Thursday, September 27, 2012

What's going on in Turkey?

Turkey clips military's wings in landmark verdict
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The jailing of hundreds of Turkish army officers including top generals accused of plotting to topple Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan underscored how far he has come in gaining control of the country's once all-powerful military.

But Erdogan, 10 years in power, must grapple with suspicions among critics and even some sympathizers that he is using this and other coup investigations to silence opposition as he sets about taming a militant secularist establishment. Far from flinching, he may seek more power in a revamped presidency.

The verdict against 325 officers at the end of the 21-month trial on Friday would have been unthinkable a decade ago, when generals regularly intervened in policy-making as self-appointed guardians of Turkish secularism.

Judges in the case, dubbed Sledgehammer, handed down prison sentences ranging from six to 20 years against the officers for plotting to wreck Erdogan's rule almost 10 years ago, soon after his Islamist-rooted party swept to power with the biggest share of the vote in decades.

Hilmi Ozkok, who was head of the armed forces at the time, rejected accusations the court's decision was driven by revenge.

"The ruling will serve as a deterrent and has a lesson for everyone ... in understanding how much Turkey and the rest of the world has changed," Ozkok told Milliyet newspaper on Sunday.


Under Erdogan, a devout Muslim, curbs on religion have been relaxed. Women are allowed to more freely wear the Islamic headscarf, alcohol is heavily taxed, and students at religious high schools are able to more easily attend university.

Journalists complain of pressure to write favorable stories about the government, and a number of writers are among those arrested under another plot investigation, "Ergenekon".

"This (Sledgehammer) case is an important step towards ending the army's political role but it's not enough to stop it completely," said Sahin Alpay, professor of political science at Bahcesehir University and a columnist for Zaman, seen as close to the government.

"Now we need a new constitution and laws that place the army under civilian supervision and reform military schools to reflect the values of a liberal democracy," he said.

A new constitution is now under consideration to replace a restrictive code inherited from the military after a 1980 coup. Turkey may well emerge from the debate with a presidential republic and a powerful president in Erdogan.

Alpay acknowledged there were questions about the case with so many defendants on trial at once, the judges' refusal to allow in some defense evidence and the lengthy sentences.

A key issue at appeal is likely to be the defense's inability to submit legal expert testimony that computer documents submitted as evidence appeared fake.

Defense lawyers said they would appeal the verdict this week to Turkey's upper court and, if necessary, eventually apply to the European Court of Human Rights. [...]
I've posted before about the complexity of Turkish politics. Both the secular and the religious sides have legitimate complaints and concerns. It's not easy to sort it all out, and even more difficult to guess where it's all going to lead to.

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