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What is Behind Soner Çağaptay's Aggression?

Today's Zaman. İhsan Bal, PhD., March 12, 2010

The impact of the Turkish struggle for democracy has already surpassed the boundaries of Turkey. Now all trump cards have been played.

On one side of the game are those who advocate a real democracy similar to that in Western European countries and the United States and the universal values of human rights, equality and justice for all to be established in Turkey. Today, the common people, whose importance has until now been downplayed, want to be on an equal footing with everyone else. They want to get rid of the ridiculously degrading humiliations of the elite; firmly establish the real rule of law in the country; stop the unsolved murders, the number of which has reached thousands; make the statesmen realize their role of serving the public through an embracing collaboration; and ensure harmony between all organs of the state. Whereas on the other side of the game, the unmitigated conformists are thrashing about to protect their own interests in the status quo and are disconnected from the general public, where both the civilian and military bureaucrats are disobeying rulers representing the common people and governmental, legislative and judicial powers are not properly separated and where the legal structure is more defiled than at any time before.

It is exactly in this atmosphere that Soner Çağaptay has written an article about the coup attempts in Turkey. I wished Mr. Çağaptay, whom I know personally, would posit himself on the side of supporting universal values, democracy and equality. In the meantime, all indications reveal that the throne of the bigheaded elitist mentality that has no sincere belief in democracy is now shaking and doomed to lose, while those who disdain their own people are now drawing their last gasp and are exhibiting an urgent need to hear even the weakest voices from the other side of the Atlantic. It is obvious that this mentality of protecting one particular group's benefits, which is facing ferocious criticisms both inside and outside the country, begs for any kind of help from whatever source...

In this context, Mr. Çağaptay wrote a very simplistic article which was really unworthy as it gave a voice to the bitter thoughts of those status quo adherers, but at the same time, the article needs to be taken into consideration since it is full of mistakes that may deceive people which need to be corrected and clarified. His motives for writing the article, whether it was his own will or a made-to-order piece, are unknown.

Mr. Çağaptay, a historian, starts his article as follows: "For the last several decades, the Turkish military was untouchable; no one dared to criticize the military or its top generals, lest they risk getting burned. The Turkish Armed Forces were the ultimate protectors of founding father Kemal Atatürk's secular legacy, and no other force in the country could seriously threaten its supremacy. Not anymore." When you read these lines, you get the impression that the writing will carry on with sentences stating that everything in Turkey is now settling on the right track, the rule of law is now being firmly established, everybody will be equal, nobody will have immunity before the law, nobody will be given any preferential treatment and every deed will be open to question and transparent and so on. But the article continues in a completely contrary way and advocates the rule of state instead of the rule of law and demands to sentence Turkey to a democracy suppressed under the ward of an elitist mentality.

Çağaptay's lack of informed analysis

In his article, he also mentions the soldiers who were arrested on Feb. 22 and says: "When I asked a former US ambassador to Turkey for his views on the news, he thought the scenario was ridiculous. 'If the Turkish military was going to do a coup, they would not be writing a 5,000-page memo about it,' he stated." As Mr. Çağaptay writes about Turkey, we assume that he must be reading Turkish newspapers and following Turkish television channels and the related Internet sites. If he is really following the Turkish news, he would know that the originals of the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) plan and other coup plans have been obtained and that democracy-advocating military officers themselves have been providing information and documents, and he must have also known that there are voice recordings, letters, confessions and statements by anonymous witnesses revealing all these plans. Thus, would I now believe all this concrete evidence, or a timid former ambassador who does not even have the courage to reveal his identity? Neither myself nor anybody else of sound mind could take such a silly claim seriously. Besides, we are not in a situation where we would regard every utterance of a "former American ambassador" as undisputable, divine words anyway. If this were the case, these diplomats would never allow the US to fall into the present awkward and cumbersome situation in Iraq and in Afghanistan. In any case, one of the main dilemmas of American foreign policy is that it preaches everywhere about the worthiness and virtues of democracy and openness on one hand and cooperates with dictators and repressive groups on the other. This is one of the biggest handicaps of the American policies. In this respect, when we compare the reactions of the US and the European Union regarding the coup attempts, we can see that the EU exhibits a firm, venerable and pro-democracy attitude, while the US, winking at both sides, acts unscrupulously in a Machiavellianist way. We do not think that this type of behavior will be of any benefit to the US in the long term.

