Mustafa AKYOL In his piece in the Wall Street Journal the other day, Washington-based Turkish researcher Soner Çağaptay was talking about “Turkey versus Turkey.” The “two Turkeys” he was mentioning were the AKP (Justice and Development Party) folks and “secular Turks.” And if the former would “win” the political battle, Mr. Çağaptay was arguing, Turkey would become “less like secular, liberal-democratic Italy and more like authoritarian, semisecular Jordan.”
Interestingly, the piece was not telling us about what Turkey would become if “secular Turks” win the current political battle. A careless reader could have presumed that something like the “secular, liberal-democratic Italy” would be the destination that they would lead us to. But, as a slightly more careful reader, I didn’t fall into that mistake. Because I know that most “secular Turks” Mr. Çağaptay is speaking about are growingly nationalist, xenophobic, isolationist and militarist. They fear from, and lash out against, almost any other: the European Union, the United States, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Armenians, Kurds, “Zionists,” Protestant missionaries, practicing Muslims, foreign investment, globalization, democracy, and even post-modernity.
But the illiberalism of secular Turks, which was totally overlooked in Mr. Çağaptay’s piece, is not what I want to focus on. He said something else, which I have been planning to address for sometime. “Well-connected Turks suggest,” he noted, “that while secular Turks can rely on military intelligence, pro-AKP groups control police intelligence.”
This is a popular theme in Turkey’s coffee houses and media outlets. People speculate about the “pro-Islamic” or at least the “pro-AKP” elements within the police. Some say that among police officers there are followers of the popular Islamic scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen. Deniz Baykal, the leader of the die-hard secularist Republican People’s Party, or CHP, alluded to this theory recently when he spoke about an “F-type organization within the security forces.” (The letter F was a reference to the name “Fethullah.”) He also blamed the AKP for “creating its own deep state.” (The term “deep state” has been used in Turkey to refer to the illegal forces within the state apparatus to fight the “enemies of the regime.”)
Therefore, some people see a “balance” in the state apparatus. “If the secularists have the military and judiciary,” the reasoning goes, “the Islamic side has the police.”
And here is what I think: There might be some truth to this argument, but the reality it refers to is not as bad as it sounds.
Perhaps I should first note that I am actually not the greatest fan of Turkey’s security forces. Yes, on the one hand they can be heroic people who protect the law-abiding citizens from criminals, but on the other hand, they can be threatening to these very innocent citizens as well. The Turkish police have been notoriously heavy handed, and countless number of political activists had to taste their wrath. Until quite recently, police headquarters have often been centers of torture and abuse. The EU process has helped, but we need more to go to move away completely from being a “police state.”
Having said that, I don’t take Mr. Baykal’s warnings on “police state” seriously. The police would be doing a terrible job, of course, if they crack down on peaceful demonstrators with batons and tear gas. But if they are monitoring suspicious people who might well be stirring up a terrorist attack or a military coup, I would be more than happy.
In other words, if there is a cadre of policemen in Turkey who are loyal to the democratically elected government, and if they are trying to uncover the attempts toward overthrowing that government, this can only be seen as a support, not a threat, to democracy.
In Erdoğan’s shoes:
Just put yourself in the shoes of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan for a minute. You are the leader of a political line which has been ousted from power by military coups four times. One of your predecessors, Adnan Menderes, was even executed by the coup makers. And your current political opponents are implicitly threatening you with the same destiny. (Deniz Baykal maliciously suggested Erdoğan a few months ago “to remember Menderes’ fate.”) And you know that “young officers” in the military, along with some high-ranking generals, are murmuring about the need to “save” the country from your government.
What can you do?
The only force you can rely on would be the state institutions that do not share the ideology of the potential coup makers. If you think that you can rely on the police in order to uncover or at least gather intelligence about the threats to the democratic system, you would use that channel. And you would be all justified.
I am not saying all this to imply any covert information I have. I am actually clueless about what is happening behind the closed doors of Ankara. I am just saying that it is not a bad thing for Turkey if we have good cops who monitor the activities of the bad (coup-minded) soldiers and their “civilian” allies. To be frank, I would rather have a country with a few extra wiretaps than waking up to tanks in the streets.
NOTE: I offer my condolences to the three brave policemen who lost their lives in yesterday's brutal attack on the Istanbul Consulate of the United States. My deepest sympathies to the consulate team as well. I hope the connections of the terrorists will be fully uncovered. Terrorism is, indeed, our common enemy.