Military calls the tune

Turkey is fast approaching yet another crisis, as the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government tries to balance the interests of finance capital and the nationalistic state bureaucracy with its own mass support. Esen Uslu analyses the current situation

The 'moderate islamist' government claims that it has managed to bring "stability and growth" to the Turkish economy since it came to power. Now, however, the day of reckoning has come. The Turkish lira recently lost almost 10% of its value in a single day, the bond and stock markets have collapsed, and the government is now faced with rapidly rising interest rates.

The administration has been painstakingly implementing the economic policy of Turkish finance capital - as formulated by the much praised IMF programme - so why has this 'mini'-economic crisis come about? In global terms, industry has been relocating from the US and Europe to countries where the price of labour is cheaper - in the recent past some sectors, such as textiles and ready-made clothing, have moved from Britain and other European countries to Turkey. But now they are relocating again to even cheaper Far Eastern countries. As such sectors utilise numerous small-scale subcontracting companies, their collapse has caused many bankruptcies and rising unemployment.

Nowadays the automotive industry and durable electrical and electronic goods manufacture are prominent among the industries relocating to Turkey. They produce for export and are the main foreign currency earners. However, the parts and components required to maintain these export-driven sectors themselves have to be imported. While the government praises the rising export earning capacity of these sectors, it tries to conceal that imports have also increased in direct proportion. Consequently, despite the fact that Turkey now enjoys the highest export earnings in its history, its current account deficit is sky-high.

Compounded by the growing demands of public finances forever in deficit, the need to borrow money on international markets through short-term, high-interest-rate government bond issues heralded the crisis. The 'hot money' chasing such high returns in the so-called 'emerging markets' is renowned for being short-fused. Any scare, and the flight from that market is immediate and massive, leaving behind a rapidly falling local currency and quickly rising interest rates.

Scares aplenty

What has scared off this 'hot money' from the Turkish market? Actually in recent months, scares are coming thick and fast in Turkey's economy and its politics.

Becoming a member of the European Union has been top priority for Turkey's finance capital for a long time. The present government, despite its islamist outlook, has carried out the minimum basic harmonising changes in legislation required on the strength of its majority in the parliament amid broad popular support. This, of course, is anathema for two sectors.

The first comprises the so-called 'Anatolian tigers' - families based on the historical trading and craft centres of Anatolia, which own export-oriented medium-to-large enterprises. They fear and detest the EU-driven open market - their wealth has come precisely from a protected market, combined with export incentives, subsidies and state procurement contracts, where shady deals and political embezzlement have been rife. This sector tends to have a more islamist outlook - with a touch of xenophobia.

The second sector is the traditional and omnipresent bureaucracy: the military top brass and high-level civil servants. They are the carriers of the 'statism' tradition that try to keep all developments, including the development of finance capital, under strict state control so as to "maintain a secular and democratic republic and uphold the national interest"!

The army's recent interventions in politics and the current low-intensity war in Kurdish areas reveal what kind of democracy they espouse. And the claim of maintaining the secular aspect of the Turkish state has been trampled upon by the last military junta in the 1980s, as it attempted to utilise islamists as a counterbalance to the left and Kurdish national movement.

However, both sectors have had ample opportunity to recruit support from the bankrupt petty bourgeoisie and unemployed workers, on an anti-IMF, anti-EU as well as anti-islamist or 'secularist' agenda. This growing opposition bodes ill for the government in the next elections. And some strange coalitions have begun to be formed, such as the infamous Grey Wolves of the 1970s, with the blood of many progressives on their hands, joining forces with ex-Maoists on a nationalistic, flag-waving platform.

During the infamous and well-publicised trial of author Orhan Pamuk, the extreme nationalists were to the fore. They took advantage of recent changes to the criminal law by bringing a case based on offending the "state's spiritual being" and "insulting Turkishness", and then used the trials as a platform to publicise their own views.

For example, prosecutions were brought against authors and columnists who had defended members of the prime ministerial committee on minority rights. They were howled at in court, threatened with violence before the judges and prosecutor, and physically attacked. Mind you, the two respected university professors - well known as democrats - who wrote the report of the committee had previously been attacked before television cameras by the same type of goons, and they too were charged at their instigation on similar grounds.

The extremists also attempted to foil the first ever conference organised by a Turkish university in Istanbul to discuss the Armenian massacre of 1915, by going to court and obtaining an order banning the event. Later, when that order was overturned by a higher court, they used the venue as their violent public protest ground. A few months later they did the same thing at a conference organised by academics to discuss the 'Kurdish problem'.

