TURKISH SOCIETY ON TRIALTWO MAJOR COURT CASES IN TURKEY THIS WEEK HOLD THE KEYS TO THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY AND THE RULE OF LAW IN THE COUNTRY
Tuesday July 29 2008
As my plane landed in Istanbul on Sunday, two bombs were exploding
on a busy shopping street, killing 17 people and injuring more
than 100. It was just as shocking an event as it would have been
anywhere. Even this tragedy, though, was able to grab Turks’ attention
only momentarily. They are deeply fixated on two epic court cases
that will shape the future of their country.
Rarely do judges hold the fate of a nation so fully in their hands. In
these two cases, they can either decisively consolidate Turkish
democracy or fundamentally weaken it. Their verdicts will also shape
Turkey’s role in the world for years to come, and thus reverberate
far beyond Turkey’s borders.
The first of the two cases, which the constitutional court began
hearing on Monday, seeks something unprecedented in the modern history
of democracies: the closure of the ruling party and the banning from
politics of dozens of its leaders, including Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul. Prosecutors allege that
the party and its leaders are treasonously leading Turkey away from
its secular principles and toward Islamic rule.
Behind this case is a historic clash between the old ruling elite,
which is supported and often guided by military commanders, and a
rising Turkish middle class from the Anatolian heartland. This class
takes religious belief more seriously than the generals would like,
and Erdogan has catered to it, in part by seeking to lift the ban on
headscarves at public universities.
The old elite evidently harbours the fantasy that by banning the
Justice and Development party, it can wipe away the social reality
that brought it to power. Doing so, however, would be a profound
setback for Turkish democracy.
Newspapers are full of anguished columns listing its likely
Banning the ruling party and its leaders would radicalise many devout
Turks, frighten away foreign investors who are attracted to Turkey
because of its political stability, undermine the country’s growing
and highly positive role in the Middle East, wipe away whatever chance
it has of moving toward membership in the European Union, cripple
promising efforts to resolve longstanding disputes with Cyprus and
Armenia and send Muslims around the world the inflammatory message
that democracy is Islam’s enemy.
The constitutional court is heavily influenced by the military and
has an abysmally anti-democratic record. Nonetheless, as the chorus
of warnings has grown steadily louder, pundits who believed a few
months ago that the ruling party’s closure was inevitable now say
the odds are closer to 50-50. Reason may yet prevail.
The other court case that has riveted Turkey’s attention is based
on a blood-curdling 2,455-page indictment that was made public last
week. It names 86 prominent Turks, including journalists, political
activists and retired military officers, as members of a clandestine
terror gang that has carried out murders and a host of other violent
acts, including recent ones that were evidently aimed at overthrowing
Erdogan. The gang is said to have been responsible for the most
stunning assassinations in modern Turkish history, among them the
killings of the secular journalist Ugur Mumcu in 1993, the business
tycoon Ozdemir Sabanci in 1996 and a senior judge in 2006. All of
these attacks were staged to look as if they were carried out by
Islamic or far-left fanatics.
The terror gang called itself Ergenekon, after a mythic valley from
which Turkic peoples are said to have emerged in ancient times. Turks
know it by another name: "deep state". It is a shadowy web of powerful
people, closely tied to security forces, whose political tool is
The authorities vowed to crush deep state in 1996 after a spectacular
car crash led to the discovery that senior police commanders were
collaborating with gangsters. They did so again in 2005, when witnesses
managed to capture a bomber in the town of Semdinli and he turned
out to be closely tied to the army. Both times, deep state fended
off investigations for which the public clamoured. Never until now,
however, have the actions of this network been so minutely detailed
in a legal indictment. That has led some Turks to hope that this time,
the killer gang will finally be dealt a serious blow.
A court decision allowing the Justice and Development party to remain
legal would be a welcome signal that in Turkey, as in any democracy,
voters hold ultimate power. Convictions in the Ergenekon case could
wipe away the most serious threat to the country’s stability. Together,
these two verdicts would do nearly as much to strengthen Turkish
democracy as deep state has done to subvert it.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress