Turkish military aids enemies of reform



Possibly without intending to do so, Turkey's most powerful institution, the military, has strengthened the hand of conservatives and Islamists opposing the attempts of the Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, to improve the country's human rights image.

Mrs Ciller's bout of reform-mindedness is partly to impress the European Parliament, which must ratify a European Commission decision to go ahead with a customs union with Turkey, due in 1996. The free-trade pact will bring Turkey closer to the 15 than any other non-member and act as a psychological anchor for Turkey's 65 million Muslims in the Western system.

But an unholy alliance has risen against the 49-year-old Mrs Ciller, Turkey's first woman leader. In May, President Suleyman Demirel attacked Mrs Ciller's reforms from the right, jealous of his former protegee's recent successes. In June he was joined by a cross-party coalition of Islamists and conservatives in parliament who started to undermine the progress of a package of constitutional reforms.

Then came last Friday's statements by the deputy Chief of General Staff, General Ahmet Corekci. Far from the traditional stiff memoranda signed by all service branch chiefs, his comments came as waitresses in mini- skirts helped host a rare military press briefing about Turkey's belief that Greece is working to split Turkey by supporting the separatist rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

When asked in question time about the notorious Article 8 of the Anti- Terrorism Law, General Corekci plainly said the army was against Mrs Ciller's plan to lift it, although he added the army would of course obey any orders. Article 8 forbids the articulation of separatist sentiment "with whatever thought and purpose it may be". Lifting it would free many of the 160 people jailed in Turkey simply for expressing their views, usually about the need for greater cultural and political rights for the country's 12 million ethnic Kurds. Such rights are anathema to Turkey's old guard. "This is the salami tactic. The more you cut, the more they want," said General Corekci, saying that the army would never approve of Kurdish-language education or television broadcasts.

For good measure, General Corekci added that the army believed that such fussing about human rights and democracy was holding back the struggle against Kurdish rebels, raging in Turkey's south-east and killing an average of 14 people a day.

Since Friday the general's comments have provoked confusion. Were they a shot across the government's bows of the type that heralded the military interventions of 1971 and 1980? Or did the mild and almost accidental nature of the commentary simply show how far the armed forces were from even thinking of a coup?

It is hard to know how much courage the military's comments will give to the Islamists and conservatives who helped knock down 17 of 24 planned amendments to the constitution, drawn up under military rule in 1982. The second round of voting starts this week.

Newspapers yesterday echoed public impatience with the failure of parliament and state to catch up with Turkish society. The hide-bound institutions in Ankara have been left behind as a dozen private national TV networks and hundreds of local stations air wide-ranging debates on all issues.

"Don't let's miss this historic chance. Let's develop a civilian, democratic and secular constitution," said identical editorials in Hurriyet and Milliyet, tracing the bumpy past two centuries in which Turkey has struggled to Westernise and modernise.

Only Cem Boyner of the small New Democracy Party had the courage to oppose General Corekci openly, saying he should have been retired straight away for interfering in politics. A few commentators demanded that the civilians stand up for themselves for once, even if opinion polls show the military is still Turkey's most trusted institution by far.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Broker

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Vehicle Broker is req...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Data Capture / Telesales

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Front Of House Team Member

£16500 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific