EP report sparks debate over demilitarisation

The European Parliament’s (EP) progress report on Turkey — and what it left out — has reenergised debate over civil-military relations as the country struggles to balance demilitarisation with democratisation.

In the final report passed on March 29th, a controversial amendment was removed that emphasised the “need to guarantee the secular integrity and operational capacity of the Turkish Armed Forces.”

Instead, the non-binding report welcomed “continued efforts to improve civilian oversight of the military,” calling for transparency of military expenses to judicial control and the need to bring the armed forces, including the gendarmerie, under full civilian jurisdiction.

However, the EP also stressed its “concern” over the judicial process in the alleged coup plots, Sledgehammer and Ergenekon, now in their fourth year. Without pointing to a specific trial, the EP raised the issue of long pre-trial detentions, which it characterised as “de-facto punishment without trial.”

Since the foundation of the republic, the Turkish Armed Forces have considered themselves the guarantor of the secular nature of the state. Now, as the country’s much needed demilitarisation process is advancing under the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, it is raising questions at home and abroad whether the objective of demilitarisation is really meant to further democratisation.

Egemen Bagis, the state minister responsible for EU affairs, told SES Türkiye “civilian-military relations in Turkey are more fit to EU standards than any time in the past.”

But Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based analyst, says “There is a concern in the international community that Turkey has moved from a military-dominated authoritarian regime to a civilian-dominated authoritarian regime.

“Nearly 400 serving and retired military personnel are currently facing criminal charges in cases such as Ergenekon and Sledgehammer,” he said, adding that 16% of the serving generals and admirals in the Turkish military are currently in prison awaiting trial.

Meanwhile, Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, argues that civilian control over the military remains incomplete.

“The demilitarisation should not be only measured as to whether the military can ever again attempt to stage a coup,” he told SES Türkiye. “In Turkey, it’s not possible to talk about any civilian control over the military’s budget or their judiciary matters.”

Metehan Demir, the daily Hurriyet’s Ankara representative and senior military correspondent, agrees that there could be more done to bring the military under complete civilian control. He stresses that the ruling government has no desire to challenge the country’s founding principle of secular democracy.

“There may be a conservative government in place, which is composed of pious Muslims, but if they were to have any secret agenda, they would have got it done by now,” he argues.

But Jenkins disagrees, noting that civilian control of the military is not the only condition for a democracy.

“All of the institutions in a state should be accountable,” he says. “This is clearly not the case in Turkey. The supporters of the Turkish government may not like it, but the rest of the world is finally waking up to what is happening in Turkey under the guise of democratisation.”

Categories: SETimes/SESTurkiye