Military-opposition row opens new era in politics

The conflict between the two opposition parties and the chief of General Staff over a recent military operation in N Iraq has itself sparked another debate as to whether the development could be considered normalization or improvement of democracy.

Military-opposition row opens new era in politics
The conflict between the two opposition parties and the chief of General Staff over a recent military operation in northern Iraq has itself sparked another debate as to whether the development could be considered normalization or improvement of democracy.

On Feb. 29 the Turkish military withdrew troops from northern Iraq following an eight-day-long ground offensive against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) subsequently claimed that the ground operation had ceased because of demands from the US administration. Then an angry statement appeared on Tuesday night on the Web site of the General Staff, accusing the opposition parties of doing more damage to Turkey's counterterrorism campaign than the terrorists.

Since then a debate has begun on whether this military-opposition row in fact signals democratization and a change in understanding about the role of the military in Turkish politics. The events of the past week mark the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic that the opposition has been a direct target of military criticism.

Last year, on April 27, during the presidential election process, the military posted a notice on its official Web site -- a statement that soon became known as the "e-memorandum." Since then, as Taraf daily's Editor-in-Chief Ahmet Altan points out, the CHP, MHP and the army had been strong allies.

That is, until they published a series of declarations harming each other: Altan suggested in his column on Thursday that the MHP will benefit from this row and that the army and the CHP will be the losers.

Altan claimed that when pursuing its policies the CHP had always tried to use the army as a means of threatening opponents. The army, according to Altan, has some difficulty explaining the reasons for withdrawing from northern Iraq, and the recent discussions show that military's position of unaccountability is nearing an end. Altan argues that the MHP is winning because it has gained the approval of nationalists and conservatives at the same time, since the latter dislike the totalitarian approach of the army.

All these debates are signs that a new era is beginning, says Altan: "Those who are against political solutions are either losing their power or becoming a part of politics, like the MHP. I think in this new era there will be a search for political solutions [to the Kurdish issue] and that discussions will stay within the boundaries of politics."

Fehmi Koru of Yeni Şafak and Today's Zaman agrees with Altan, and thinks the debates are a learning process of democracy. At the same time he writes that the military's declaration against the opposition needs a reaction: "It may sound strange, but the military operation in northern Iraq has produced a great deal of self-searching in politics and rearranging of political alliances; none of the groundbreaking events of the past was as successful as the operation in doing so." Mustafa Karaalioğlu, editor-in-chief of Star newspaper, brings another dimension to the debate; he thinks that the discussion is nothing to do with democracy but gives signals of developments in democratization in general. According to him, while even the chief of General Staff is underlining the fact that the solution to the Kurdish question cannot be military operations alone, the leaders of the opposition parties still demand more fighting. Karaalioğlu on Thursday wrote that from this point of view, while the debate has nothing to do with democracy, from now on the process will be a democratic one and everybody will use their right to question matters. Karaalioğlu also thinks that this is the first time the decision making authority for the solution has lain in the hands of politics. "Courage is needed more then ever for the solution and manner of debate," he writes.

Another writer, Ali Bayramoğlu from Yeni Şafak, agrees that a new era has started but stresses that it is a very critical one and nothing to do with democracy: just the opposite. He says that this debate is actually an intra-military crisis. Bayramoğlu thinks the military perceives itself as sufficiently sovereign to enter into polemics with opposition parties. "The declarations by the military during the last year, which exhibit the authoritarian mindset of soldiers and is far from being rational, requires careful examination," he writes.

Not only the media, but also academics and NGOs such as the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) have entered the fray. Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, chairman of MAZLUM-DER, underlined that the military in democratic societies should be open to criticism and that the army's statement criticizing the opposition parties is disappointing: "The security approach to the solution for the Kurdish question, anyway, leads to a narrowing of the political and civilian area, and further efforts to narrow these areas are not acceptable." Gergerlioğlu also underlines that the approach of the political parties defending the military solutions to the Kurdish question is the subject of another discussion.

Mithat Sincar, a law professor at Ankara University, thinks that the undermining of the taboo surrounding criticism of the military is something positive, but it is worrying that opposition parties want harder solutions. "Sometimes the crisis can lead to the emergence of common sense. Now, we have this chance. But if the army continues to stay at the center of the political power balance, it is difficult to guess where we are heading. However, I think there is a strong will for applying the mechanisms of parliamentarian democracy, now more then ever," he says.

But there are different approaches to this debate, with some arguing that it is early to make predictions. Murat Yetkin from Radikal argues that the military-civilian equilibrium has become a series of ups and downs. "How far can these serious developments go? To what extent it is permanent? But they could be signs of the establishment of a new equilibrium in Ankara," he claims.

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 09 Mart 2008, 10:14