Balyoz leaves a disgraceful stain on Turkish press
When the first group of soldiers were taken under detention in February 2010, a month after prosecutors began an investigation upon the news story broken by daily Taraf about a coup plan dating from 2003 to topple the government, I believe the very first reaction of some of us (meaning journalists, academics, elites, etc.) was not so much about “why” it happened but more about “how” it happened. The first group of 49 soldiers included not only retired generals but officers on active duty, the representatives of an untouchable institution until then.
Even in 2010 it was inconceivable the representatives of the army would be investigated, detained, tried and sentenced. And on top, all this for attempting to topple a civilian government!
Until way after the democratization process of Turkey gained momentum in parallel with Turkey’s membership bid, the country remained under heavy military –judiciary tutelage.
Ironically, the Islamists who benefited from the weakness of the opposition, especially from the left wing, also owe part of their success to the armed forces, which butchered the future generations of politicians in the prisons of the Sept. 12, 1980, coup d’etat. The army was never held accountable for the injustices and grave human rights violations committed by its members.
Even after the reinstitution of the civilian rule, the army kept its grip on civilian life. Their ruthlessness and the human rights violations they committed in addition to their strict objection to institute cultural rights to Kurds have even aggravated the situation in the southeast. Even until well into the end of the 1990’s the army resisted efforts within Turkey’s bid for accession to the EU to be taken under civilian control.
The army not only wanted to continue to benefit from the culture of impunity and thus remain above criticism, it also wanted to keep an eye on politics. As a journalist I was lucky to have limited contact with the military, but I recall being resentful of their patronizing attitude.
Part of Turkey’s elites whose interests were not hurt directly by the army’s policies preferred to turn a blind eye to the soldiers’ wrongdoings. You could not convince some that the army’s interference into politics worked at the end of the day against the interests of civilians.
These debates intensified especially in the early days of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), as some fervently wished for a military rule.
It was probably this frustration to see so many people lacking a democratic reflex about the army that blinded some of us when the Balyoz case erupted.
I have to admit that when the story broke about claims of coup plans, I was not surprised about them due to the soldiers’ past records. Obviously I was not alone to react like that. But it was 2010; the AKP had been in office for eight years and had started to show signs of authoritarianism. The fact that hundreds of soldiers both retired and on active duty were sent to prison, including the former general chief of staff who was accused of being a leader of a “terrorist organization,” made me suspicious. Part of me was looking to the past and saying most probably the army had its hands dirty, yet the other part of me was looking to the current mental state and implementation of the AKP and was saying this was a case of vengeance on the part of the Islamists.
I personally avoided writing about it because I felt I did not read enough material, including the indictment, to have a healthy opinion. So I’d like to think that I plead not guilty of misleading the public about the Balyoz case. But as Sedat Ergin, the veteran journalist who has won an award for his meticulous investigation into the case told me in our interview, there is a sizable number of journalists who have misled the public opinion and none so far have come up with an apology.
I have done intensive reading about the Balyoz case in order to interview Ergin, who is currently the editor-in-chief of Daily Hürriyet.
I am personally shocked on my and the press’s indifference to the gross injustices that were proven “with mathematical precision,” to use Ergin’s words. Perhaps some of us are not guilty of misleading the public, but we are guilty of not exposing the truth in a more vigorous way.
The past grievances caused by the army and the feeling, “they have hurt so many that they should see how it feels,” seem to have blinded our conscious.
I hope I have taken the right lessons that will prevent me of repeating the same pattern in the future.