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With the crashing of the leftist groups after the 1980 intervention, the visibility of Islam in politics significantly increased. The rise of the Welfare Party (RP) in the 1995 elections accentuated the cleavage between secularists and pro-Islamists. Necmettin Erbakan, who had led parties with similar outlooks before the 1980 coup, became the Prime Minister in coalition with the center-right True Path Party (DYP) in June 1996. Within a year of the foundation of the government, however, Erbakan was pressured to resign by the military, which used its tutelary powers in the National Security Council (MGK) and gave an implicit ultimatum to the government on the issue of Islamic fundamentalism.41 The RP and its heir, the Virtue Party (FP), were closed down by the Constitutional Court with the charges of violating the constitution and engaging in activities against secularism.
After the closure of the FP, the movement split into two factions.42 The more moderate group of politicians founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in August 2001, which received the largest vote share in the 2002 elections. The party renewed its mandate to rule in the 2007 and 2011 elections. Although the leaders of the party have at times claimed that the AKP does not carry out politics based on religion, given that it descended from organizations that were closed down because of their Islamist divide, there is considerable suspicion among secularist circles that the AKP has an ulterior motive, which is to turn Turkey into an Islamic Republic.43 Since the 2002 elections, the secularists are represented in parliament by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). The CHP is the party that founded the Republic in 1923 and since then, despite changes in its ideology, it has stalwartly defended secularist principles.
Studies that have examined the bases of support for the AKP and CHP show that the voters of Özbudun, Contemporary Turkish Politics, p.99.
38 For an overview of Turkish party system polarization, see Ergun Özbudun, Türkiye’de Parti ve Seçim Sistemi 39 (Istanbul: İstanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayınları, 2011), 72-9. For the importance of these two cleavages on the party preferences of the voters, see Ali Çarkoğlu and Melvin J. Hinich, “A Spatial Analysis of Turkish Party Preferences,” Electoral Studies vol. 25 (2006) 369-392.
For more on this polarization in public opinion, see the analysis of a 2006 survey in Ali Çarkoğlu and Binnaz 40 Toprak, Religion, Society and Politics in a Changing Turkey (Istanbul: TESEV Publications, 2007), pp.32-4, 101.
For the process see Metin Heper and Aylin Güney, “The Military and the Consolidation of Democracy: The Recent Turkish Experience,” Armed Forces and Society vol. 26, no. 4 (2000), pp.642-7 and Jenkins, “Continuity and Change,” pp.342-6.
On the split of the National Outlook movement and the birth of the AKP, see Fulya Atacan, “Explaining Religious Politics at the Crossroad: AKP-SP,” in Religion and Politics in Turkey, eds. Ali Çarkoğlu and Barry Rubin (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), pp.45-57.
William Hale and Ergun Özbudun, Islamism, Democracy and Liberalism in Turkey: The Case of the AKP (London and New York: Routledge, 2010), pp.20-9.
16 turkish public attitudes toward the military and ergenekon: consequences for the consolidation of democracy the two parties are distinguished from each other by their stance on the pro-Islamist versus secularist cleavage.44 Thus, both in terms of their ideologies and bases of support, the two parties represent two ends of the political spectrum, the CHP being the main party of the secularist camp and the AKP being the dominant party of the pro-Islamist camp.45 The second cleavage that dominates politics since the 1980 coup is based on ethnicity, which polarizes Turkish and Kurdish nationalists. Similar to the pro-Islamist versus secularist cleavage, this issue goes back to several decades earlier, its antecedents lying in the creation of the Turkish nation-state in the 1920s. The visibility of Kurdish separatism increased substantially in the 1980s with the rise in the activities of the PKK terrorist organization. Again similar to the secularist versus pro-Islamist, the military was a dominant player in this issue area as well.
The combat against Kurdish separatism in the southeastern regions was primarily led by the Turkish armed forces in the 1990s.
In the political arena, the polarization between Kurdish and Turkish nationalists is visible along party lines. Kurdish voters tend to support the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is heir to several parties that were closed down by the Constitutional Court due to their links with the PKK and their activities against the indivisibility of the Turkish state. Although the primary party of Turkish nationalism is traditionally the Nationalist Action Party (MHP),46 there is evidence to suggest that nationalists also vote for other parties, including the AKP.
