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Turkey and the army: Military meddles 28 avril 2012

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie.
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The Economist (UK) no. 950

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The battle with the AK government continues. When the generals toppled modern Turkey’s first Islamist-led government in 1997, they said the fight against Islamic fundamentalism would last « a thousand years ». No bullets were fired in what became known as the postmodern coup. Instead the generals orchestrated a campaign through allies in the judiciary, the media and business to force out the prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan. Mr Erbakan was made to sign directives against overt expressions of piety in the public space. Secular zeal was carried to absurd, sometimes cruel extremes. Female university students wearing the Islamic headscarf were lured into « persuasion rooms » where they were told to take them off before going to class.

Twelve years on many of the same generals and their officers are in jail, facing trial for « obstructing a government from carrying out its duties. » Another clutch were arrested this week. The case is part of a battle by the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party to keep the generals firmly out of politics and in their barracks.

The trial of Kenan Evren, who seized power in an earlier coup in 1980, also began this month. The 94-year-old former army chief is unlikely to go to prison. Yet hundreds of thousands of Turks who were jailed and tortured feel that justice, albeit belated, is at last being done. None more so than the former inmates of an army-run prison in the mainly Kurdish province of Diyarbakir. One of them, Felat Cemiloglu, recounts in a book how he and his fellow prisoners were beaten and violated with truncheons, and forced to bathe in and eat their own excrement. Victims like him are queuing up to testify.

Scores of retired and serving generals and admirals are now behind bars in connection with the alleged Ergenekon plot to overthrow AK. Their plans are said to have included killing Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel prize-winner, and Mesrob Mutafyan, the Armenian Orthodox patriarch. The plot was supposedly hatched after AK came to power in 2002. Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a lawyer who campaigns for minority rights, reckons the 2007 murders of Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist, and three Protestant missionaries in eastern Turkey were also the work of Ergenekon. « The plan was to have the world believe that AK was breeding anti-Christian violence. »

After a decade in power, the proudest achievement of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, is to defang the army. Yet the main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has accused an increasingly authoritarian Mr Erdogan of exacting « not justice but revenge ». Others say much of the evidence against the generals is fabricated. Dani Rodrik, a respected Harvard economist whose father-in-law, a retired general, is among the suspects in another coup plot, « Sledgehammer », has catalogued many discrepancies in a blog. In one case, he writes, « police searched the wrong house and still located evidence against the intended target. »

At least some of the evidence seems fishy. Long pre-trial detention periods (some defendants have been in jail for four years and still do not know on what charges) continue to cast a pall. Until Mr Erdogan honours his promise, before he won re-election last year, to write a new constitution to replace the one drafted by the generals after 1980, his democratic credentials will remain in question.


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