Ergenekon verdict a milestone toward ending coup attempts

However, Gunay said that the juntas always left behind constitutions that protected them, and that without a fully civilian constitution devoid of all coup traditions, true democracy is unlikely.

Ergenekon verdict a milestone toward ending coup attempts

The five-year trial of Ergenekon, a clandestine and terrorist gang guilty of attempting to overthrow the government, has ended, and the outcome will have a powerful positive affect on the country's democracy in the long run, experts agree Today's Zaman reported.

The landmark trial ended on Monday, when 19 individuals, mostly retired army top brass, received life sentences for attempting to stage a coup. Media professionals and academics who helped them were also handed down lengthy sentences. Experts mostly agree that this is a watershed for Turkish democracy, but they also note that there are risks ahead in next year's elections as one of the suspects, Baskent University Rector and Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Mehmet Haberal, was released for time served and will remain a political actor with the potential to run in next year's presidential elections, in which the people will vote for the first time to elect a president. Parliament has elected Turkey's president in the past.

Huseyin Kocabıyık, political analyst and once a chief consultant to former Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, told Today's Zaman: "The Ergenekon trial and the verdict have set two criteria for our democracy. The first one is that wanting to come to power and organizing to come into the government is a legitimate right for every group. But it is most definitely a crime to walk out of the legal and legitimate boundaries. The penalties definitely are in line with this. Secondly, although the Cold War ended a long time ago, Cold War-era structures continued their presence in our country and Ergenekon was one of the last examples of this."

He said, however, that Ergenekon's links to the media, the bureaucracy and some political parties like the CHP and the Workers' Party (İP) have yet to be eliminated. "So next year we could see more demonstrations and action on the streets. The potency of these demonstrations could influence political decisions about the elections. If there is tension to an extent where it is dangerous, the government could call early elections."

The trial has also contributed to Turkey's democratic maturity, according to lawyer Cesim Parlak.

"The trial has already contributed to our efforts to civilianize [end the influence of the military in politics]. What happened in the last Supreme Military Council (YAS) meeting, with the force commanders saluting the prime minister, was a direct result of the Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) trials."

As if to prove this point, the Turkish Armed Forces on Wednesday released a statement on the Ergenekon trial that said the TSK respects the court's verdict. In another development, the prosecutors objected to the verdict, arguing that most of the sentences issued by the court were too short.

Parlak noted, however, that although the trial leaves an important democratic legacy, Ergenekon has yet to be purged from the media, the judiciary, the bureaucracy and other areas. "If the investigation is continued the trial will have produced a result of serving democracy completely," he said.

Parlak warned against street unrest ahead of the elections, but also stressed the "Haberal factor." "Since his conviction is pending approval from the Supreme Court of Appeals, he is a political actor."

In fact, Haberal could be a candidate that the CHP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) might agree on in the 2014 elections, says Bekir Gunay, head of İstanbul University's Eurasia Institute.

Gunay said that it was premature to declare the verdict a milestone in Turkey's democratization before the Supreme Court of Appeals' final ruling. However, the verdict definitely points to changes in Turkey's power structure -- based on the Ottoman state's classical pyramid of the military, the bureaucracy and the academy and against which elected governments have faced a continuous struggle. Gunay says that what Turks call the "deep state" -- the powerful and illicit circles inside the military, bureaucracy and other state structures who compete with the elected government -- is a product of this heritage. The struggle surfaced for the first time in recent history when Turkey first switched to a multiparty system in 1946 and remained in place until the first coup d'état in 1960. Gunay, however, adds that the coups d'état have also hurt the military -- and thus partially the regime of military custodianship -- as they have irrevocably damaged the military's command hierarchy.

However, Gunay said that the juntas always left behind constitutions that protected them, and that without a fully civilian constitution devoid of all coup traditions, true democracy is unlikely. "The verdict that came out of the Ergenekon trial is part of democratization, and the removal of Article 35 of the Domestic Service Law is a step forward, but it can't be completely achieved unless the transition to a civilian constitution takes place."

"It's early to call the verdict a milestone, but it's a good start, and it can be made into a milestone with political decision makers acting tough at this time and making this permanent."
Gunay referred to democratization a power struggle, and said painful processes are natural.

"Especially after the 60s we see constant fearmongering, such as fear of the communists or sharia law or something else." Gunay said the government was creating a new object of fear out of the Gezi protests. "This is not democratic and they should avoid it," he said, arguing that society was growing resistant to the politics of fear.

The 2014 presidential elections, he said, face some risks. He also underlined the Haberal factor. "However, the fact that the people are electing the president is the antidote, and I believe that the people have proved their political maturity and will show this in the presidential elections." He said signals that Turkey is leaving behind the Cold War mentality and moving toward an open society are clear for everyone to see.

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Hakkari deputy Esat Canan also shared his views with Today's Zaman.

"The rulings that came out of the Ergenekon trial will have an important place in Turkey's history of democratization." He echoed others in pointing out that the appeals process is not over yet, but said that the Ergenekon rulings serve to improve civilian politics.

"The path of those who expect results from oppression and custodianship [of the military] has been closed. The trial will change the mentality that seeks to come to power without regard for the will of the people."


Güncelleme Tarihi: 07 Ağustos 2013, 12:23