Trust in army declining but secular-Islamist rift deepening

Trust in army declining but secular-Islamist rift deepening

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Trust in army declining but secular-Islamist rift deepening

Public trust on Turkish military was around 89 percent prior to the begining of Ergenekon case, afterwhich it has dropped to 66 percent, Yaprak Gürsoy tells the Daily News speaking at Bilgi University’s campus. DAILY NEWS photos, Hasan ALTINIŞIK

The Ergenekon case has affeced the trust in the military, since the level of the Turkish public trust in the army has dropped, becoming at par with the European Union levels, according to an academic who has conducted a study on the public views towards the trial.

While this is a positive development for Turkish democracy, the case has also served to deepen rifts between people from the pro-Islamist and secularist camps, Yaprak Gürsoy of Istanbul Bilgi University recently told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.

Gürsoy’s finding are part of a project titled “Armed Forces and Society in Turkey: An Empirical Approach,” which was launched by The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK).

Using the findings of the 2011 survey from the project which was carried out under the leadership of Assistant Professor Dr. Zeki Sarıgil from Ankara’s Bilkent University, Gürsoy has concluded that the Ergenekon trials are increasing polarization in society.

Give us a summary of your findings.

The Ergenekon investigation and trials are a double-edge sword for Turkish democracy. They are good in a sense that it’s possible to observe that with these trials, public attitudes toward the military have began to change. People have less confidence in the Turkish military. But it is also possible to observe that they are leading to polarization in Turkish politics, especially between supporters of political parties, and that’s not good for Turkish democratic consolidation.

In your research, you are talking about the paradoxical situation in the past, when those who supported democracy also had high levels of trust in the military.

Right; and this is problematic. The Turkish military has justified its interventions [into politics under the guise of] defending democracy. Basically, we can see that people mostly used to believe that Turkish military is a guardian of democracy; it is also possible to observe through previous survey analyses that those who trust the military do not have a liberal democratic conceptualization.

You call them superficial democrats.
Yes, because they see democracy as only about having regular elections. But we know that democracy have other components, such as the rule of law, freedom of speech and human rights. It seems that those who trust the military do not have these democratic values or did not use to have these democratic values. This was until the mid-2000s. Since around 2007, it has become possible to see a potential change in public attitudes and in people’s values both surrounding democracy and trust in the military. The level of trust in the military has started to decrease. If you look at Eurobarometer surveys, which started in the 2000s, we can see that there is a drop in the level of trust the public has toward the military. We had 89 percent, then it started to decline and it is now around 66 percent, which is on par with European countries.

And you believe that the Ergenekon case is behind this change?
I believe that the critical event must have been the Ergenekon case. I focused on this hypothesis, and I checked other factors that influence trust in the military, such as having trust in civilians, the belief that democracy is the best regime, gender, education, income; when you check all these variables, belief that the Ergenekon terrorist organization really exists contributes to different views on the military. Those who believe the Ergenekon terror organization exists do not trust the military. So the drop can be explained by belief in the Ergenekon trials.

This is positive for Turkish democracy not because Ergenekon directly changes attitudes toward democracy. Indirectly, however, a decrease in trust in the military is a good sign of democratic consolidation. We know in cases like Turkey that the military has intervened in democracy and these actions were seen as legitimate. It seems that people are now having a more liberal democratic attitude and believe that it is something that is not supposed to be supported.

Your study also suggests that there is also a negative consequence of Ergenekon case.
It leads to polarization. When you investigate which groups believe the Ergenekon terrorist organization exists, you can see a sharp difference between political party supporters. Those who voted for the AKP [Justice and Development Party] in the 2011 elections overwhelmingly think that the Ergenekon terror organization exists. Most of those who voted CHP [Republican People’s Party] think that Ergenekon does not exist and that the case rests on fabricated evidence. There is a sharp polarization between CHP and AKP supporters.

Why is that so problematic? Isn’t it normal to have a divergence of views on a specific issue?
It is problematic because polarization leads to mutual distrust [and the sense] that the other side is undemocratic. Of course, polarization doesn’t need to always lead to these questions, but in Turkey, we know that polarization corresponds to the belief that the other side is disloyal to democracy and that it can take actions against democracy.

When both sides think that the other is undemocratic, it is democratic consolidation overall that suffers. Because our definition of democratic consolidation entails attitudinal and behavioral support for democracy, it is not just about having liberal democratic institutions or a constitution that is liberal democratic, we need to have all significant actors in politics believe that democracy is what some scholars call the only game in town. Nobody can think of acting outside democratic institutions. When there is mutual suspicion that the other side is undemocratic and it could take action against democracy, everybody takes up their weapons so to speak to defend themselves and take undemocratic actions. This can lead to using authoritarian methods or to supporting coup plots; in the end, it is democracy that suffers.

Do you see signs that polarization in Turkey is leading the sides toward resort to non-democratic tendencies?
Maybe the sides are not necessarily taking those actions, but the sides are thinking that the other side is taking such an action. For instance, CHP supporters believe the AKP is moving toward authoritarianism; that belief in itself is a question for democratic consolidation.

AKP supporters accused the CHP of supporting Ergenekon suspects and of behaving undemocratically. Nobody has to do anything. These beliefs lead to situations where attitudinal support for democracy diminishes; in other words, people are culturally becoming undemocratic.

Are there any other categorizations on views on Ergenekon?

Those who are more pious seem to believe that Ergenekon is real. Those who are less religious think that Ergenekon is not real. This also corresponds to the pro-Islamist-secularist cleavage in Turkey. So the cleavage between the pro-Islamists and secularists seems to be deepening because of the Ergenekon case.


Yaprak Gürsoy received her PhD from the University of Virginia, Department of Politics. Her dissertation is a comparative study of Greek and Turkish political regimes, civil-military relations, and businessmen’s political attitudes.

Currently, Dr. Gürsoy is an assistant professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, teaching subjects such as Civil-Military Relations, Comparative Politics, Political Transformation in Europe, and the European Union.

Her research on regime change and civil-military relations have been published in international journals, including Democratization, South European Society and Politics, East European Quarterly, Journal of Political and Military Sociology, and Journal of Modern Greek Studies.