand, Islamic groups both sought to accept the Kemalist elites that ensured the country’s independence and sovereignty, and closed themselves to and resisted these elites’ ongoing, systematic, authoritarian, secularist practices. This led to a form of behavior that told Islamic groups to side with the state with respect to “national” issues, such as the Armenian issue, and to put up with the economic, social and cultural isolation they faced.
If the military had not attempted to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), most probably, the tension between the state and the Islamic community would have been covered up and the whole matter would have been reduced to a “good soldiers and bad soldiers” discourse and the assertion that the military would be respectful of democracy from now on would sound melodious to Muslim ears. They would assume that justice had been served by ensuring the reunification of the military with the nation, a picture that would be reminiscent of the Ottoman era.
Yet, for those who knew the true nature of the regime in Turkey, it was just a fantasy. Indeed, after the AKP won the first election, the military rolled up its sleeves to brainstorm and make plans about how to overthrow it, and it continued to update these plans until 2010. Even today there is no guarantee that a group of military officers do not engage in similar activities. So, these developments ironically didn’t allow pious Muslims to be deceived. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan first learned about the Sledgehammer coup plan in 2004, yet, at that time, the government did not want conflict with the military. Rather, it was expecting that it would be considered as a “normal,” ordinary government and tried to earn this consideration by showing that it had adopted modernity. However, the military was aware of the nearing “danger.” Under a democratic regime, it was not legitimate to overthrow the elected government or employ some legal tricks to prevent the majority from ruling the country.
However, it was impossible to repeat the Feb. 28 coup as well, because this coup was made possible by fabricating the perception that Islamic groups were increasingly becoming “reactionary.” The media networks had lent support to it and they had become its voluntary tools. Virtually all of the employers’ and trade unions, even the judiciary and academia chose to function as voluntary accomplices in the military’s manipulations. When a party that cannot be accused of being “reactionary” was in office after 2002, the media started to diversify and civil society gave rise to democratic formations. Therefore, a coup could be made possible only if chaos could be created, and this required “criminal” acts.
In early 2007, the AKP was maintaining its silent and passive position, but the party management now knew in fine detail what was happening. They were hesitant about launching a crackdown on the coup attempts because they knew that this would trigger an Islamists-want-to-seize-the-state campaign which would be readily accepted by Western public opinion. The discovery of an arsenal in Ümraniye in the spring of 2007 and the politically motivated murders pushed the government into action. The memorandum the military issued on April 27, 2007 terminated the AKP’s sure-footed approach to the state.
The rest of the story is about how the government assumed a holistic approach over time and realized its “responsibility towards history.” In countries like Turkey, the democracy-building process still needs the courage to shoulder this responsibility. The intellectual ownership of this process is still claimed by individuals in the secular groups, but their social actors are inevitably pious Muslims.