Friday, February 28, 2014

Where do you stand in post-military Turkish politics?

My favorite counter-factual thought experiment is speculating on the different directions that political institutionalization in Turkey might have taken, if the 1960 coup did not take place. If the military intervention in 1960 did not happen, and the 1961 elections took place with Menderes' DP and İnönü's CHP competing for office, would DP lose the elections and leave office peacefully? I imagine a late-20th century Turkey where the military would have already accepted independent civilian control and would have no interest in toppling down popularly elected governments. Obviously, the 1960 coup was not just a historical mishap. The Ottoman political/military structure, the Unionist legacy of the 1910s, and the crucial roles the military played in the national independence war and the establishment of the Republic were undoubtedly determinant in shaping the interventionist Turkish military in the Republican era. Nevertheless, I indulge myself in political fantasy, imagining a different scenario where the military was held off just another year until the elections in 1961. Perhaps, that first fatal coup, which further entrenched the interventionist military would be avoided and a successful transfer of power through elections would foster a more democratic institutional framework in Turkey.

I started with this counter-factual thought experiment, because thanks to the interventionist Turkish military, I did not have any problems in situating myself in Turkish politics until recently. I was anti-military, period. In my opinion, the military had to be opposed because due to the military's restrictions, (which were simply internalized by almost all the political actors), on the political arena, real and meaningful political issues were simply taboo. For the military, the Alevi, the Kurd, and the Islamist were threats, and consequently, they could not legitimately exist in the political arena. For me, this was first and foremost the most important political issue that defined my political stance in 1990s and 2000s. One of the successes of the long AKP rule was kicking military out of politics and forcing it to accept civilian control. In a world where the military is not the obvious target, where do I stand? I have always identified myself as someone on the left and as a democrat. However, in post-military Turkey, where do I stand? I ask this question not because I am having doubts about my political allegiances. On the contrary, in this livelier political arena, I hold onto my values and visions for the future even more strongly and confidently. However, when the military withdrew, the political arena significantly expanded. In their rush to fill this arena, political actors muddied the waters to such an extent that it has almost become impossible to safely land your feet. In this post, I will try to describe these muddy waters, and will reiterate my question: In a political arena that is in almost complete chaos, how (and where) do you stand firm?

In the preceding paragraph, I mentioned AKP's effective elimination of the military from the political arena. AKP stood firm while the courts were going after those military leaders who allegedly conspired to overthrow AKP with a coup. Through fashionably titled cases such as Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer), many military figures (including former Chief of Staff İlker Başbuğ) were convicted and imprisoned in 2012. We can arguably consider these cases as the first instance where waters started to get muddier. Ergenekon and Balyoz were landmark events where the big boss, i.e. military, was prosecuted and discredited. However, as many similar examples would follow later, these cases did not run smoothly and transparently. Many would argue that there was clear evidence for a criminal investigation but prosecution eventually approached persecution. Through leaked evidence to the media, the suspects were publicly humiliated and discredited.

The same method of public humiliation through leaked evidence was used in the Fenerbahçe match-fixing case. Fenerbahçe won the Turkish Süper Lig, after a very competitive season in the 2010-2011 season. I am an ardent Fenerbahçe fan and had watched all the games in the second part of that season. It was a very close call and I was very proud when we were the champions at the end. In July 2011, the police started an operation, simultaneously leaking recorded phone-tappings to the press. Fenerbahçe president Aziz Yıldırım, and some other high-profile figures from various teams across the country, were accused of match-fixing. Aziz Yıldırım was arrested and imprisoned. Fenerbahçe was not allowed to participate in European championships in 2011-2012, and was eventually banned for two more years. My initial reaction to the accusations, especially after listening to the leaked tapes, was deep hatred towards Aziz Yıldırım and his cronies who embarrassed Fenerbahçe. I wanted those responsible to get punished. I saw the match-fixing case as a platform to cleanse Turkish soccer from corruption with zero-tolerance. However, the investigation and prosecution faltered very similar to the military trials, and left me wondering whether I was too hasty in condemning Aziz Yıldırım. The controversy still continues as Aziz Yıldırım was eventually released. He sustains that he was persecuted with leaked tapes and that there was no real basis to the case. Since his release, he became a more influential public figure, mustering tremendous public support for himself and Fenerbahçe. Two weeks ago on a match day, approximately 500,000 people marched in protest on Baghdad Street, from Bostancı to the stadium at Kızıltoprak

Thinking back on both cases (the military and Fenerbahçe), I feel manipulated. Both of my desires, ending military rule and cleansing Turkish football were quite professionally manipulated. Leaked evidence was used as a tool to publicly condemn those suspects before they even appeared in court. It is not that I believe there is no substance to the allegations and accusations. However, the public support created by leaked evidence enabled the prosecution to catapult these criminal cases to witch hunts. The moral high ground of public prosecution, doubled with an extremely negative public opinion against the suspects, simply gave a free hand to the courts in dealing punishment. I have practically no sympathy for the military leaders or for Aziz Yıldırım, and I believe there very well might be reasons for them to be punished. However, the ways in which these cases unfolded, appear as a reincarnation of public lynchings in mass society.

