Gen Başbuğ’s arrest: Political or legal debacle?
Turkey is not a country that can be understood easily by foreigners. The speed of developments and change leaves one reeling. But there’s no need to make much of a fuss about it because most people living in the country don’t get much of the picture either or struggle to gain an understanding. There are already people who think instead of them. In this way, they overcome understanding problems. The best example of this is the civil-military relationship, which has marvelously encapsulated the developments in Turkey.
In Turkey, the political structure, recent history and anyone who is interested in the country’s social life have all come across the civil-military relationship. The military is considered an important actor and is an important component of analysis because the military has intervened in the political sphere four times for different reasons in the last four decades. Within that period, it drew reactions from politicians, as well as religious organizations/communities and ethnic groups and their supporters. Naturally, these groups rue the military’s role and they have not had a pleasant experience. Undoubtedly they are right to some extent.
Nowadays, anything concerning the military continues to change rapidly and peculiarly. Army-bashing is the latest trend. Those who take any analysis about Turkey’s civil-military relationship that was written five to 10 years ago as a reference would have difficulty in understanding today’s events.
For example, members of the Armed Forces have been subjected to a series of proceedings for the last four to five years. Generals and officers can be arrested and put into jail collectively and easily and subsequently subjected to criminal charges consisting of thousands of pages. Their prosecution process continues with never-ending hearings and baseless charges. Like a Russian doll, lawsuits out of lawsuits and extensions of inquiries come one on top of another. It might well be the case in the coming days that new indictments and arrests will occur depending on the new investigations.
Generals and officers are not just faced with arrests and prosecutions. Certain parts of the media and websites continue to smear generals and officers by humiliating their families, disclosing information about their private lives and professions and abusing them centrally, systematically and amorally.
The last ring of the lawsuit season was former chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ’s arrest for “establishing and leading a terrorist organization.” Thus, investigation processes have come to a new phase. Appointing “the leader of a terrorist organization” as the chief of General Staff is a political problem rather than a legal problem that will be left for judges.
Ensuring civilian control over the military and reducing the latter’s role in political life are important tasks of governments. However, the methods, means and values used to realize this are also as important as the ends. If one loses one’s grip, it brings the military, which was supposed to steer clear of politics, back into the political fray again.
Conclusion: the success of “democratic control over the military” is not measured by succeeding in locking up the top general or putting a high number of officers into military penitentiaries as is the case in Turkey.