Counterrevolution in Turkey

By Etyen MahcupyanToday’s Zaman

A true democracy needs a counterrevolution

There is a cliché Kemalists have frequently voiced since the establishment of the republic. According to it, modern and “progressive” civilian and military bureaucrats are trying to educate and transform the people of Turkey, while “reactionary” groups acting under the influence of religion resist their efforts.

Since these reactionary groups are apt to adopt newer forms, all kinds of liberation help them make a public appearance on the political scene, and this results in the risk of losing strongholds conquered for the sake of modernization. Thus, according to this line of thought, the republic is a revolution bringing this nation to modernity. Those who oppose this change knowingly or unknowingly become tools of a counterrevolution which imparts the darkness of the “Middle Ages.” Accordingly the Turkish state’s struggle against counterrevolutionaries must continue until the last of these counterrevolutionaries is destroyed.

This perspective acquired political meaning after the multiparty regime was introduced because the emergence of political parties other than the one considered acceptable by the state implies that they entertain mentalities or ideologies different from the republican ideology. This, in turn, suggests that the political parties outside the Republican People’s Party (CHP) tradition serve more or less to the purposes of counterrevolution. On the other hand, it was quickly realized that the republic had failed to convince the majority of the people to give into an authoritarian secularism mentality and “right-wing” political parties categorically assumed government offices. For this reason the republic had to develop a system that would restrict political participation of “counterrevolutionaries” and limit the area of activity of right-wing political parties and restore the regime when things go out of control. The republic needed a reliable and dependable institution that would be ready for action at all times in order to ensure the custody of this system.

Naturally, the army was the only eligible candidate for such a task. During the late years of the Ottoman Empire, the army had been perceived as the bearer of modernity, and it produced the “savior” of this country. Thus, the military became the ideological reference of the republican era and institutionalized it. In a nutshell, the “republic” asserted itself as a “permanent revolution” that has to fight continuously against visible and invisible enemies. The system called democracy could only be allowed to the extent that it found a place within this tutelary regime and does not pose a threat to this regime.

Based on this background information, we can understand more readily why the National Security Policy Document is prepared by the military and why perceptions of internal threats are shaped by generals as well as why this document is kept secret from the legislative body. This is because the republic has always had fears about society, and its fears continue to exist today. What they call “internal threats” are nothing but the society itself and its choices and demands that the army does not like. These choices and demands have always implied greater freedoms; in response, the military opted to restrict freedoms. Their understanding of internal threats was largely guided by these concerns.

The National Security Policy Document was instrumental in keeping civilian politics, which is inclined to get along well with the military, under tightly controlled tutelage. However, they needed an autonomous power against those who refuse to accept this tutelage. This was achieved by Article 35 of the Internal Service Law of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). According to this article, the army has the task of “protecting and watching out for” the regime. This article is the legal basis for all military coups in Turkey.

Still, all military coups need an infrastructure because military rule has to be reinforced both at a local level and within institutions as well as to destroy any potential resistance. Therefore, since 1960, the army dominated the social sphere with justifications of “public order” at every opportunity and institutionalized its presence in social life. This mechanism, systematized under the title of security and public order, reached its peak in 1997 with the Protocol on Cooperation for Security and Public Order (EMASYA). With this protocol, the military obtained the opportunity to collect intelligence and conduct operations at will and without control.

In short, the National Security Policy Document, the Internal Service Law and EMASYA served as tools to make the revolution permanent in this country. Unfortunately, this “revolution” tends to exclude social demands, fails to accept social change and perceives freedoms as threats. For this reason, given the Kemalist perception of democratic demands as “counterrevolution,” a true democracy needs a counterrevolution.

Accordingly, the government’s abolishment of EMASYA last week was a major step toward liberation. It is now time to do away with the National Security Policy Document and the Internal Service Law.


Posted on February 13, 2010, in Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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