It is quite impossible to prove, but it is widely agreed that members of the Fethullah Gülen movement, who were strategically positioned in the judiciary and the police, worked together with the government in these high-profile cases. It was this cooperation that enabled establishing civilian control over the military. However, this cooperation ended a few months ago and Cemaat and AKP engaged in a bloody battle with each other. This was a terrible blow to AKP which was heavily bruised after the popular Gezi protests in the summer. The leaked tapes of top AKP figures and Erdoğan himself emerged when he was already being criticized for increased authoritarianism. AKP's strong reaction to the tapes was widely perceived as even more authoritarian, and they seemed to fuel anti-Erdoğan feelings even further.

The followers of this blog would know that I was positively surprised and energized with the Gezi protests. Moreover, I was forced to re-evaluate my stance on Erdoğan and AKP, especially after Erdoğan's increasingly arrogant and authoritarian behavior. I would be very happy to see the end of AKP. As I discussed in my previous post, I have no doubts about AKP's involvement in corruption. On the other hand, I have no illusions about AKP's own involvement in the previous cases against the military and Fenerbahçe. Consequently, I have little sympathy when AKP speakers remind everyone of presumption of innocence. I just want to offer an evil laugh when I hear them complain about the police for leaking evidence to the media. Despite all these, I would like to approach the case of AKP's leaked tapes with lessons learnt from the previous experiences. The pattern is too familiar to miss: Early morning police raids, leaked evidence to the media, etc... Where do I stand in these muddy waters? As I said, I do not find it in me to defend AKP when I strongly believe that they are buried deep in corruption. However, I cannot endorse these means to get rid of AKP.

Let's rid ourselves of all pretense. High-profile cases such as Ergenekon, Balyoz, Fenerbahçe match-fixing, and December 17 corruption are all political cases. We cannot expect the courts to act as if there were no political consequences to their verdicts. The results of these cases were bound to depend on mobilization outside the courts. In other words, had the military and its constituency mobilized better during the trials, they could have received a more favorable outcome. Publicized police raids and leaked evidence to the media took place to pre-empt such mobilization. The now-familiar scenario was put in motion to silence the pro-military constituency even before they mobilized. Faced with seemingly overwhelming evidence in the media following police operations and arrests, even the most ardent defenders of the military preferred to keep a low profile for a while. We could safely argue the same for Fenerbahçe and Aziz Yıldırım. Please let me underline this again: I am not saying that the military leaders or Aziz Yıldırım were guilty or innocent. I argue that these trials were political at the outset. Recognizing this plain fact, AKP and their allies in bureaucracy, leaked evidence in the media to preempt their opponents' mobilization.

What we see in the case of AKP and corruption is exactly the same. The only difference is that AKP is now the victim. Regardless of AKP's involvement in corruption, the police raids, arrests, and leaked tapes are preparations for a future case. These leaked tapes are a mobilization effort for a future corruption trial (as well as a stab at AKP's popularity in forthcoming elections.) Now, where do I stand in these muddy waters? I started this post with a counter-factual about imagining how differently political institutions would evolve if the 1960 coup were not to happen. This was obviously a conscious choice. I prefer to analyze politics through the development of institutions in a specific country. Then, I believe the answer to my question has to start from political institutions. Upon military's controversial departure from active politics in Turkey, what kind of political institutions filled the void?

As the discussion of these high-profile cases demonstrate, the judiciary emerged as the main political institution that determined the fate of politics in Turkey upon the military's departure. It is not a coincidence that all major political battles were fought at the court or about the court in the past decade. Some examples besides those discussed would be the Constitutional Court's 367 decision, and the recent spat over HSYK (High Council of Judges and Prosecutors). I will go so far as to argue that devoid of military's limiting but defining and legitimizing existence in politics, political actors sought a similar authority in the courts. The courts became a new arbiter in politics. We could have welcomed this development, had the political actors recognized the courts' independence. However, as my discussion of  televised police raids and leaked evidence to the media shows, the legal battles were fought with incredible ferocity that significantly reduced confidence in the rule of law. When police officers and prosecutors themselves were involved in violating the presumption of innocence, trust in the legal system inevitably dissipated. Moreover, political actors did not hesitate in colonizing the judiciary. It is widely believed that the Gülen movement has many supporters within the police and the justice system. Similarly, with recent legal changes, the AKP government unabashedly showed an effort in controlling various parts of the judiciary. In short, the most important component of our post-military institutional structure is a colonized judiciary where legal battles are fought with no respect to the rule of law.

So, here we come back to the initial question: Where do I stand in this mess? I simply do not endorse televised police raids and leaked evidence that violate the presumption of innocence. I hesitantly welcome evidence of AKP's involvement in corruption but I do not hold very high hopes for the near future when a decent trial seems simply impossible. I am deeply worried about the possibility of toppling down a democratically-elected government through leaked tapes, even though I have become very wary of that government that is becoming more authoritarian everyday. I am even more worried about a future where any government that would replace AKP would be compelled to cooperate with a force that is entrenched in the bureaucracy and can topple governments with its leaked tapes. It appears, there are no easy answers in post-military Turkish politics.

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