Friday, October 14, 2011

End of the First Republic? Not yet

After the historic resignation of Turkey's once mighty top command and the ensuing reshuffle of its main figures, some pundits were quick to declare “the end of the First Republic of Turkey.” It is often like that. In lengthy, arduous transformation processes, which include de-mythification of cult leaders, “holy” institutions and systems, the eagerness to jump the gun leads to new myths. To suggest that we have finally put the last nail in the coffin of the First Republic is such mythmaking. Such a declaration is hasty and premature. Earlier, when law enforcement started to arrest high and mid-ranking officers in connection with Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and the “dirty war” (in the Kurdish Southeast) trials, again, some left-leaning commentators were in joy to declare “the end of tutelage.” They were also wrong. Yes, the First Republic is in accelerating decline and the military-guided tutelage has been severely damaged, but they are still there. Because of this caution, my immediate comment to The Washington Post after the mass resignation of the top brass was, in brief, that it “was a new phase, a sharp turn toward pushing the military to adapt to the current changes in Turkey.” Many dramatic events take shape simultaneously here. It should not perplex anyone; it is the combustion of long-overdue pressure, helped by the free vote, which both sped up and increased the magnitude of the developments. The government stresses the need for a brand new constitution, the bloody Kurdish conflict is being dealt with, new evidence shows there will be new waves of investigations into the army -- possibly involving the former top commanders -- and the main opposition, having no other device at its disposal than politics itself, is plunging deeper into an identity crisis. There will be, as a sign of the times, further investigations into the various segments of the elite, to expose the sources of corruption. In short, Turkey is still in the midst of a transformation process; what has possibly changed is the pace, which has to do with the last elections. What about the First Republic? Here we have a diversity of opinions. While some see continuity in the entire period from 1923 -- the foundation of the secular republic -- until now, others, including myself, see sharp disruptions in the coups (and consequently, vertical enforcement of the constitutions) of 1960 and 1980. So sharp, in fact, that we can easily call the last period -- the period from 1980 until today -- the Third Republic. But this is certainly open to discussion. Nevertheless, at the end of July we neither ended the First nor the Third Republic. It simply does not end when a group of top generals, in dramatic fashion, ask for their retirement and resign. The simple fact of the matter is, Turkey is still ruled by a military-dictated, straitjacket-like Constitution that promotes an outdated ideology, poisonous nationalism, protection of the state against the citizen, restricted freedom for individuals, communities, minorities and institutions and tutelage mainly in favor of the military. So, the demilitarization of politics has to be completed with a new social contract. Until the Turkish Parliament and -- eventually -- its people decide on a new constitution, we are still part of the First or Third Republic, depending on how you see it. At the moment it is important to observe the moves that are still possible in the current regime, without losing sight of the main goal, as I mentioned above. Yes, a new constitution must guarantee a transparent and accountable military; its budget must be overseen by the elected Parliament to the tiniest detail; the separation of the “military high judiciary” must be abolished. A new constitution must also place the chief of General Staff under an empowered Ministry of Defense. Turkey is much closer to doing all this than ever before. But there are moves possible even as the country progresses to become a full democracy. The new top commander, Necdet Özel, is described as a professional with no interests in interfering in politics. Özel may begin a process of reforms -- finally -- in the troubled institution that is rather rotten due to the subversive activities of some of its arrogant staff, which sadly turned it into a focal point of undemocratic operations, into a center for a self-worshipping elite which desperately fought a losing battle to keep its autonomy and impunity. He can help chase away lawlessness and lead its integration into the democratic system. Godspeed. 2011-08-02

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