One eyewitness told a TV channel last week that former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was treated inhumanely in jail by the 1960 junta before he was hanged. And according to the Zaman daily, which has been publishing the handwritten notes of former Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Rüştü Erdelhun, who was put in prison when he rebelled against those staging the 1960 coup, the former general was also humiliated in jail by military interrogators. To have such bitter memories shared through the media has helped recreate a public awareness in recent years of the devastating effects of coups.
Democratic reforms implemented in the past decade paved the way for a more transparent political climate to emerge so that the public can now openly discuss once taboo issues such as the military’s role in politics, which crippled Turkey’s stability for decades.
The ongoing inquiries into alleged coup plots that have left around 250 military officers in jail as well as those into military coups
that were staged have also triggered a public debate over the virtues of democracy and the dangers of military coups to the creation of a stable political and economic climate.
Neither juntas nor weak and inefficient political leadership have even recognized the existence of a Kurdish entity, let alone solved the Kurdish question. The fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been prolonged so that it has served the interests of those who have sought to retain the status quo.
A retired general interrogated last Wednesday as part of the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup investigation admitted to prosecutors that the Turkish military’s primary perceived threat was not terrorism but perceived Islamic fundamentalism. Until recently, the Turkish military saw the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) as a primary threat too since the military targeted practicing Muslims as part of its definition of Islamic fundamentalism.
Contrary to claims that the AK Party has a secret agenda of abolishing the country’s secular Constitution, it has introduced both military and civil reforms to bring Turkey to the democratic standards set forth by the European Union (EU), of which it seeks to become a member.
Military reforms initiated by the AK Party have curbed some of the military’s power in politics. However, we have been observing for some time that the AK party has been distancing itself from its reformist mood while associating itself more with coup-era policies.
The killing of 34 civilians on the Turkish-Iraqi border near Uludere last December as a result of Turkish F-16 bombardment after they were mistaken for PKK terrorists, has triggered a debate over whether Erdoğan has been resorting to a more authoritarian policies. This is because, despite public outrage over the Uludere incident, no light has been shed on this tragic event since it took place almost five months ago. Erdoğan instead expressed sympathy with the military, who public believes has been hiding documents relating to the Uludere incident from prosecutors, preventing the truth from being unearthed.
The Turkish military has a record of making numerous security mistakes in the fight against the PKK.
A recent remark made by Erdoğan has played into the hands of those who are of the belief that the AK Party’s reforms were window dressing rather than a genuine determination for advancing democratic standards.
Erdoğan uttered insults against the Turkish media in a speech he made in İstanbul last Sunday. He claimed that criticism of the government over the killing of 34 civilians is part of an international smear campaign against his government. Implying that the military previously had the media on a leash, Erdoğan added, “Until recently those with uniforms (military) were scolding you [the media], but we [the AK Party] freed you from your collar.”
Erdoğan, hence, was comparing some media members to dogs while presenting military reforms that his party initiated, as if the AK Party made them as a favor to the Turkish citizens rather than in order to improve democratic standards.
In Turkey, human dignity is disrespected as a result of the legacy of military coups. Now, we Turkish citizens are being humiliated by those without uniforms. This is not acceptable.
My support for AK Party has been waning though I still appreciate its once-reformist mood that helped, among other things, reduce the military’s power in politics.