Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Polarizing Sledge Hammer...

In the first blog entry for the New Year, when I addressed the unsolved problems of 2009, which would continue to plague Turkey in 2010, I wrote the following:

“…the AKP’s blatant insistence at trying to break the extrajudicial powers of the Turkish army under the context of the “Ergenekon Affair” is quite worrying to say the least. The arresting and trials of numerous secular and army officials accused of planning a coup d’etat, is worrying in the sense that even if there is truth to the affair, the way it is being played out in the public sphere appears simply to be the religious and liberal factions taking revenge on their political rivals. Furthermore, with numerous “suicides” among army officers who were arrested for plotting against the government, the extent of chaos in the army cannot be underestimated.”

Well, sure enough, late last week another story emerged concerning the Turkish army’s plan to overthrow the current AKP government. Once again, the liberal newspaper Taraf (which supports the current government solidifying the religious-liberal front) set off a Tsunami with their claim that they had a 5000 page military plan from 2003, which goes into intricate details about how the army was planning to overthrow the government. The secret plan, codenamed Balyoz (Sledge Hammer), provides a scary scenario where the army would bomb mosques, bring the country to the brink of war with Greece, among other things, all in order to justify their overthrowing of the government, and “save” the country from the ongoing chaos (to read more see links below). Thousands of arrests would take place and civil politics would come to a complete halt, quite similar to the 1980 coup (Of course, just to remind my readers less familiar with Turkish politics, since the republic was founded in 1923 there have been four coup d'états/forced removal of ruling governments: 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997; all differing in scope and action).

What fascinates me is to what extent this plays out in the public sphere. While this has captured the minds of numerous network news programs and produce "shocking" newspaper headlines it would appear that many Turkish citizens have remained greatly indifferent to all of these claims. Perhaps, this is out of shear fear that this could be true, and if so, what can be done! How can a people come to terms with the fact that their most trusted institution was planning to blow up a mosque full of people? Or, if this turns out to be fabricated, what can be done when the forces mechanizing/fabricating this are so strong that they can de-legitimatize one the strongest institutions in Turkey; not to mention one of the strongest regional armies (if not the strongest). The situation is bleak and the gap between the two sides –the government and the army- seems completely out of the range of reconciliation. However, just a day after Taraf published the report, Prime Minister Erdoğan was already taking the accusations, in their entirety, as the truth, publicly challenging the military. In my opinion, this once again proves his outright contempt for the generals in power, and further polarizes the situation. He has once again shown his populist side which is not only isolating the secular forces but also hurting Turkey in the international realm. With no way out, the Chief of Staff Başbuğ gave a press conference, where he clearly expressed his shock over how any one could believe such far-fetched claims, and his frustrations with the numerous leaks coming from unknown military sources. Further, he stressed that the army has past its days of interfering in government affairs, but warned that they were losing their patience. Whatever the case, the army has taken one if its greatest blows in the history of the republic and is apparently suffering from a serious internal crisis.

This scandal will not go away in the future, and will contribute to the already scandalous Ergenekon affair (scandalous since until now no one has been found guilty, and they continue to detain people without charges). While it is clear that Turkey needs to deal with the issues of the “Deep State,” a new strategy needs to be charted out. I write this in the “passive form” simply since while it is easy to criticize, with the two sides having institutional powers it seems likely neither side will emerge as a “winner,” from this mess. For now, we will need to wait and see how this plays out. Numerous questions remain unanswered, answers which will lead us to a better understanding of the Balyoz affair and its reprecussions.

To read more see the following articles. The first is a general survey of the Balyoz affair from the Daily News, and the second is an interview with Yasmin Congar of Taraf, as it appeared in Today’s Zaman. Shockingly, she comes out strongest accentuating that the army was perhaps behind the 2003 bombings. Lastly, I have added an article focusing on the Chief of Staff’s press conference.




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