Coups: from e-memo to judicial intervention in Turkey

Political analysts and former politicians say the closure case against the ruling AK Party initiated on March 14 is yet another step in the Turkish history of coups.

Coups: from e-memo to judicial intervention in Turkey
Political analysts and former politicians say the closure case against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) initiated on March 14 is yet another step in the Turkish history of coups, a history that saw as its last installment the e-memorandum of April 27, 2007.

Analyzed from the perspective of its first anniversary, the April 27 intervention still looks blurry in that it is still an open-ended event. Attesting to this, Hüseyin Kocabıyık, an advisor to former Prime Minister Tansu Çiller and a political figure at the time of the intervention of Feb. 28, 1997, claims that it is better to say "coup," rather than "coups," as all of Turkey's coups are actually a single process manifested through different means and materials," Kocabıyık told Sunday's Zaman. He recalls a famous statement from the first chief of general staff of the post-Feb. 28 era, Gen. Hüseyin Kıvrıkoğlu: "Feb. 28 will last a thousand years!"

Like many other analysts, Kocabıyık regards the coups of the Unity and Development Party of the late Ottoman decades as the origin of this culture. Others prefer not to go as far back as the Ottoman Empire, instead beginning their analysis of Turkish "coup history" in 1960.

From whichever episode one chooses to begin analyzing the history of the coup culture, the April 27 event is unique in several ways. A former minister in Turgut Özal's cabinets and an insider of almost every political process in Turkey, Hasan Celal Güzel told Aksiyon weekly, the largest news magazine in Turkey, in an interview to be published this week, that the April 27 declaration was actually a "quarter-coup," in that it didn't achieve the desired results. "Some expected that the government would resign as the government did in the face of the March 12, 1971 memorandum. Others waited for a National Security Council [MGK] decision that would initiate a full-fledged military intervention. In the history of coups that continues from 1960 onwards, for the first time a government was able to reply in the face of an intervention. It is true that it was not able to go after the intervener, but it was able, at least, to stand politically," he said.

A close associate of Kocabıyık during the Feb. 28 intervention and a now a columnist, Professor Mümtaz'er Türköne believes that because the April 27 declaration didn't make a significant change in politics, it shouldn't be labeled as a coup or as a memorandum.

"The April 27 declaration should be analyzed by means of its influence on the Constitutional Court's 367 quorum decision and by means of the public response to it in the July 22 elections, not as a coup," he told Sunday's Zaman.

For Kocabıyık, the distinctive feature of April 27 was that it was not only a coup in its own right, but a coup within the army. "All the interventions before April 27 targeted politics, the parties and governments, but this one targeted the future commander in chief of the army. The army revolted against their commander in chief who was to be elected within a few days, within the legitimate constitutional mechanisms of the system, to stop him from coming to that post," he explained.

Güzel also thinks that the April 27 intervention was different, but not because of whom or what it targeted but by the people it utilized. According to Güzel the intervention cannot be belittled to the level of a mere Internet publication. "The interveners managed not only to influence the judiciary, but also the leaders of political parties like the True Path Party [DYP] and ANAVATAN [Motherland Party], who actually wanted to support the election of the president, and Deniz Baykal, who was, at least in the beginning, opposed to the idea of going to the Constitutional Court about the quorum issue," he said.

Ümmet Kandoğan, a former deputy chairman of the DYP, confirms that even the project of unifying ANAVATAN and the DYP was a part of the project to exclude the deputies of both parties from the election. According to Kandoğan, Mehmet Ağar was already convinced by former President Süleyman Demirel that if Gül was elected, the country would be dragged into "unexpected developments," a euphemism for a military intervention.

Another euphemism for military intervention was "chaos," as used by Baykal. He threatened both the Constitutional Court and the voters going to the ballot boxes on July 22 that if things continued as the AK Party wanted them to, the country would be dragged into chaos.

Kocabıyık thinks that this chaos discourse is unique to the April 27 episode if we are to differentiate between military interventions by means of their results. "One of the unfortunate results of the intervention was that Republican People's Party [CHP] was pushed to being a focus of activities threatening the regime," he said. According to him, by trying to influence the decision of the Constitutional Court with this chaos rhetoric and by declaring that the re-election of the AK Party would create chaos, Baykal and his party turned out to be a focus of the challenge to the democratic system of governance in Turkey. "This should be enough for the chief prosecutor to press for a closure case against the CHP," he said.

Former Police Intelligence Department head Bülent Orakoğlu has an altogether different view. He believes that the unique result of the April 27 memorandum was that it prevented an actual military intervention.

Public surveyor and former CHP secretary-general Tarhan Erdem told Sunday's Zaman that he thinks April 27 had only one result: early elections and nothing else. Kocabıyık, however, is opposed to reducing the results of the April 27 intervention to technicalities. According to him the response of the people in the early elections was nothing new. "The people hit back after every military intervention," he said.

