By Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D.*
Turkey has been ruled by a declared State of Emergency since the July 2016 coup attempt, allowing President Erdogan to consolidate additional powers and target not just those responsible for the coup, but allegedly also those who hold or express opposing political views.
The Turkish Government has been using State of Emergency Decrees to fire people, close media outlets, and swiftly pass regulations and laws they deem necessary without going through parliament and the normal checks and balances – regulations and laws which would be expected to face harsh criticism and opposition under normal circumstances. Since the coup, over 135,000 people have lost their jobs, 85,000 have been detained, and almost 45,000 arrested in a wide-ranging purge from different segments of the state and society, including the military, judiciary, national police, academics, doctors, teachers and low skilled workers. In addition, over 180 journalists have been arrested and hundreds of businesses, NGOs, and associations were closed. Amid unconfirmed allegations of torture and killing during detentions and inside prisons, many people have felt the need to escape Turkey and go into hiding abroad to save themselves from an unknown and potentially deadly future.
Erdogan appears to be using State of Emergency Decree powers to shape the future of Turkey and to guarantee his own safety and fate. Two recent batches of the State of Emergency Decrees (SED) signed by Erdogan include critical rulings that will shape Turkey’s short and long-term governing future. These decrees are essentially turning Turkey into a de facto dictatorship and harming Turkish society in a way that will not be easily undone. One decree on January 6, 2017 has a special impact. The decree fires 1699 Ministry of Justice personnel. This is significant because a large portion of the forensic doctors who were working for the Medical Forensic Examination Divisions were fired. These doctors are the forensic examiners who issue reports regarding detainees, arrestees, and inmates to ensure they were not mishandled and tortured and who examine bodies to reveal the cause of death. According to media reports, after the coup attempt over 40 prisoners were reported dead through “suicide” in Turkish prisons, along with hundreds of torture allegations. This decree opens the door to ensure torture and deaths are not going to be reported, that torturers who support Erdogan will feel freer to engage in such activities, and that there will be an increase in so-called “suicides” in prison. This risks moving Turkey towards a Police State.
The new decrees are also reshaping and restructuring the Turkish military. Erdogan has seen the military as a rival since the beginning of his rule. The coup attempt, which he called “a gift from God”, has enabled him to act against the military, firing and arresting thousands of officers, over half of the generals, and more than 2/3 of military pilots, most of whom did not have direct ties with the coup attempt. Many positions after this extensive purge were filled with generals and high-level military officers known to have ties to Dogu Perincek and considered to be pro-Russian or Shanghai-Five. Perincek is a former Maoist and communist terrorist leader from the 1970s who turned into an ultra-leftist nationalist political leader with his Vatan Party. Several retired generals aligned themselves with Perincek after they left the military, receiving high level positions in his party, still others writing as columnists in his media. In the interests of transparency, I myself arrested Perincek in 1998 while I was working for the Ankara Counter-terrorism and Operations Division, due to his ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). I was very surprised to find copies of Top Secret Turkish Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) decisions in his safe at his office, the highest secrecy level documents in Turkey. Finding copies of Top Secret documents in his office prompted to me look further into Perincek’s background in the archives. I discovered he had been sentenced to prison after the March 1971 coup in Turkey as the leader of a Revolutionary Youth (Dev-Genç) terrorist movement. More surprising is that even though several of the suspects in the main Dev-Genç case were military academy students or young military officers, they were not fired and by 1998 they were on active duty, mostly as colonels, a high rank.
In November 2016, Erdogan signed an SED which opened a path back into the military for officers who were previously fired from the military (mainly before 2010) due to their connections with different Islamist groups. As a secular institution, the Turkish military has always deemed officers who had any ties with Islamist groups in Turkey as an essential threat to its existence, firing them if the connections are discovered. Through the SED, Erdogan has basically invited back over 8000 officers who were fired in the past. Those officers are also expected to start work within the military at the ranks they would be if they had not been fired. The result is that all of a sudden Erdogan now has numerous high-level military officers that are supportive of him. Several of those are also affiliated with a private company named “SADAT International Defense Consulting”, led by another previously-fired general, Adnan Tanriverdi, who serves as chief military advisor to Erdogan. New SEDs signed on January 6, 2017 put into place further measures to strengthen Erdogan’s position. Among the most critical ones are the fact that the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) was sidelined. This commission used to decide on the future and critical assignments of the military, such as the commanders of the military branches and other critical commanders. Now, with the decree, the Defense Ministry will simply offer the names of the proposed commanders and they will be appointed by the Prime Minister’s signature and President’s approval. In addition, the mandatory service time for different branches and the age of retirement for the top commanders was amended, enabling Erdogan to keep the generals he likes and force others into retirement.
The new SEDs have also canceled the requirement of having advanced degrees to become military corporals and sergeants, decreasing the education requirement to the completion of elementary school, which in Turkey is only four years of education. There are several reasons behind this significant change. The first is that SADAT has been having difficulties finding suitable candidates to recruit due to the previous higher education requirements. Similarly, several other Islamist groups who were working with Erdogan had the same problem: not being able to find suitable candidates to recruit for the military, including the AKP’s known and assigned Islamist teacher, Nurettin Yıldız. With this change in education requirement, SADAT and Erdogan’s close circles will be able to hire anyone they want, as they have claimed that educated people were not good for them because they would think and not carry out orders. Now they will have elementary school graduates who will more readily follow orders without question. In addition to the changes in the military, another essential SED was granting permission to private security guards to carry weapons. In the past, only specifically trained guards working for specific industries, like state banks, could receive such special permission. Now all will be armed. Another important SED concerns the revocation of citizenship of those alleged to be part of the July coup attempt. The government has decreed it will cancel the citizenship of any suspects being tried due to alleged ties to the coup attempt and/or are living abroad if they do not go back to Turkey within three months. According to this decree, all suspects fleeing Turkey will be stripped of their citizenship, in most cases rendering the person stateless. In addition to rendering many Turks stateless, the decree also appears to be contrary to International Law.
The SEDs continue to give additional powers to the government. For example, the police were given the authority to determine who owns which internet IP addresses throughout the country, an authority previously only available through a court warrant to a limited number of specific IPs. The police were also given the authority to obtain any internet traffic they want, without a court order, with just the signature of a police chief, a power that again in the past was only available for limited IPs and for certain times through court warrants. In addition, the government now has the authority to shut down any media establishment they want if the media does not comply with the press bans which are increasingly issued by courts as a means of controlling the population.
These new regulations are in effect as of January 6, 2017, resulting in a Turkey that is more anti-democratic, dangerous and becoming close to a lawless state, to a real dictatorship. Time will soon tell who will win one of the most dangerous and bloody chess games in the region: who will be leading Turkey in the coming years and, more importantly, what kind of political system will it be and will rule of law still be known there?
About the author:
*Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D. is co-author of the just released book, ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. He is Adjunct Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University. He formerly served as Professor and the Chair of the Sociology Department at Harran University in Turkey. He is the former Chief of Counterterrorism and Operations Division for the Turkish National Police with a 20‐year career interviewing terrorists.
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy.