Turkey’s State of Emergency Decrees Are Horrible For Democracy

Erdogan appears to be using State of Emergency Decree powers to shape the future of Turkey.

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 job, 85,000 have been detained, and almost 45,000 arrested in a wide-ranging purge from different segments of government workers, including the military, judiciary, national police, academics, doctors, teachers and low skilled workers. In addition to ongoing extreme campaign of dismissals and arrests, over 180 journalists have been arrested, numerous media outlets were closed or confiscated, and thousands of businesses, NGOs and associations were closed. Amid allegations of torture and killings 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 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 prospects and future. These decrees are essentially turning Turkey into a dictatorship and harming Turkish society in a way that will not be easily undone.

Apart from the firings noted previously, one decree of 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 deceased bodies to reveal the cause of death. In addition to the medical examiners, several prison guards were also fired. 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 prisons. The potential consequences are dire, moving Turkey further towards a Police State and creating a serious risk to the life of high level prisoners arrested after the coup attempt, many of whom may have information that unfavorable to the Erdogan government.

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. While previously, his hands were mostly tied, the coup attempt became, as he himself called it, “a gift from God”, that has enabled him to act against the military, firing and arresting thousands of officers, over half of the generals, more than two thirds of military pilots and several other officers, most of whom did not have direct ties with the coup attempt and were known for their stands as pro-NATO and pro-Western officers. 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 and many writing as columnists in his media. Perincek infiltrated the Turkish military during the 1970s, when leftist movements during the Cold War were at their height, and managed to send several cadets to Turkish military academies. I 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, normally only be seen by a handful of people. 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 12, 1971 coup in Turkey as the leader of a Revolutionary Youth (Dev-Genç) terrorist movement. What is more surprising is that 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.

Erdogan aligned himself with Perincek after December 2013 corruption operations against Erdogan’s son and close associates as Perincek became Erdogan’s only reliable partner. The partnership has continued and appears to have went on smoothly through the allegedly staged coup in July, as several generals who support Perincek replaced the purged generals, with one caveat: Perincek is anti-Islamist and he and Erdogan used each other to reach to their respective goals at various points; now Perincek openly threatens Erdogan in public, stating in his speeches via his TV and media outlets that he “will not let Erdogan become the President with the powers in the newly drafted constitutional changes and (he) will not let the constitutional draft pass parliament”. This despite the fact that Perincek does not have any representatives in parliament and that he does not occupy any position other than being the leader of the Vatan party, with a very limited base in Turkey. Erdogan on the other hand, being very sensitive to any criticism ― even if coming from a fourteen-year-old child ― is silent against Perincek and so far has not commented on his remarks at all. Nonetheless, Erdogan appears to have been laying the groundwork to capture the military’s power through these State of Emergency Decrees.

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, many of who already supported him. Those officers are expected to start to 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 who were fired are now being reinstated are also affiliated with a private company named “SADAT International Defense Consulting”, led by another previously-fired general, Adnan Tanriverdi, who now serves as the chief military advisor to Erdogan. Additionally, with this decree, the fired and rehired generals were put in charge of the hiring process of military cadets. 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 with the Prime Minister’s signature and the President’s approval. In addition, the mandatory service time for different branches and the age of retirement for the top commanders was amended, a measure enabling Erdogan to keep the generals he would like and force the others into retirement.

It appears Erdogan has plans not only to reshape the top administration but also for the lower level officers. The new SEDs have 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 four years of education. Now, elementary school graduates will be accepted into the military as officers. 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. Incidentally, the recent assassin of the Russian Ambassador was allegedly a frequenter of Nurettin Yildiz’s close circles. 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, and now they will have elementary school graduates who will more readily follow their orders. With these changes, not only does Erdogan appear to be trying to change the top administration of the military, but he is also very swiftly trying to install thousands of sergeants and corporals so that in the case there are future problems, these new midlevel officers would be in a position to counter orders against the ruling AKP and Erdogan.

In addition to the changes in the military, another essential SED was the permission granted to private security guards to carry weapons. In the past, only specifically trained guards who were working for specific industries, like the banks, could receive special permission to be armed. Now all will be armed. There are approximately 300,000 private security guards in Turkey, most of whom are known to be close to the AKP and have limited education.

Another important SED concerns the revocation of citizenship of certain persons alleged to be part of the July coup attempt. The government has decreed it will cancel the citizenship any suspects who are being tried due to their alleged ties to the July 15 coup attempt and who 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 likely rendering the person stateless. In addition to render many of these 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 after critical incidents as a means of controlling the available to the population. This is another measure to further control the media and make sure that they comply with the restrictions in order not to leak any information the government does not want the public know about.

Meanwhile, Perincek and his supporters are not remaining silent. Perincek’s deputy and a former military officer, Ahmet Zeki Ucok, wrote openly from his Twitter account that “there will be a military coup through the chain of the command in March 2017”, adding, “a real bloody one”. Similarly, Perincek himself openly keeps stating that he will not allow the constitutional draft to pass through Parliament and there will not be the expanded presidency that Erdogan seeks. Perincek is not likely to humiliate himself unless he could be sure of his stand. Perincek and his group are also well known for their close ties with Russia and especially with Alexandr Dugin, a top advisor to Putin. From this perspective, Perincek might be more valuable for Putin as Erdogan had repeatedly changed his positions on different matters and clearly Putin does not trust him as well as several other world leaders. It appears likely that Erdogan is and always was dispensable and will be disposed of as soon as Putin feels he does not need him anymore.

These new regulations are in effect as of January 6, 2017, resulting in a Turkey that is a more anti-democratic, dangerous and lawless state, coming very close to a real dictatorship. Time will soon tell who will win one of the most dangerous and bloody chess games in the region, revealing who will be leading Turkey into the coming years and, more importantly, what kind of political system will it be and will rule of law still be known there?

A shorter version of this article was published in Modern Diplomacy on January 21, 2017.