Recent research shows that polarization along ethnic lines is worrisome not only because it creates tensions among political parties, but also because the Turkish public is increasingly becoming intolerant and xenophobic.47 Indeed, both religiosity and nationalism are important components of Turkish conservatism, which seems to be on the rise. The analysis by Çarkoğlu and Kalaycıoğlu based on the findings of a survey conducted in 2006 demonstrated that close to 70 percent of the public placed themselves at the religious end of a scale running from 0 to 10 (10 being very religious), around 75 percent scored more than 50 points out of a 0 to 100 scale measuring xenophobia, and 68 percent were positioned higher than 50 on a political intolerance scale.48 In fact, levels of religiosity have been associated with party vote since the 1990s. On the 1990s, see Ersin 44 Kalaycıoğlu, “Elections and Party Preferences in Turkey,” Comparative Political Studies vol. 27 (1994), 420-1.
Since then, several public opinion studies have agreed that positions of the voters on the Islamist-secularist cleavage is linked to party preference. See Yılmaz Esmer, “At the Ballot Box: Determinants of Voting Behavior,” in Politics, Parties & Elections in Turkey, eds. Sabri Sayarı and Yılmaz Esmer (Boulder, London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002), pp.105-9; Çarkoğlu and Toprak, Religion, Society and Politics, p.83. The analysis by Ali Çarkoğlu and Ersin Kalaycıoğlu of the 2002 elections show that religiosity and issues concerning religious freedoms especially have an impact for the AKP and CHP constituents, Turkish Democracy Today: Elections, Protest and Stability in an Islamic Society (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007), pp.190-1, 202-3.
This is not to say that the voter bases of the AKP and the CHP can be reduced only to this issue. Indeed, as Hale 45 and Özbudun argue, “the AKP appears to have successfully…[brought] together former center-right voters, moderate Islamists, moderate nationalists and even a certain segment of former center left,” Islamism, Democracy and Liberalism in Turkey, p.37.
For the indicators of the MHP vote in the 1999 elections, see Esmer, “At the Ballot Box,” p.109.
46 The analysis of Çarkoğlu and Toprak shows that there is a social cleavage that can be described as one that juxtaposes “us” (meaning Turkish-Muslim-Sunni) against “others” (Kurdish, Alevi, and non-Muslim). See Religion, Society and Politics, p.103.
Çarkoğlu and Kalaycıoğlu, The Rising Tide of Conservatism, pp.35, 47, 52. Previous research has also shown 48 that the Turkish public is increasingly moving to the right of the left-right spectrum and becoming more religious while people have low levels of interpersonal trust and high levels of intolerance. See, Esmer, “At the Ballot Box,” p.97-9; Çarkoğlu and Toprak, Religion, Society and Politics, p.101; Ali Çarkoğlu and Ersin Kalaycıoğlu, Turkish Democracy Today: Elections, Protest and Stability in an Islamic Society (London and 17 turkish public attitudes toward the military and ergenekon: consequences for the consolidation of democracy Once the party system and the results of elections and public opinion surveys are analyzed it is clear that Turkish politics is polarized along the pro-Islamists versus secularist and the Turkish versus Kurdish nationalist cleavages. The majority of the population seems to be located towards the pro-Islamist and the Turkish nationalist ends of these spectrums, however, considerable segments of the public are placed in the secularist and Kurdish ends of the two cleavage lines. While the AKP represents the Islamists and, to certain extent the Turkish nationalists along with the MHP, the CHP voters tend to come from secularist groups and the BDP stands for the Kurdish nationalists.
Given the centrifugal characteristics of Turkish politics today, this paper hypothesizes that the Ergenekon investigation contributes to polarization. As it will be shown below, there is reason to believe that the trials are especially intensifying the conflict between the AKP and CHP as well as the pro-Islamists and the seculars.
Polarization among Political Parties Due to the Ergenekon Case The Ergenekon investigation and the subsequent trials have been interpreted differently by the AKP and the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the National Action Party (MHP).
