It is Nov. 29, 2002. Three weeks after a sweeping election victory, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government is for the first time eye-to-eye with the military top command at a regular National Security Council (MGK) meeting. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is still out of politics. Abdullah Gül is the prime minister.
“According to reports we have heard, at the Nov. 29 meeting the military seconded by President [Ahmet Necdet] Sezer, made it clear to [the AK Party] its view that the discussion whether to lift the ban against Turkish civil servants’ wearing the headscarf is a non starter. ‘The discussion is over,’ Sezer reportedly told PM Gül. Before the meeting, Chief of the General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök and other [TURKISH GENERAL STAFF] commanders limited to an abrupt three minutes their ‘courtesy’ call on new Speaker of Parliament [Bülent] Arınç, who had generated controversy when he had his headscarf-clad wife join him to see off Sezer on a trip abroad late last month. Official photos showed a somewhat stiff, seated Arınç flanked on either side by Özkök and others. The visit stood in marked contrast to an earlier 20-minute call on Gül, whom the military and other elements of the Establishment see as relatively more pragmatic and sensible.” So begins the cable by the US Embassy in Ankara in Dec. 10, 2002. It is written by the then-deputy chief of mission of the US Embassy in Ankara, Robert Deutsch. So begins, too, American monitoring of a painfully bumpy adventure of the AK Party as a ruling political, civilian movement in Turkey.
Given the high number of American cables from Turkey -- all 11,000 of them, a record figure -- there was a moment reason for concern, when the deal between Julian Assange and The New York Times and Guardian went astray. The fear I felt as a journalist was that the “Turkey cables” would not see the light of day. Now, thanks to Taraf daily, day after day, we are getting a chance to look into the “secret Turkey” through the American prism. The material published will be of immense help in shedding light on what has taken place in deep politics. Needless to say, it is a courageous journalistic undertaking.
Back to the end of November 2002: It is the first time the AK Party hits the thick wall of the “state within.” The cable deepens the background: “A former [MGK] staffer … underscored what many others are also telling us: The military is especially concerned that [the AK Party] might try to amend or rewrite the 1982 constitution to change the ‘unamendable’ preamble and articles 1-4, which are designed to freeze Turkey within narrow, if ambiguously defined, ‘secular’ and Ataturkist bounds. Our contact vividly described the atavistic fear among Turkish General Staff officers he knows that [the AK Party], rather than accommodating the military and remainder of the Establishment, will try to transform THEM in an Islamist way.
“A long-serving justice of the Turkish Constitutional Court spoke similarly about the approach of the military and other Establishment elements to [the AK Party]. According to the justice, the biggest problem in trying to set guidelines lies in the ambiguous core of ‘secularism’ and Ataturk’s principles. The military’s broad-brush approach to defining (or avoiding definition of) its terms runs the risk of creating a crisis; [the AK Party] could, in theory, cross a military ‘red line’ without knowing where it is.” Deutsch’s conclusion is an extremely sharp one -- mark the irony in the last phrase -- on the pitfalls and dangers ahead. The starting whistle was heard at the MGK meeting. The scenery was simply this: An introverted and honest supreme court justice (Sezer) was “converted” to stiff Kemalism successfully by the top command with the pretext of the “dangers of a shariah state.” A team of generals -- except Özkök -- determined to “teach lessons” and “tame” the AK Party leaders.
The top army figures were, at that time, rather unsatisfied that the “soft coup” of Feb. 28, 1997 had not gone “all the way” to “wipe out” the “Islamist threat” by any means necessary. Many saw a “mission unaccomplished.” “[The AK Party] is rapidly finding out that moving the entrenched interests of the Establishment is not easy and it remains to be seen whether [The AK Party] can forge an active approach on reform, Cyprus, and other issues of central concern to the US which is digestible by the military and other elements of the State,” was the final conclusion of the cable. When one follows the traffic of cables from those times, it is impossible not be amazed at the profound insight of US diplomats when they deconstruct Turkey’s “deep state.” It is also impossible to understand the Ergenekon network and forces, as prosecutors argue, unleashed by it to stave off, derail and topple an elected, popular government from power.
For those who have not been able to have access (because the mainstream media remains numb), I will continue to highlight some key cables and analyze them.