The ‘deep state’ is dead! Long live the new deep state!

The ‘deep state’ is dead! Long live the new deep state!

The (in)famous Ergenekon trial has finally ended with astonishing verdicts. Finally, even some supporters of the government are debating the fairness of the verdicts, and many think that especially the case of former Chief of Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ is very controversial. I think it is important to debate the whole judicial process, but we should be careful not to merely focus on discussing the verdicts.

I am not one of those who think that the basic claim of the trial, concerning the deep state operations and some accusations, are groundless. On the contrary, the deep state networks and their operations have long hindered democratic politics and have cost a lot of human lives and resulted in suffering. Besides, it is not only the Ergenekon trial but also other cases like “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer), which are totally justified since the present government has every right to try to inquire about the attempts of some opponents (civilians and civil service) to dissolve the legitimate government via undemocratic methods.

After all, we should not forget that even as late as 2008, the judiciary attempted to close the governing party. It may be true that, had they had the chance, some members of the military would not have hesitated to stage a direct or indirect coup. Nevertheless, leaving aside the domestic conditions, the Turkish army is bound by serious international commitments like NATO, and a coup would have marginalized the army. Top generals were apparently quite aware of the situation. Still, some sort of confrontation with the military hegemony was inevitable and besides, all sorts of democratic measures to delegitimize all sorts of interventions in civil politics were necessary for a more democratic political system.

If all this is true, then what was wrong with the Ergenekon trial? “Ergenekon” is the name of a supposed deep state network and/or plot, whose members sought to dissolve the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government soon after it came to power. In fact, the name of the plot is inspired by an old Turkish historical legend and refers to the mythical might of the state. Instead, from the beginning of the trial, I referred to the case as “the legend of Ergenekon” in order to imply the mystification of the case. From the beginning, the trial has been presented as “the end” of the deep state and as the “ultimate” encounter with all the evils of modern Turkish political history.

According to the political discourse which is based on the importance of the Ergenekon trial, the deep state network which hindered the democratization of the country, went back to the rule of the Union and Progress Party of the Ottoman Second Constitution period, if not before. Since then, the deep state network took different names and forms to achieve the dominance of the state over civil society, according to this discourse or “theory.”

Most democrats liked the theory and the practice of the Ergenekon trial, since they thought that it was critical of and directed against all sorts of sources of authoritarianism like etatism, militarism and elitism (in the name of secularism). Therefore, the weaknesses of the theory and the practice of the Ergenekon trial did not seem to bother many.

My basic objection concerning the trial has been “the grand theory” that the trial case was based on. From the beginning, I thought that the Ergenekon trial would serve to whitewash some evils of the past by being selective in its inquiries; it turned out to be true since only a few members of the deep state networks were accused and given harsh sentences. Besides, “the questioning of the past” has never consisted of the questioning of the past of conservative/Islamist politics. Then I thought that the Ergenekon debate would confirm the grip of the new deep state by using the struggle with the deep state of the pre-AKP period as a distraction. Unfortunately, it turned to be true, and the current state of the democratic deficit is the best proof of this. Moreover, I was concerned that the government would use democratic legitimacy (which it gains from its supposed struggle with the deep state) to suppress its opponents. That is why I am still more concerned with the shortcomings of the whole affair rather than discussing the fairness of the procedures without forgetting the importance of the debates on judicial fairness.

Finally, I am afraid that Turkey ended up not only saluting the new deep state during the funeral for the old one, but in fact, the new deep state is not as new as it seems. After all, none of the dark periods of the recent past, be it the dirty war against the Kurds in the 1990s, be it the conservative/Islamist collaborators of the military regime in the 1980s or the preservation of the military regime institutions and laws (like the 10 percent election threshold), have been questioned.