Successive civilian governments in Turkey, as in Pakistan, have had to tread fearfully around the all-powerful military for fear of being overthrown. In the last 50 years, the Turkish military has removed four governments from power. Finally, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party seem to be trying to alter the balance of power in favour of the civilians. The government’s decision to put on trial Kenan Everen, who as army chief led a coup and installed himself as president, is a reflection of the growing tide to keep the military as far away as possible from the levers of power. As a nation that would like a dose of justice for military adventurers at home ourselves, we should be cheering Turkey for its attempts to rein in the military.
There is certainly no doubt that Evren needs to be held accountable for his actions. Not only did he carry out a military coup against Turkey’s elected government in 1980, he also shredded the country’s constitution and was credibly accused of torture and executions. No country can move forward without accounting for its past. Putting Evren on trial will help the Turkish government dissuade other ambitious generals from lusting for power and will allow the Turkish people to get a sense of justice for the brutalities from Evren’s era.
None of this is to say, however, that Erdogan is the perfect vehicle for bringing the military to heel. In the past, Erdogan has shown a voracious appetite for power himself. In January, he arrested former army chief General Ilker Basbug for plotting to overthrow the government even though the evidence against him amount to little more but a few anti-government articles on the internet. Erdogan has also shown tremendous zeal in detaining opposition politicians, academics and journalists. His crusade against the might of the military is certainly laudable but the Turkish people need to watch out for some of Erdogan’s anti-democratic instincts. There will be little benefit from putting past tyrants on trial if it is accompanied by a new kind of tyranny.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2012.