Turkey on the brink

Strange things are afoot in Turkey. The Observer reports that as the AKP government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, defends itself in court from accusations that it is trying to transform Turkey into a hardline Islamic state a plot was uncovered led by former Generals that threatened to destabilise the state.

The police arrested 21 people allegedly tied to a shadowy nationalist grouping, called Ergenekon, which had apparently planned to unleash a campaign of terror and intimidation against the Islamist government followed by assassinations and bombings. This was to culminate the paper says in an economic crisis and army coup that would install a right-wing secular dictatorship.

Those arrested and said to be part of the Ergenekon group include two recently retired army generals, Sener Eruygur and Hursit Tolon. Eruygur, is a former head of the paramilitary gendarmerie for internal security, and chairman of the Kemalist Thought Association, which is a group dedicated to Ataturk’s secular ideals.

It all reads a bit neatly the way the plot was rolled up suggesting that there is plenty more going on particularly as the arrests coincide with the troubles that Erdogan and Gul face in court where they face being banned from politics for five years. Seems like a stitch-up.

Critics were quick to question the authenticity of the documents and accuse the AKP of instigating a witchhunt against its opponents, using its friends in the police. Nevertheless the detention of two former senior army commanders carried huge symbolic weight in a country where the military has always played the decisive political role since Ataturk established the modern Turkish state in 1923.

According to Professor Soli Ozel, of Istanbul’s Bilgi University: “The arrests were a pretty coup for the AKP. Many people think this couldn’t have happened without the tacit approval of the military, at least from the legalists within it. If there is a tacit agreement with the military and they are working with the Prime Minister, you can expect that the court has decided that the AKP is not such a big threat after all.”

Worth pointing out that many Turkish democrats and secularists supported the AKP, which Marueen Freely points out in a column in the Observer as well:

“Many of those who would like to see Turkey become a real democracy are veterans of its political prisons. Some did time after the 1971 coup, others were imprisoned after the much more brutal coup in 1980. A significant number did two stints in prison and/or were forced to spend time in exile. Quite a few bear the marks of torture. By and large, they are secularist in background, education and temperament, but in the past decade they have worked in parallel with Islamist groups that support democratic pluralism and oppose militarist secularism. Whatever their views on religion, a large number of Turkey’s democrats supported the AKP in the last two elections. They did so because they saw it as the party most likely to challenge the status quo.”