The tragedy of Turkish justice

The tragedy of Turkish justice

I wrote a piece in this very column some three years ago with the exact same headline above: “The tragedy of Turkish justice.” I argued that Turkey’s justice system was a warzone between political camps, rather than being a fair arbiter of disputes. I concluded:

“We should stop seeing the judiciary as the battlefield of competing ideologies and start to think together about how to rebuild it in a way that really serves justice.”

Since then, however, things have not gotten better. They have gotten worse. Now the judiciary is again a warzone between political camps. In the upcoming intra-judiciary elections for the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, three ideological lines will compete, and the domination by neither will be good news.

As you probably know, the so-called “parallel state” is at the heart of the current political war. The government, and President Tayyip Erdoğan, condemn this “gang within the state” almost every single day and define it as the biggest threat to Turkey’s national security. They also claim to “cleanse” the state form this danger, and to carry out a “witch-hunt” against it, if needed. No wonder hundreds of police officers have been detained and questioned, and it is very likely that new arrests are coming.

But what is the truth about this “parallel state?” Here are my two cents:

I think the “parallel state” is not an imaginary phenomenon, although the government’s propaganda exaggerates to caricaturish levels. There is ample evidence to believe that the Gülen Movement, indeed, focused on empowering itself within Turkey’s bureaucracy, particularly within the police and the judicial system. There is also ample evidence to believe that this effort created a subjective element within the judiciary, which led to some serious violations of justice. The gross excesses of the “coup cases” against the military and its allies during 2008-12 were largely a making of this sectarian energy.

So, I agree that the “parallel state” should be disestablished. The Gülen Movement should continue its life as a successful civil society force, whereas the police and judiciary should be saved from being perceived as the arm of a religious community.

However, the government is not as innocent as it claims to be:

First, the “parallel state” was not a problem for Erdoğan and his team as long as it worked against their opponents. It became a problem only when it began to create problems for them, and especially, when it unveiled the corruption within the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. It is too telling that some of the detained policemen are the very people who launched the corruption investigation of last December.

Secondly, when the “parallel state” is disestablished, we will probably not end up with a non-partisan and independent judiciary. We may rather end up with a judiciary that is totally subdued by the executive. This is because both Erdoğan and this team now condemn every judicial decision that disturbs them as the treacherous act by the “parallels” – or “assassins.” This crusade may well go on until there is nothing left in the judiciary that displeases the government.

That is why there are no reasons to think that the tragedy of Turkish justice will come to an end within the current dynamics of power. For a true, lasting solution, the powers that be – from the government to Gülen Movement to the secularists – should agree to construct a new judicial system that will be ideologically diverse, and that will uphold justice over kin, party or community. And that is still too distant of a dream.