Again in his article, in a manner that is seen in third world countries, Mr. Çağaptay is trying to bend the truth by emphasizing "who" says it, rather than focusing on "what" is said. With sentences such as, "Specifically, the officers were charged with authoring a 5,000-page memo that was later published in Taraf, a paper whose editorial policy is singularly dedicated to bashing the military," he is trying to turn attention away from the real statements, documents and evidence to accusations of Taraf being anti-military, Vakit being a fundamentalist newspaper and so on. Nowadays, however, thanks to the very sophisticated means of communication and the vast reach of information, distorting the truth is not that easy anymore.

On the other hand, in a democratic country, no person or organization can be free from accountability or closed to any criticism. Everybody who lives in the US is well aware of this fact, as Mr. Çağaptay should be. This means that newspapers can fiercely criticize the government. Taraf has the right to criticize both the government and the military, and it does so. Whenever the level of criticism, however, reaches the point of telling lies or personal defamation, then the independent judicial system will certainly interfere. There are already many cases in the courts being tried in this context. So why are you disturbed about being criticized? Or is it because you are afraid that your period of playing fast and loose is now ending? Are not the documents seized from suspects' offices and houses, voice recordings, authentic personal signatures and the statements of so many anonymous witnesses -- all of which reveal that some individuals with stripes on their shoulders within an organization responsible for the external security of the country and their civilian supporters are doing everything they can to stage a coup and overthrow a democratically elected government and force the country to engage in a war with a neighboring country by planning and determining every individual action, from soldiers in disguise bombing mosques and a bomb exploding in a museum when it is full of children to killing non-Muslim citizens and attributing these attacks to Muslims and thus dragging the country into real chaos -- worthy of inspecting thoroughly? Did you ever think what the reaction of the public and the judiciary in the US would be if such claims, evidence and displays occurred ithere?

By labeling this newspaper as anti-military or that newspaper as fundamentalist or by claiming that recordings are not legal, Mr. Çağaptay is trying to obscure and darken the clear evidence and apparent coup attempts. Thanks to new technology, law enforcement agencies are able to do voice recordings and listen to conversations without difficulty. While this is the case, we know that military coup hawks have covertly listened to many, even the prime minister. There are assassination plans in the hands of the courts. All the recent arrests in Turkey were carried out in full accordance with the law, all the evidence is collected legally and the voice recordings that led to these arrests were done under judicial approval. The authority that decides and will issue decrees on these cases is the judiciary (the courts), not the government. One also must remember that most of these voice recordings and other pieces of evidence were provided by both military and civilian individuals who firmly believe in democracy, and there are many anonymous witnesses who are ready to supply more evidence on cases which are endangering the future of our country.

And why do they deliberately ignore clear evidence, recorded conversations, seized weapons and ammunition, confessions and the statements of so many anonymous witnesses? Has Turkey never suffered through military coups staged for this reason or that? Who launched the military coups of 1960, 1971 and 1980 and the postmodern military interventions many years later? Who unjustly executed Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and two ministers of a democratically elected government? While even primary school children know the truth about these facts today in Turkey, should we not take even the slightest sign of a coup very seriously? Or is this callous behavior and turning a blind eye to these events and even distortion of the truth the exact mentality of the coup hawks?

Mr. Çağaptay writes in his article "What's Really Behind Turkey's Coup Arrests?" published by Foreign Policy on Feb. 25, that "a mountain has moved in Turkish politics." You then expect that he will say things such as "everything in Turkey is now returning to normal" and "democracy is now being established more firmly." Alas, in a very confusing way, Mr. Çağaptay starts defending the continuation of the very problematic status quo. We have had many governments in Turkey that were elected by the people but were never able to govern independently. These governments were always challenged by groups in the military and civilian bureaucracy. Meanwhile, there are structural and implicational problems in our legal code, and especially in our Constitution. Many of these codes were formed during junta rule. Human rights were violated and many murders still remain unsolved in this country. While the European Union questions all these defects during negotiations, they push and insist that Turkey do its best to be fully governed by the rule of law and for it to firmly establish democracy in every part of the country. Similar criticisms sometimes also come from the US. Nevertheless, Mr. Çağaptay still wants business to carry on as usual, leaving us all to wonder why.

