GROWING PAINS OF TURKISH DEMOCRACY
March 22 2010
In a recent op-ed piece, "Turkey’s Republic of Fear" (March 4,
2010), Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy (WINEP), hurled cheap and unsubstantiated shots
at Turkey’s current ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party)
and the moderate, pro-democracy Fetullah Gulen movement.
First, let’s clarify who Mr. Cagaptay’s employers are: WINEP has its
roots in and is still closely affiliated with the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
This raises the question of whether the powerful pro-Israeli lobby
group has an interest in seeing the global influence of Turkish
moderate Islam decreased and inflaming anti-Muslim sentiment.
Cagaptay falsely describes the Gulen movement as "ultra-conservative"
and accuses it of funding Hamas and Chechen terrorists. Yet he
presents no empirical data to support these extreme ideas; equating
the Gulen movement with radical Islam is like saying all members of
the Christian right are violent abortion clinic bombers.
Cagaptay, and anyone else who’s spent time in Turkey, knows the
truth about the nature of the Gulen movement: that the movement is
visible and transparent, seeks integration with society rather than
isolationism, is non-authoritarian in structure and does not reject
modernization in favor of traditionalism. With absolute certainty, it
is impossible to say that the Gulen movement has ever been associated
Recognized internationally for promoting dialogue and global peace,
Mr. Gulen was invited to give the keynote address at the 2009 World
Parliament of Religions in Melbourne, Australia.
Mr. Gulen has always rejected the philosophy that violence is
a legitimate means to a justifiable end. After the London subway
bombings and suicide attacks in Israel, he criticized the terrorists
who condoned such acts. "Unfortunately some condone acts of suicide
bombings with the rhetoric of ‘they have no other means.’ If this
is the only means Muslims have, let that means be buried deep in the
ground together with the one who uses it," he said.
Then what motivates Mr. Cagaptay to be so brazen in his
misrepresentation of Gulen and the AK Party? Could a recent shift in
Turkish-Israeli relations be a motivating factor? I guess so! Mr.
Cagaptay mischaracterizes the AK Party reign as a republic of terror
when in fact, since voted into office in 2002, the AK Party has
facilitated major constitutional and legislative reforms, leading
toward greater democratization and preserving the secular structure
of the government while creating a space for religious freedom. One
shortcoming of the party is that Turkey has not yet been able to
align its military-civilian relations with European Union standards.
However, important changes have been made to the judicial system,
including the abolition of the State Security Court (DGM) system,
but the judicial system’s current structure and methodology continue
to present some difficulties.
Turkish civil society has grown stronger. Cultural rights for the
Kurds are beginning to be recognized — and the AK Party has made
progress on the Armenian issue. Finally, they have enhanced political
dialogue; Turkish foreign policy is contributing positively to
Some military generals thought that it was time to put a stop to
the AK Party’s burgeoning power; in countries like Turkey, democracy
operates differently. Whenever democracy gains traction, the military
grabs for power again. When the Democrat Party (DP) won 52 percent of
the vote in the first free elections in Turkish history, on May 14,
1950, Adnan Menderes became prime minister. He later won two more
free elections, one in 1954 and the other in 1957. No other Turkish
politician has ever been able to win three general elections in a row.
Then, in 1960, a coup d’Ã©tat was staged by a group of Turkish army
officers; the tribunals ended with the execution of Prime Minister
Menderes, Foreign Affairs Minister Fatin RuÅ~_tu Zorlu and Finance
Minister Hasan Polatkan on Ä°mralÄ± Island on Sept. 16, 1961.
The ’70s were a time of political violence and economic uncertainty.
The 1971 coup d’Ã©tat, carried out on March 12, was the second to
take place in the Republic of Turkey, coming 11 years after its
In 1980, another junta was formed that instituted martial law and
abolished all political parties. The junta was dissolved because of
a new constitution, adopted in 1982.
On Feb. 28, 1997, the military pressured the democratically elected
government to resign and allowed another civilian government to
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have always played a central role
in the nation’s political agenda. The military has long enjoyed the
privilege of an autonomous position because of its role as guardian
of the unitary republic, secularism and Kemalism.
And this brings us to the present: the latest coup attempt by the
TSK was revealed in leaked military documents that were recently
published in the liberal Taraf daily newspaper. The alleged plot aimed
to create an atmosphere of chaos in the country through a series of
violent acts that would eventually lead to a military coup.
While Mr. Cagaptay claims that the Turkish military denies the coup
allegations, in fact the top army prosecutor has already announced
that the coup documents are authentic and that the plans were staged
in 2003 without the official permission the Turkish General Staff.
Recent arrests of military generals in Turkey mark a milestone in the
nation’s democratic history. Four previous governments have been ousted
by the military, and not one coup leader has ever been convicted.
As the right-wing military leaders planned this coup attempt, they
failed to notice changes in Turkish civil society. A whistle-blower
within the military who believed in democracy leaked the documents to
the press. Meanwhile, the press has changed and diversified, making
the publishing of these damaging documents possible. And finally,
the common people, a broad-based electorate led by the Turkish middle
class, were able to stand up to the elites. These arrests in Turkey
are not signs of an authoritarian regime, but the healthy process of
a maturing democracy.