On October 1, Turkish Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit publicly warned the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) against weakening secularism in the new Turkish constitution, which is expected to be put to a referendum in early 2008.
A draft of the new constitution leaked to the press in September suggested that the AKP is planning to retain secularism as one of the basic principles of the state while amending the way it is currently interpreted in Turkey. For example, the draft included a clause lifting the current ban on female students wearing Islamic headscarves while attending university and downplayed the commitment of the Turkish republic to the principles of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the staunch secularist who founded the Turkish republic in 1923.
In an address to mark the opening of the new academic year at the Istanbul War Academy, which was carried live on national TV, Buyukanit warned the AKP: “No one is able to change the republic founded by Ataturk into anything else” (NTV, October 1).
Buyukanit refrained from issuing a detailed warning to the government on the constitution, noting that the military had yet to see a copy of the final draft. “We shall learn what is in it when it is announced,” he said. “But if it touches on any issues that concern us, then we shall convey our views to the relevant institutions. Nobody should have any doubt about that.”
“The Turkish Armed Forces is not, and cannot be, interested in domestic politics,” added Buyukanit. “But the unitary, national, secular state is the foundation of our country and our regime and these characteristics are, and shall continue to be, the military’s raison d’être” (Milliyet, Hurriyet, Sabah, Radikal, October 2).
However, Buyukanit was more explicit when it came to the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which entered parliament in the July 22 elections (see EDM, July 23). Over 300 people are believed to have died in PKK-related violence so far in 2007. On September 29, 12 villagers from the village of Besagac in southeastern Turkey were massacred, apparently by PKK militants (see EDM, October 1). But the DPT members of parliament have consistently refused to follow all the other politicians and the media in Turkey in describing the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Speaking at the opening of a park in the southeastern town of Batman on September 9, the DTP MP Sabahat Tuncel declared: “They tell us to call our children terrorists. Nobody should expect this from us. No Kurd can accept this” (Cumhuriyet, Hurriyet, September 10).
Since they were elected to parliament, leading members of the DTP have frequently expressed their fear that the DTP will follow a string of other pro-Kurdish parties and be closed down by the Turkish courts on the grounds of its alleged links to the PKK.
In his October 1 address to the War Academy, Buyukanit became the first state official to call directly for the DTP to be outlawed.
“We are faced with people who cannot call a terrorist organization terrorists and describe the members of a terrorist organization as their brothers,” said Buyukanit. “As a democratic state governed by law, Turkey has to take legal measures against this problem” (Milliyet, Hurriyet, Sabah, Radikal, October 2).
Buyukanit indirectly criticized other countries that have verbally condemned the PKK but failed to take concrete measures against it; particularly the United States, which has included the PKK on the State Department’s list of proscribed terrorist organizations but has refused to move against the PKK’s camps in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq or to allow Turkish security forces to do so.
“When it comes to the struggle against terrorism words don’t mean anything,” said Buyukanit. “The struggle against terrorism is one of action not words. But when it comes to other countries this has never happened” (Milliyet, October 2).
Buyukanit also warned against what he described as the impending disintegration of Iraq; something that Turkey has long feared would lead to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, which could, in turn, serve as an inspiration for Turkey’s own restive Kurdish minority.
“Forget about a federation or a loose federation, Iraq is fast heading towards a confederal state. This is something that concerns us deeply,” said Buyukanit. “When we look at this from a historical perspective we see that states that undergo such a process soon break apart. Iraq is very close to disintegration” (Milliyet, Hurriyet, Vatan, October 2).