All dictators and elitists play target diversion games to be able to continue their existence and influence. They always want to exist by diverting the attention of people elsewhere or by creating and presenting new enemies. In this respect, take a look at what Çağaptay says: "All shots against the military are now fair game, including those below the belt. The force behind this dramatic change is the Fethullah Gülen Movement (FGH), an ultraconservative political faction that backs the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)." That is, the army and some people must never be criticized. If they are criticized, this means they are the enemy. Do things happen like this in America? Or do you have special formulae for Turkey that you deem suitable for third world countries? Çağaptay does exactly what those who are cornered do and that is to try and pervert the course of justice and cause confusion before finally letting the cat out of the bag and pointing his finger at the Gülen movement. If this movement is really behind Turkey's democratization process, then should we not thank it?

Lawful mobilization

As Mr. Çağaptay himself knows very well, lobbies are one of the main dynamics of the US system. The US has a pluralistic democracy. Being an academic who studied in the UK and served as a visiting lecturer at Harvard University, I also know very well that Americans feel very proud of having a pluralist system and being open and transparent. In Turkey, too, as is the case in every democratic country, there can be, and there should be, various movements, lobbies and trends such as the Gülen movement that can mobilize lawfully. Why should there not be a pluralist and transparent democracy in Turkey? Hence, what he really means is that democracy, plurality, openness, transparency and the rule of law suit America, but when it comes to Turkey, where his Excellency was born, a suppressed and defective democracy, an elitist government, the rule of state instead of the rule of law, a society in which covert and clandestine acts are conducted instead of an open transparent society and even single-party rule all fit well. Even if you regard these bad clothes suitable for Turkey, we and a vast majority of our people do not. We now know what is good and what is bad for us, and thanks to this awakening, Turkey is now an illuminating star on the rise. That is why US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton describes Turkey as "an emerging global power." And this is why US President Barack Obama made his first overseas visit to Turkey. That means Çağaptay, having buried his head in the sand, does not want to know anything about these things.

Despite having worked and continuing to work in the US, Mr. Çağaptay prefers to write in a language and terminology of a third world writer. "However, these allegations are part of the Ergenekon case -- a convoluted investigation that so far has produced nothing in the last three years but a record-setting 5,800-page indictment, hundreds of early-morning house raids, and the detention of many prominent Turks, including university presidents and prominent educators such as Kemal Gürüz and Mehmet Haberal," Çağaptay writes. How can highly respected people be arrested even if they are found guilty!? He means that those who received a certain education and occupy certain positions can never commit a crime, that they should be subject to favoritism and that the judiciary can never try them. However, do you have anything to say about claims, crimes and murders that stand as testimony against these "respectable" people? Were these people arrested while walking innocently on the street, like many victims during junta rule? Why did one of the former prime ministers, Mr. Bülent Ecevit, have to flee from a hospital? Everyone is equal before the law and that is and should also be the case in our democracy. If claims and accusations are put forth, the judiciary is there to investigate.

One must not distort reality and cause confusion. One must also not forget that the Turkish judiciary is neither under the command of the AK Party government nor does it belong to the Gülen movement. In a democratic country, everyone who works in the judicial system should be completely independent and free from every ideology. In any case, this is one of the targets of the changing process in Turkey. If the judiciary is under the control of the government or a special group, then the AK Party would not face threats of closure from the Constitutional Court and Gülen would not have had to leave his country because of hostile pressures.

Indeed, all these are signs of a normalization process in Turkey that should have been conducted much earlier. Turks deserve to enjoy a first-class standard of living, the rule of law and democracy just as much as Americans, the British or any other nation in the world.

Professor İdris Bal is an instructor at Turgut Özal University in Ankara.

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