Kocabıyık thinks that the real long-term damage of the intervention is the fact that concepts like democracy, the republic, national will, rule of law and national sovereignty are losing their meaning. He fears that the possible closure of the AK Party will destroy the public's belief in democratic processes. "Our nation believes in elections. On the day of the elections our people feel like sultans of the day. It is the only day a simple person on the street -- a farmer and a worker -- can question and punish the leaders. And now they are being deprived of that power, too. How will they approach the ballot boxes next time?" he asked.

According to Kocabıyık, the meaning of secularism is also emptied by these interventions. "Our people believe in secularism. Even those people who see being Muslim as an identity are happy living under a secular regime. And, thanks to the AK Party, more and more people from the periphery and the Islamist circles are endorsing secularism. But these interventions are telling the people that secularism is actually a weapon to attack their values, a mechanism to undo their votes. This is very dangerous," he told Sunday's Zaman.

But there is a consensus that one distinct feature of the April 27 intervention lies in the response of the government the next morning.

It is worth remembering that the way leading to the intervention did not start on the day Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that his party's presidential candidate would be "our brother Abdullah Gül." For a long time, the opposition, and possibly the army, were anticipating that Erdoğan would himself be a candidate for the presidency, and both were against this.

On the day of the vote for presidency the CHP had already declared that it would carry the issue to the Constitutional Court if 367 deputies were not in Parliament during the vote. Hence, Kemal Anadol of the CHP asked for a counting of the participating members during the vote. Denying this request, then-Parliament Speaker Bülent Arınç started the vote. Gül received 361 votes, and the CHP ran to the Constitutional Court claiming that the quorum for the meeting had not been met.

The text known as the April 27 e-memorandum came in the middle of the night following the election. At 23:17 the general staff published an unsigned text claiming that the presidential elections were among other threats of Islamization.

On the morning of April 28, the response of the government came, reiterating that the chief of general staff is subordinate to the government and accountable to the prime minister.

According to Türköne, that response prevented the midnight declaration from becoming a memorandum or a coup. He said this was not a message of reconciliation, either. "If AK Party had stepped back from Gül's candidacy, then we could speak of reconciliation," he said. According to him, analysts underestimating the response of the government on April 28 are falling into the error of anachronism. "The AK Party then was not the AK Party of today that has 47 percent national support behind it. It had finished its fourth year in office, and it was in need of renewing the national will behind it. We shouldn't have expected anything more then," he explained.

Kocabıyık does not think that the government did the best it could do on the morning of April 28. He recalls that he had this feeling that the government was courageous to respond with a counter declaration. But one year from then, he thinks that this declaration was merely a showing off, a playing to the tribunes. "This is not only about what they didn't do on that morning. They didn't utilize the legal system in regards to the Şemdinli events. On the contrary, they punished the prosecutor who pressed charges against the army personnel. The April 27 declaration was a clear offense that should have been punished," he explained. His position is clearly one of "if you don't mobilize the judiciary, it will be mobilized against you."

Analysts agree that a failure to respond as necessary to a coup attempt and uproot the group that initiated it opens the way for future attempts. Güzel underlines this with the continuity between the intervention of Feb. 28, 1997 and the April 27 memorandum. "Unfortunately, the people who did both were a continuation of the same cadre within the army," he said. He is of the belief that the March 14 closure case is also related to the same cadre. He does not believe that the chief prosecutor has acted on his own. "This is launched by Turkey's Jacobin oligarchy," he claims.

Constitutional law expert Ümit Kardaş is also critical of the reconciliatory stance of the AK Party up until now. But he believes that, as the struggle for its own survival and the struggle for the future of democracy have overlapped recently, the AK Party's courage will determine the final results of the April 27 intervention. In that sense, he is not altogether pessimistic. He believes that these kinds of extra-political interventions bring about a discussion of elitist behaviors and bureaucratic sovereignty. "This is actually something positive," he says. He believes that concepts like democracy and the rule of law can only be stabilized through a challenging of the country's chaotic past.

Everybody is looking for a way out of the process that started on April 27 and continues with the March 14 closure case, but the ways they suggest differ radically. Kocabıyık believes that the only way out of the current stalemate is early elections. He thinks that elections are the most powerful dynamic for reversing undemocratic processes. According to him, if the AK Party is re-elected, even if with less public support, the case that in the Constitutional Court that was opened to protect the regime from the AK Party will pass through a metamorphosis and become a case about closing down the regime itself.

Türköne thinks that we should distinguish between an e-memorandum and a legal process. "Coups can intervene in politics, but legal procedures do not. We saw the 367 decision of the Constitutional Court. It only delayed the rule of politics. There is no reason for the AK Party to go to early elections within a year of receiving the vote of every one out of two people in Turkey. The party should use the language of the law and look for public support for its position," he explains.

Kocabıyık thinks that believing in the mercy of the Constitutional Court is naive. "Court cases of this magnitude are not opened in order to judge. They are opened to close down. Their final decision is given even before the charge is pressed," he says.

Türköne agrees that there may be a project for closing the AK Party down through legal means, but he believes that the masters of this project won't be able to rule over the process of legal procedures. He explains: "This will take no less than six months. And those who want the AK Party closed down have their own weaknesses."

Sunday's Zaman
Last Mod: 28 Nisan 2008, 03:05
Add Comment