Among the national press, intellectuals and civil society groups as well, there is considerable controversy over the inquisition and the court case. 49 More specifically there are three interrelated issues of tension between the supporters of the trials and those who raise concerns.50 The first controversy is over the existence of the Ergenekon terrorist organization and whether or not the accused individuals are in fact guilty. Although the indictments consist of thousands of pages, opposition groups believe that they have not proved the existence of a clandestine organization beyond reasonable doubt. Moreover, the individuals who have been charged with being members of Ergenekon are not only military officers, but also others coming from diverse backgrounds, such as journalism, academia, civil society and business. The seemingly unconnected past experiences of the individuals leads to doubts over whether or not they could have been operating as part of the same organization.51 The second argument against Ergenekon is related to the legal procedures that are being followed by the prosecutors and the police. Since the judicial process has been moving slowly, the trials have not been concluded, leading to the detainment of some accused individuals for four years even though they might be proven innocent in the end. Since for a number of critiques, the proof that is provided to accuse these individuals is fictitious, the long duration of the trials keep innocent people in prison for fabricated evidence. The problems are compounded since some of the suspects have been imprisoned without being formally charged for months and a few individuals with medical problems have been detained, which resulted in the worsening of their health conditions.
New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007), pp.113-20; Esmer, “Islam, Gender, Democracy, Values,” pp.293-298.
Şule Toktaş and Ümit Kurt, “The Turkish Military’s Autonomy, JDP Rule and the EU Reform Process in the 49 2000s: An Assessment of the Turkish Version of Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DECAF),” Turkish Studies, Vol. 11, No. 3 (2010), pp.397-8.
For an overview of these controversies see Akın H. Ünver, “Turkey’s ‘Deep State’ and the Ergenekon Conundrum,” The Middle East Institute Policy Brief, 23 April, 2009, pp.12–4; Gareth Jenkins, “Between Fact and Fantasy: Turkey’s Ergenekon Investigation,” Silk Road Paper, August 2009, http://www.silkroadstudies.org/ new/docs/silkroadpapers/0908Ergenekon.pdf (accessed 21 July 2010), pp.78–83; Soli Özel, “The Back and Forth of Turkey’s ‘Westernness’, German Marshall Fund of the United States: Analysis, 2009, p.2.
For such a view see for instance Türker Alkan, “Aşinalık ne zaman aşka dönüşür?” Radikal, 6 Temmuz 2008, 51 www.radikal.com.tr.
18 turkish public attitudes toward the military and ergenekon: consequences for the consolidation of democracy Finally, there is considerable debate in Turkish public opinion whether or not the AKP government is using the Ergenekon case to its advantage in order to round up the opponents to its rule.
Although for three consecutive terms since 2002 the AKP has been elected to power, the opposition believes that the party has become increasingly authoritarian and gradually tightened its grip on critics. The fact that the accused individuals are from various differing backgrounds and are known to have opposed the AKP provides evidence for these claims. Part of the dispute also results from the belief that the AKP has a religious and anti-democratic agenda. According to a number of people, for instance, the AKP is closely related to an Islamic order which also controls the police, segments of the judiciary and the bureaucracy. Seen from this perspective, the true purpose of Ergenekon and the arrests are to eliminate the secular opposition.52 The fact that the overwhelming numbers of the accused individuals are well-known secular activists does not help ease minds. As explained above, the military has been the defender of the secular Republic and has justified its interventions in democracy by referring to the rise of Islamic political activities. Thus, the arrests of the officers and the Ergenekon trials are perceived as attacks against the guardians of secularism.53 The diverse stances of the ruling AKP and the main opposition party CHP can be best captured by the polemical debate that their leaders had in the summer of 2008, when the first indictment was being revealed. The leader of the CHP, Deniz Baykal, announced that if Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan was the prosecutor of Ergenekon, then he was the attorney of the suspects.
In return, Erdoğan declared that he was indeed the prosecutor of the nation.54 Despite this radical statement, the official policy of the AKP on Ergenekon emphasizes that the investigation is not controlled by the government and that the judiciary and police forces are acting on their own. Indeed, Erdoğan criticizes the opposition for attempting to interfere in the judicial process.