Last week in Istanbul’s Taksim Square–a liberal-minded district for shopping, nightclubbing and shisha smoking–I saw a group of 60 PKK members (the Kurdish Workers Party which is considered a terrorist organization by the US and Turkey) performing an independence demonstration. With a police presence larger than the demonstration itself, I was reminded of my own involvement in the Tacoma Port Protests in May this year. And last May Day protest in Istanbul, more than 900 people were battered and arrested by the paternalist Turkish police state at Taksim Square. Yet the police chiefs are members of the elite vanguard, who are allegedly against the nomination of AKP candidate Abdullah Gul as well. So they have something in common with the protesters. Why are they unnecessarily violent toward them? The EU Commissioners I spoke to later in Ankara said excessive police “torture” is a one of many reasons Turkey does not fulfill the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership. This year was not only the 30-year anniversary of a massacre in Taksim which killed 40 people (carried out by high-level anti-democratic elements within the Turkish military intelligence community), but also a large protest against Abdullah Gul sponsored by the professors and elite community. Of course, no one seems to mind that Gul is already the Deputy Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs and has been for seven years. So perhaps this was a “last straw” of sorts.
Nevertheless an elite force in Turkish military and academic circles, the “Deep State” as it is called, have been accused of deeply tragic blunders in the past years. Most recently for conspiring in the assassination of Hrant Dink, the Armenian news editor who spoke out against the genocide against the Armenians in 1919. Even the AKP Prime Minister Erdogan has admitted the existence of the “deep state”, but he is certainly not the first. In 1974 the Prime Minister of the time, Bulent Ecevit, had complained about the existence of the deep state apparatus which he described as the “counter guerrilla” force.
But the deep state is not just the Turkish Armed Forces, the academia, the intelligence community, or the judiciary. The Zaman newspaper fingers the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-Terror unit (JITEM) as a habitat of deep state personnel. As if it were a single organization like the CIA or MOSSAD. But it really has no structure. It is all of these forces together, forming a cross-bureaucratic state apparatus that obtains full support from the military. According to Ecevit the deep state was a military establishment outside the TSK chain of command. Evren first heard of the deep state from Ecevit and as the top commander he wanted to abolish the establishment, but couldn’t. The military vanguard is constitutionally protected. And whatever structures they have institutionalized, however corrupt, is without oversight. Another former president, Demirel, said in 2005 that the
“deep state is the state itself. It is the military. The military that established the state always fears the collapse of the state. The people sometimes misuse the rights provided. When it is given the right to stage of rally, it may go and break windows, confront the police. The need for the deep state is a result of the deficiency of governance of the country. The deep state is not active now. It is not active as long as the state is not brought to the verge of collapse. They are not a separate state, but when they intervene in the administration of the state, they become the deep state.”
Yet the deep state is not simply a military element, as I pointed out. It has a very loose structure. Many believe a part of this deep statism was revealed in the notorious 1996 crash of a Mercedez–the Susurluk Incident. Ten years ago the question all Turks asked was, what do these four people have in common: an Istanbul police chief, the leader of the National Action Party’s (MHP) violent youth organization, a mafia hit-woman, and a devout Kurd-nationalist and True Path Party (DYP) member of parliament? The case was further troubled by the discovery of silencer pistols, incriminating documents, thousands of US dollars, special diplomatic credentials, fake IDs, and and fake passports. The nation watched in horror as the corruption of politics unfolded from deeper and deeper within the state.
Deep State politics can be traced back to Ataturk’s own reforms in the 1930s, where it was initially covered in light but accessible bureaucracy. Now it has burrowed its way to the center and built an un-transparent defense of its existence. One of the six pillars of Kemalism is in fact “statism”, and the military is looked to by millions of Turks to prevent the corruption of the state by giving TSK a special status the politicians cannot revoke. There is no “deep democracy” in Turkey, all there is is a state capitalism.
The first step toward real reform of Turkey would first dissolve the military apparatus and to recognize the ethnic groups and break down any unnecessary paths to their independence. The EU Commission will not mention any meaningful reforms like this, however, and chances of Turkey joining the EU any time soon are extremely slim.