By Gulnoza Saidazimova, RFE/RL|
Constitutional Court due to rule on whether to ban the ruling Islamist-rooted
Justice and Development (AK) party, the country's political fault lines are
They pit the AK against
Turkey's decades-old secular establishment, which includes the military and
parts of the judiciary. Each side accuses the other of operating a "deep state,"
or shadow government activities. The secularists accuse the AK party of quietly
seeking to overhaul Turkey's secular order, while the ruling party says the
secular establishment will do anything to maintain that order -- even a coup
d'etat or murder.
The crisis deepened when a dozen people accused of being members of the
establishment's "deep state" were arrested on March 21, including 83-year-old
Ilhan Selcuk, a well-known secularist journalist of the "Cumhuriyet" newspaper
and a fierce government opponent, as well as Kemal Alemdaroglu, a former
president of Istanbul University.
Most were later released, but not Dogu Perincek, the head of the tiny Turkish
Workers' Party. He remains detained on charges of being in a terrorist group and
"possessing classified documents."
Officials deny the arrests were linked to the crisis surrounding the AK, which
the state prosecutor has requested be banned along with its leader, Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey's highest legal body, the Constitutional
Court, is due to decide soon whether to take on the case by the prosecutor, who
accuses the AK of seeking to undermine the constitution's strict separation of
religion and politics.
But Bernard Kennedy, an Ankara-based British writer on Turkey, says many Turks
and the media view the arrests as a bid by the AK party to respond to its
secular critics. He describes the arrests as "apparently a form of retaliation
on the part of the government."
Turkish police say the arrests were part of an ongoing investigation into
Ergenekon, a shadowy ultranationalist group accused of inciting antidemocratic
activities aimed at toppling Erdogan's Islamist-rooted government.
The probe was launched in June 2007 after the discovery of explosives in an
Istanbul home. Prosecutors have charged 39 other people in the case, including
retired soldiers, journalists, lawyers, and underworld figures.
Ergenekon is believed to be behind the assassination attempt of Orhan Pamuk, the
2006 Nobel literature laureate, and the killings of ethnic-Armenian journalist
Hrant Dink, Italian Catholic priest Andrea Santoro, as well as of several
Ergenekon allegedly has links higher up in the state and military elite known as
the "deep state". The term is widely used to describe renegade members of the
security forces said to act outside the law in order to safeguard the Turkish
Reports say police are probing whether the suspects were involved in acts of
political violence aimed at discrediting the AK.
People took to the streets to protest after police raided the home of the
elderly Selcuk in the early hours of March 21.
"We have such worries: the Ergenekon probe is being manipulated by some elements
in the government, which is a very worrisome development," says Yusuf Kanli, a
columnist for the "Turkish Daily News." "We have some suspicions that are not
substantiated. But an 83-year-old journalist [was] detained in his house. His
detention at 4 a.m. in such a manner was a humiliation which we had difficulty
Meanwhile, the AK said on March 24 that it would seek to amend the constitution
to make it impossible for the Constitutional Court to ban political parties.
Prosecutor Takes On Ruling Party
Turkey's political establishment remains deeply divided over the current crisis.
Government opponents claim the AK is creating its own deep state that seeks to
"Islamize" Turkish society.
Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya's March 14 indictment cites AK's efforts to
ease the strict secular ban on the Islamic head scarf in universities. Other
"evidence" is said to range from the AK-run Istanbul city council's censoring of
bikini ads to an AK official's observation that "asking a pious girl to remove
her head scarf is akin to telling an uncovered one to remove her underpants."
Kanli calls the prosecutor's view "farfetched and exaggerated." The journalist
says the real problem is a pitched ideological battle between secularists and
Islamists that shows no sign of letting up. "The problem is that secularists
perceive secularism as some sort of religion. Islamists try to advance their
aim. They try to infiltrate more and more into the state establishment. The
head-scarf case and others are just symbols of this," he says. "And the two
sides are not reconciling in any way."
Some analysts see the current turmoil as the old guard's attempts to cling to
power amid the new guard's rise, which is supported by religious rural
communities and the urban working class.
Role Of Turkey's Military
The Turkish military, judiciary, and intelligentsia have traditionally defended
secularism, which is enshrined in the country's constitution.
The Turkish military's General Staff sees itself as the guardian of Turkish
secularism, as laid down by the country's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in the
1920s. The General Staff has long opposed the AK's wide-ranging conservative
agenda of social, economic, and political reforms, including the head-scarf
It is yet to be seen whether the General Staff will get involved in the crisis.
Reports say Turkish generals threatened a coup last year ahead of presidential
elections that eventually brought Abdullah Gul, whose wife wears a head scarf,
to the country's top post.
Turkey has seen four military coups in the last half-century with the most
recent one in 1997, when the first Islamist-led government was ejected after it
began investigating links between the army and organized crime.
British writer Kennedy does not rule out the possibility of a military coup. "I
think the general public would feel it could potentially happen again," he says.
"Even though it is less likely than in the past because now there are many more
sources of power and authority, and it's been a long time since there was a
military coup. [The] media can't be controlled as it was in the past. There is a
strong business community that would not want any intervention by the military
because it would spoil their business relations with the Western world amid
[Turkey's] hopes to win [EU] membership."
Whose Side Is Business On?
The country's business elites have joined the military in denouncing the most
Arzuhan Yalcindag, the president of TUSIAD, Turkey's main business lobby, said
last week that shutting down parties is "not compatible with democracy." TUSIAD
says the current polarization is causing social trauma and "reactions and
counterreactions are making things worse."
Timur Kocaoglu, a professor at Michigan State University in the United States,
tells RFE/RL that the statement represents a significant change for TUSIAD,
which has previously praised the Erdogan government for its efforts to stabilize
"This demonstrates that Turkey's entrepreneurs and big industrialists sense a
great risk because the two sides' fight could lead to a dangerous situation
which may even include a civil war or a military coup," Kocaoglu says.
Some observers see another reason behind the TUSIAD's new position. "The
Economist" wrote last week that a new and pious class of Anatolian
entrepreneurs, who have thrived under the AK, have challenged the old elite. One
such group, Calik, which employs Erdogan's son-in-law, has acquired a media
conglomerate whose assets include a television channel, ATV, and the
third-biggest daily, "Sabah."
"The Economist" quoted one Western banker, referring to Turkey's traditional
secular elites, as saying that "the reign of the Bosporus princes is over." Yet
that may be a premature conclusion, as the pitched battle between Turkey's
competing "deep states" is showing no sign of abating.
Copyright (c) 2008 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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