In the past, these images were more widespread; there would be no one day when we would not come across news stories about one or more generals denigrating and threatening the public in the most unexpected manner, who would “fine tune” our already limping democracy at will and who would incessantly make high-pitched remarks about every subject ranging from the economy to culture, from domestic politics to foreign policy.
Don’t worry, now; this time, the shape of things is different. The generals are on the agenda for a different reason. Today, they are paying the price of their frequent and unnecessary public appearances, their harsh meddling with politics, their devising acts and conspiracies to openly or secretly manipulate politics, their establishing juntas and networks to overthrow the democratically elected government, shut down Parliament and destroy certain social groups. In other words, the high-ranking generals owe their current media coverage to the extraction of justice through the courts for their anti-democratic actions.
The Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meetings, at which dozens of subversive or interventionist generals are guilty of overstepping their duties and attempting to rule the country, started on Aug. 1. The next day, former Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök made historic disclosures regarding the Ergenekon terrorist network, nested within the army and the state, and the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plan. Özkök provided first-hand information about the junta organization, coup preparations and memorandum attempts within the army during the time he served as chief of General Staff, thereby dealing a fatal blow to the dark propaganda being put forward by some influential groups that “there is no such thing as Ergenekon, and the Balyoz coup plan is fake or forged.” Certain media networks and some politicians, acting as the natural extension of the interventionist tradition of Ergenekon-like deep state networks, military/bureaucratic tutelary structures, and subversive generals that never liked the democratically elected people quickly rushed to dilute, discredit and even distort Özkök’s crystal clear statements.
While many military officers and troops are selflessly fighting against the widespread terror attacks recently launched by the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Şemdinli and elsewhere with a different tactic, and serving at the borders to prevent the chaos in Syria from spreading to our country, the high-ranking command echelon met in Ankara and decided to force into retirement dozens of generals arrested pending trial on charges of coup plotting, military intervention and conspiracy in a manner that does not befit the glorious past of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). By forcing all 40 generals accused of involvement in the Balyoz coup plan, and other plans and conspiracies, to retire, the YAŞ undertook a never-before-seen cleansing of the TSK; it was a historic decision. Of course, we can hardly say that those who have been involved in anti-democratic acts and plans within the TSK are restricted to the generals who were forced to retire at the YAŞ meeting. Yet we rejoice at this small development as it is sign of a cleaner, a normalized TSK. In other words, we say, “Not enough, but yes,” as the catch phrase of recent years goes.
After all this, can we assert with a contended heart that the Turkish army -- which has a past rife with coups and anti-democratic interventions -- will never attempt to overthrow the government or meddle with political processes again? While we cannot provide a quick “yes” to this question, we can say that the chances of a “typical” coup or intervention has considerably decreased.
I stress the word “typical” for a reason. I believe it would be preposterous to expect that subversive generals will resort to the same old methods of intervention, while the world and society are in flux. Already the methods of undertaking coups and military interventions have started to differ from those of the Cold War and post-Cold War era.
Who can say the postmodern military coup of Feb. 28, 1997 had similarities with the traditional/conventional coup of Sept. 12, 1980? In the same vein, can we assert that the military intervention attempted by posting an electronic memorandum on the official website of the TSK on April 27, 2007 in order to meddle with the democratic presidential election process had similarities with the Feb. 28 coup? What I am getting at is that the likelihood of a typical coup is considerably weak now. But there is no guarantee that there will not be any army-originated, extremely sophisticated interventions that employ previously unthinkable methods in the future. This risk will always be there as long as the army is left alone and free from civilian supervision and control.
Then, what we should do is, of course, rejoice at the cleansing of subversive/interventionist/conspiratorial generals and military officers from the army. But more importantly, we must quickly reform and modernize the TSK according to the requirements of our age and, at the same time, ensure that the TSK is completely subordinated to a civilian and democratic administration. The TSK still entertains the privilege of being the only NATO army that is not subordinated to its country’s Defense Ministry. It remains outside the supervision of the civilian administration, Parliament, the Court of Accounts and the newly established Ombudsman, and it still gives the impression of acting according its own will and having autonomy. So as long as the current status and position of the TSK are maintained, the risk of military interventions or coups which may not employ the expected or typical methods will remain in this country.
Those who want to understand what I am trying to say with this article should turn back to the recent past of our country to see what sorts of military interventions we were faced with. For instance, remember the conspiracy document signed by Col. Dursun Çiçek, who is currently in jail, and known to the public as the “plan to finish off the AKP [Justice and Development Party] and [Fethullah] Gülen.” Imagine what sort of dangers and threats the government and certain social groups would face today if this conspiracy had been implemented in collaboration with the gendarmerie, the army command and a prosecutor who is currently a deputy of the pro-Ergenekon and pro-coup Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 2010. Or come closer to our time and try to find a way through the thick layer of mist surrounding the Uludere tragedy, in which 34 civilians were mistaken for terrorists and killed by military airstrikes in Şırnak’s Uludere district because of false intelligence. Then make up your mind as to whether there is still the risk of military intervention in this country. Of course, examples may be multiplied at wish.