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From Kemalist Oligarchy to Chaotic Polyarchy

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News] By now, it is clear to all that an unarmed war is going on within the Turkish state. The latest episode in Erzincan, a city in the east, and its repercussions in Ankara, a city in turmoil, is telling enough. Things began several months ago. First, Erzincan's chief prosecutor, İlhan Cihaner, started an investigation about a conservative Islamic community in town. Meanwhile, a prosecutor from the neighboring city of Erzurum, Osman Şanal, who had a special authority to investigate the Ergenekon case, suspected something different. An alleged Ergenekon plan included "finding" guns and bombs in the homes of Islamic communities, by first planting them there. Interestingly, some guns and grenades were found at the bottom of a dry reservoir in Erzincan in October 2009. Following that, Şanal started his own investigation, which ultimately led him to arrest his colleague Cihaner and attempt to question the army commander in town, a high-ranking general named Saldıray Berk. But then the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges, or HSYK, intervened. The board not only took prosecutor Şanal off his duty, but also called for his trial. The government bashed the HSYK for interfering with justice. Then the HSYK bashed the government for, again, interfering with justice. The war within the state As I was writing this piece, both sides were still grinding their teeth against each other, and the TVs were full of commentators commenting on "the war within the state." This war has precedents in Turkish political history, but it has never been as deep and clear as it is today. Because, in the past, one side of this war, the Kemalists, was simply dominant. The non-Kemalist camp, which consists mostly of religious conservatives and political liberals, could not dare to challenge the "red lines" drawn by the two main guardians of the other camp: the military and the judiciary. The military, as you can guess, was the more important actor here. And it simply created the judiciary in its image. Following the military coup of 1960, the generals set up the political system that is still at work today, and made sure that the judiciary, to which they gave an important role, remains in the right hands. In just six months after the coup, more than 500 judges and prosecutors were fired, and so were half of the members of the Council of State. Then a system of "co-optation" was set up, allowing the members of the high judiciary to elect each other, and therefore keep the ruling cast intact. In short, the system we used to have was a Kemalist oligarchy. For some people, this was heaven on Earth. For others, those who were humiliated, suppressed, imprisoned, tortured or killed by the oligarchy, it really wasn't. But since 2002, the ascendance of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and all the non-Kemalist actors in society, has started to challenge the system. The AKP has appointed its own people to important posts, and the oligarchy has started to lose its "strongholds" - a term the Kemalists routinely use. Now, anybody who knows something about Turkey is aware that this "counter-revolution" is happening. But they have diverse opinions on what this means. For the Kemalists, this is the end of the world as they know it, for religious "darkness," hand in hand with international "imperialism" (a.k.a. the EU) is taking over the country. For uncritical supporters of the AKP, everything the party does is right, and all criticisms raised against it are a part of the Kemalist plot to overthrow it (a.k.a. Ergenekon). I differ from the latter view, because I believe that the AKP is quite nepotistic, and that its political culture is also prone to authoritarianism and intolerance. That's why a Turkey totally dominated by the AKP would really not be fun - nor free and democratic. But I also think that the ongoing "counter-revolution" is not taking us there. It is rather, I believe, taking us to a self-styled "polyarchy," a system with more than one power center, and even a crude system of "checks and balances." 'Checks and balances' What this practically means is this: Kemalism will remain in state institutions, but it will be balanced by other institutions, or different people in the same institutions, as an opposing force. The most clear-cut example of this new "checks and balances" is the ascending role of the police in relation to the military. In the past, when generals decided to launch a coup, they would just do it. But now they know that the police intelligence, which is ideologically non-Kemalist and loyal to the government, is at their backs. The new non-Kemalist media is also in the picture, daring to expose the inner lives of the coup-craving officers. The same thing is also true for the judiciary. In the past, a prosecutor, by definition, would be an agent of the Kemalist establishment. Now, some still are, but others are not. Of course, in a real democracy, state institutions are supposed to be neutral. That is the ideal situation, from which Turkey is clearly far away. But the current situation, which is an ongoing struggle between opposing powers, is better than the previous one, which was a dominance of a single power. In other words, polyarchy, even in such a chaotic way, is better than oligarchy. If we are lucky, it might even lead us to liberal democracy.
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