What Really Interests You: Turkish Democracy or the Arrests?

by Begum Burak

Turkey has been going through a major transformative process in both its political and state system the last couple of years. Undoubtedly, the Justice and Development Party (JDP) has seen both challenges and opportunities in terms of making Turkey more democratic and liberal. First and foremost, the cross-class electoral support of the JDP makes the party relatively enhanced against the opposition parties and the Kemalist state cadres which have been uncomfortable with the victory of the JDP. On the other hand, the European Union membership process plays a key role for Turkey in the road towards more democracy. However, as the party has begun to get incorporated into the state machinery more and more, it has started to feel alarmed by its own promises towards more democratization. In this context, one thing must be made clear: while JDP is adopting a more pro-state attitude (through for example exercising a soft rhetoric over the military), is in fact putting itself in a paradoxical position. This position is nowadays obvious in the party’s reluctance in fulfilling its promises towards more democratization and liberalization.

Apart form that, as known, Turkey has been suffering from terrorism for almost three decades; the terrorist activities along with the “harsh” methods employed in combating terrorism have been impeding the strengthening of Turkish democracy. It can be said that it is not only the PKK (The Kurdish Workers’ Party) that threatens Turkey today, but also an umbrella organization, named KCK (The Union of the Kurdistan Communities), which is today seen by a number of journalists and authors as the organization that provides cover to the PKK.

My purpose in writing this piece is in fact to criticize some of the foreign observers and commentators, as well as some Turkish columnists who are engaged in harsh condemnation of the Turkish government, concerning recent developments in KCK operations, for the “inhumane and lawless” methods used in the arrests and police-led operations.

First of all, it must be stated that the JDP government today stands in a very critical place in this process. Of course, one must not be surprised by this statement as the party is the major political player today. So dealing with all these problems and the expected solutions mainly depend on the “ability” and “wish” of the JDP government. This must not mislead us to think that the JDP is the only actor in Turkey who can solve all these problems, but a great degree of responsibility is on its shoulders.

The process that Turkey has been going through needs to be deeply analyzed before any comments or critiques can be made about the policies and the legal practices of the government, or their reflections that are witnessed today. It should be noted that the legal practices have some reflections such as the arrestments but such reflections are not new to Turkey. It is troublesome but also true that the long time needed for the processing of arrests is not a new problem for the Turkish judiciary system. The suspects sometimes may be put into prison before the full proving of the crime attached, and it may take several years for a case to come to an end.

It is known that both inside and outside, some commentators and columnists harshly criticize this ongoing process basing their arguments on the so-called “unlawful” arrests. I, in fact do not defend the idea of putting someone into prison before reaching the final decision about her\his innocence, but the process is not that simple; by contrast, it has very complex dynamics which concern both the political and state elites. The main point one must not neglect in this context is that some of these rigorous critiques are employed as an “operational” campaign. Also it must be asked that are all these critiques just and ideologically-free? For instance, the Foreign Policy magazine argues that Turkey has been experiencing a new “deep state syndrome” only by mentioning the arrestments of Ahmet Sık and Nedim Sener who have written some anti-JDP pieces on a web page. The bizarre point is that Foreign Policy does not even mention the promotion of violent activities and the secret documents covering psychological warfare in that web page.

Another influential magazine, Newsweek puts the arrestment of the ex-chief of Staff General İlker Basbug in the center of its analysis arguing that Turkey has now a growing civilian power compared to previous decades (For a view on western media ideas, See, Ihsan Yilmaz’s article in Today’s Zaman).  Apart form that, some of the Turkish journalists and columnists too think that these arrestments are overshadowing Turkish democratic political system. Also, some “liberal” or “democrat” journalists argue that many of these arrests in fact are unfair and unnecessary. In addition to that, the attitude of the foreign media is also not so rightful.

Let me ask a very basic question to these worried journalists and commentators before ending my piece. My first question is goes to the Turkish ones: How can you forget the inhumane and tragical days all Turkish people had to live during the military coups? Today, Basbug is being accused of getting engaged in a plan for overthrowing the civilian government; can you prove that there are not any evidence or concrete signs showing this accusation as a real (not imagined) event? My second question goes to the foreign ones: In your country, have the police ever found assassination plans for killing the prime minister as happened in Turkey? Have the police ever found explosives belonging to the Army, buried underground?

My final say is that there is a battle in Turkey between corrupt power-holders and the justice-seeking ones who are also holding power and asking for more. And the process is irreversible. This battle in the end I hope will contribute to Turkish democracy and the rule of law.


Police discovered nearly seven kilograms of explosives in the Başakşehir district of İstanbul as they carried out excavations in a site near the Atatürk Olimpiyat Stadium as part of the KCK operations which were ordered by the İstanbul Prosecutor’s Office.

(Photo: Zaman Daily)


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