A sledgehammer of a decision

Take a look at some words from the pen of a Turkish newspaper columnist who is a staunch defender of the authoritarian, secularist mentality in Turkey. This piece aptly demonstrates just what rot encompasses not only the very architects of this particular mentality, but also those who would defend it. It appeals directly to the members of this nation's military.

It reads:

"Here is the real problem:

"What we want to see is not intervention from the military, but to see the civilian conscience do what it should be doing. But you shut our mouths, as if with masking tape. Whenever we are just about to open our mouths, they place these ridiculous plans you have been making before us. In other words, it's as though it wasn't enough that you are helpless and incapable, you are also working to destroy civilian responses to you. Those who would defend this republic. Just take a look at the empty city squares.

The children of Atatürk remain silent. It appears that nothing can open their mouths.

Are you even aware that you are, from one perspective, now a part of the destruction being wrought on the secular republic? That you are a reason and even a shield for this destruction? If you are in fact aware, then why do you not emerge before the people of the nation and explain -- in clearer, more open and more resolute terms -- just what has happened?" (Bekir Çoşkun, Habertürk, Jan. 22)

There is a saying in Turkish: "Merdi kıpti şecaat arzederken sirkatin söyler." (Roughly translated, this means "the strong Copt [could also mean gypsy] longs for courage, but he shows instead his bad side." This saying sums up my writing. But I suppose that is not really the subject at hand.

To use the columnist's expression, one more of the "ridiculous plans" made by the pashas was made public this past week. Just one more coup plan that the General Staff expects us to believe is from a "planning seminar." What we now face is a "war game" in which arrest lists of journalists have been drawn up, and even the names of new ministers to be appointed in a government to be formed are identified. To be a career soldier requires honor, pride and honesty. And as the statement from the General Staff headquarters noted, the allegations which have been made are ones which "nobody with any sense or conscience could accept." But what we now see before us is this: The spear no longer fits into its cover.

The military's head must now appear before the public and tell the truth. In 1971, Chief of General Staff Gen. Memduh Tağmaç declared that he "couldn't control those under him" and that "even though he didn't want to," he was forced to conduct interventions and a coup. That was Turkey in the 1970s -- but nowadays, either you "control those under you" or you resign. It is a true virtue to know when to pull away from something before you become completely unbearable to too many people.

During this period when we can see the trappings of a historical initiative aiming to solve so many problems -- especially the Kurdish problem -- there is a real desire at hand for harmony in military-civilian relations.

In general, the approach that Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ has shown on this front has been right. And after all, the position he occupies has never been quite this thorny. This situation arises from a lack of harmony between the institution that he leads at this particular juncture in both Turkish and world history, and the culture of democracy. But the Turkish public has the right to expect him to show a bit more courage and decisiveness when it comes to controlling those ranking beneath him.

In all this, the government's own responsibilities are no less than the military's. The elected administration must now move like an acrobat on a high wire; it must carry on with the democratic maneuvers so necessary for the nation and even the world, and it must also see to it that its relations with the military go smoothly -- until this whole process moves forward without accidents.

But now the cancellation by the Constitutional Court of a law that would have opened the way for military members to be tried in civil courts of law has dealt a serious blow not only to efforts under way for further democratization, but also for harmonious relations between the military and civilians. And now the files of soldiers who are either suspects or witnesses in various court cases are to be taken out of the hands of civil prosecutors, and placed into the hands of military prosecutors. These are prosecutors who no one outside the military's General Staff headquarters actually believes are independent. And so now we see that the high wire on which the government is carefully balancing its act has become even thinner.

This recent decision from the high courts is also one which brings a sledgehammer down upon the heads of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The ruling party needs to understand that it can no longer progress with the current Constitution. Today's Constitution, to use the words of one minister, "is like a magnet, literally pulling Turkey backward." If necessary, the government should rescue Turkey from this Constitution by bringing it to the nation in the form of a referendum. Otherwise, there are many more "sledgehammer coups" waiting in the wings to come down on the heads of both the government and Turkey itself.

23 January 2010, Saturday