Assassination of a judge

The most vivid example of this unhealthy atmosphere came with an assassination attempt on the panel of judges of the supreme administrative court. A young lawyer with recent history of rightwing activism - including a machete-wielding attack on leftwing students - brought a firearm into court - bypassing a security screen on a day when CCTV cameras were not working - and shot five of the judges, killing one and wounding four others, while shouting, "I am a soldier of god!"

On his arrest he justified the attack on the panel of judges because they had refused an appeal against the headscarf ban in state-regulated official premises, including universities. The establishment exploded into fury, and the nationalist movement took to the streets. While the prime minister wisely stayed away from the funeral, his ministers who attended were booed and threatened - bodyguards locked one of them in the mosque toilet for his own safety, and another was dragged away as he came under attack, and driven off in an 'unofficial' car.

This happened a couple of days before National Youth Day, when the nationalists organised a grand parade at the Mausoleum of Atatürk. The head of general staff, who had previously been criticised for his tolerant attitude towards the government, made a devastating attack on it, calling on people to show "daily vigilance" against any infringement of what he called 'secular democracy'. The government was obliged to respond, and the prime minister reminded all officials not to utter words incompatible with their position that could inflame the situation further.

The police investigation revealed that the same assassin had been involved in three hand-grenade attacks in the grounds of the daily Cumhuriyet (Republic) - that is, the central organ of statist opposition. His murky connections with former members of the army and state security apparatus were fleetingly revealed in the press, and the government announced a thorough investigation would be carried out leaving no stone unturned, but the police seem unable to make progress.

Presidential elections

The main aim of the statist opposition is to prevent parliament electing the next president of the republic, as Ahmet Necdet Sezer nears the end of his seven-year term. The election is due in spring 2007, and if the government manages to remain in power, an islamist of one variety or another would be elected by the AKP (Justice and Development Party) parliamentary majority.

The candidates are starting to line up already, and among them there are some from the AKP ranks who are at odds with the prime minister. One such is the speaker of parliament, Bulent Arinc. His every utterance on such controversial issues as headscarves has been causing trouble for the government recently.

The patently statist, so-called social democratic opposition in parliament is determined to prevent this, and plans to force the government to call an early general election in the autumn. One of their games is to play the 'secularism is in danger' card and create a statist momentum for elections before the summer recess. The government has so far refused to oblige.

Although the AKP government has a majority in parliament, the party itself is a patchwork of different tendencies. There is a strong anti-IMF, anti-US islamist tendency that has started to flex its muscles recently, especially during the appointment of the president of the Central Bank. Pressure from this quarter put the government in an awkward position just when it was trying to calm the fears of finance capital and the IMF, by appointing someone acceptable to the bureaucracy and the army. The delay caused disquiet and criticism within finance capital. The government has tried to calm the fears by promising there will be no 'spend-to-win' election campaign.

Trouble on the border

As if these worries are not enough, the relationship between Turkey and both Greece and the Greek Cypriot government has turned nasty. The Greek Cypriots voted overwhelmingly against the unification of the island. The peace initiative undertaken by the AKP government and its counterpart in Northern Cyprus fell on stony ground - they were unable to find any partners in the intended diplomatic pirouette.

The hawks in the military and state bureaucracy of both Greece and Turkey are still able to hold their respective governments to ransom. A recent mid-air collision of two fighter jets over the Aegean Sea shows what a dangerous game is being played.

In addition, the US-led focus on Iran, the struggle in Iraq and the paramilitary actions of a recently rekindled Kurdish nationalist movement were used to place one-third of the Turkish army on mobilisation footing along the borders. During this mobilisation, a turncoat Kurd attempted to bomb a bookstore run by a Kurdish nationalist in the border town of Shemdinli. The bombing attempt was foiled by local people and he was captured, together with two of his controlling agents from the gendarmerie intelligence with their arms, bombs, intelligence notes and attack plans.

The people turned them over to the police, who promptly released the intelligence agents to their gendarmerie units. The army chief of staff told the press that he knew one the suspects was a "good man". The other 'good men' telephoned the leader of the Democrat Party, a former director general of the police and ex-governor of an 'extraordinary situation area' encompassing several provinces. He had been closely involved with the 1996 'Susurluk scandal' (which linked the state bureaucracy with organised crime), but was never charged. The 'good men' complained to him about the unjust treatment of being detained and asked for his assistance.

When a prosecutor appointed during the AKP government brought an indictment that included charges against the army chief of staff, the president of the republic and high court judges received a series of visits from army top brass. The government fell into line: the prosecutor was dismissed from office and he was expelled from the legal profession by the bar association.

So, comrades, such is the cosy relationship between the army and state security apparatus (there is also a component of corruption that would need another article). This intertwined and illegal structure is termed the "deep state" in colloquial Turkish. When the conditions become ripe, they move into gear. On that basis, I am afraid, this summer will be quite hot and the coming year will be critical.