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Erdogan wields sledgehammer 26 septembre 2012

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie.
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The Guardian (UK) 26 September 2012, p. 19

Simon Tisdall

The jailing of hundreds of army officers accused of plotting a coup against the government of prime minister Tayyip Erdogan marks a low-point for Turkey’s military, which for decades exercised shadowy control over the country with scant regard for democratic values. But the outcome of the so-called Sledgehammer (Balyoz) case highlights a new worry: that Erdogan, in power since 2002 and with his eye on a revamped, executive presidency, is becoming just as authoritarian and over-bearing as the generals once were.

It is possible to view the Sledgehammer trial, and two similar plot investigations (known as Ergenekon and KCK), as an overdue, even praiseworthy attempt to clean house. Turkey endured three outright military coups between 1960 and 1980, and a moderate Islamist government, a forerunner to the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), was forced from office in 1997. Tensions between the AKP and the military, proud guardians of Kemal Ataturk’s secularist legacy, were at times acute. It is not difficult to imagine the generals wanted rid of Erdogan.

While expressing concern at the verdicts, Hurriyet commentator Mehmet Ali Birand said he was pleased that « the process of relieving our country from its historical ‘military tutelage’ has begun ». He went on: « Even if there was no concrete coup preparation in the Balyoz case, I’m sure there was the idea in many minds that if necessary a coup could be staged. »

Sledgehammer may be viewed, alternatively, in a different light entirely – as a scandalously unjust proceeding akin to the notorious show trials mounted in the Soviet Union and its eastern European satellites during the cold war. « This case has little to do with justice or advancing Turkish democracy and everything to do with settling old scores, » wrote columnist Semih Idiz. Perhaps the Sledgehammer saga is best understood as neither a triumph for justice nor a democratic disgrace, but an intrinsically political proceeding. In this sense, it is a natural by-product of Erdogan’s attempt to turn Turkey into a modern nation state while fully recognising its religious identity. Turkey’s economy has expanded prodigiously in recent years while its regional standing has greatly improved, albeit unevenly, in terms of the Middle East and Europe. At the same time, Erdogan has relaxed religious curbs, allowing women more freedom to wear a headscarf, and has attempted (so far without success) to answer the perennial Kurdish question.

These upheavals have come at a high cost in terms of internal divisions. The justice system is but one casualty. It seems no coincidence that many of the soldiers, politicians, Kurdish activists, lawyers, academics and journalists caught up in the investigations are also Erdogan’s opponents and critics. Their silencing, justified or not, will undoubtedly help him maintain his grip on power, and could yet ease his way into a powerful executive presidency via a rewritten constitution.

Under a new law passed by the AKP, Turks will choose their first directly elected president in 2014. Many Turks suspect that, Putin-style, Erdogan will simply swap jobs. In an interview published last week, he clearly indicated his willingness to stand. The people, he said, only had to ask.

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