Recent remarks by General Yasar Buyukanit, the chief of the Turkish General Staff (TGS), that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had become both politicized and legalized have triggered a furious reaction from some of the leading members of the ultranationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and underscored the rift between the TGS and the political party with which it once enjoyed the closest relations.
On December 11, in an unmistakable reference to the 20 MPs of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) who were elected in the July 22 general election, Buyukanit said that the PKK was currently represented in parliament and that all that remained was for the organization itself to be legalized (see EDM, December 12).
On November 16, Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya formally applied to the Turkish Constitutional Court for the closure of the DTP on the grounds of its alleged separatist aspirations and links to the PKK (see EDM, November 19). As a result, Buyukanit’s statement was seen by many as an attempt to influence the court’s decision.
“One needs to interpret the chief of staff’s statement as an attempt to interfere in the judicial process,” said Professor Ahmet Insel of Galatasaray University (NTV, December 13).
More surprising were comments by leading members of the MHP. Several of the party’s MPs appear to have regarded Buyukanit’s statement as effectively legitimizing a PKK presence in parliament.
“It is an admission of failure,” commented Osman Durmus, a hard-line nationalist who as health minister at the time of the August 1999 earthquake attempted to prevent foreign medical teams from entering Turkey on the grounds that they would unlock Turks’ genetic secrets. “There is an resignation mechanism in place,” he said. “Buyukanit should resign” (Milliyet, December 13).
“Talking of terrorism being legalized legalizes it,” said MHP Deputy Chairman Mehmet Ekici (Milliyet, CNNTurk, December 13).
Even if the logic leading to such conclusions may not be immediately clear, the vehemence with which leading members of the MHP were prepared publicly to criticize the chief of staff is the latest indication of a remarkable turnaround in the relationship between the party and the TGS.
The MHP’s founder, Alparslan Turkes (1917-97), was himself a former career army officer and the party cooperated very closely with nationalist elements in the security forces during the 1970s when Turkey was wracked by factional fighting between leftists and rightists. The relationship was temporarily soured by the 1980 military coup, when the party leadership was briefly interned. Nevertheless, during the 1990s the MHP once again established close ties with elements in the military, particularly against the PKK, where the MHP’s nationwide organization provided a readymade network for intelligence gathering.
However, relations have cooled since Bahceli assumed control of the MHP following Turkes’s death in 1997. An academic by profession, Bahceli surrounded himself with a small clique of trusted advisors, almost all of them with a bureaucratic rather than military background. Informal personal contacts began to decrease, both between the higher echelons of the military and the MHP leadership in Ankara and between local party officials and members of military units stationed in Anatolia.
The most striking evidence of the widening gulf between the TGS and the MHP came in July this year. At the time, the Turkish president was elected by parliament. On May 1, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) called an early election after its attempts to appoint Abdullah Gul as president had been blocked by a combination of the TGS, the staunchly secularist Constitutional Court, and the opposition parties, which had boycotted parliament and prevented the formation of the two-thirds quorum required for the presidential election to take place.
Even though the AKP won a landslide victory in the July 22 general election, it still lacked sufficient seats in parliament to be able to guarantee a quorum and ensure that Gul was appointed. The assumption had been that all of the main opposition parties, including the MHP, would simply boycott parliament until the AKP abandoned its attempts to appoint Gul to the presidency in favor of a compromise candidate. However, within days of the election, Bahceli announced that the MHP would attend the parliamentary vote, thus providing the AKP with its quorum and handing the presidency to Gul. Not only did Bahceli ignore the military’s opposition to Gul’s presidency but, until the news appeared in the Turkish media, the TGS appears to have had no idea that the MHP was going to participate in the parliamentary vote, which suggests that the two were simply not communicating.
Yet, even if some the MHP leadership is no longer so warmly disposed to the TGS, there is no doubt about the affection and esteem – even reverence – with which the majority of the party’s grassroots support still regard the Turkish military, particularly at a time when its members are fighting and dying in the war against the PKK. Although the rift between the TGS and the MHP has probably weakened the Turkish military’s ability to exert political influence, there is a danger that too public a manifestation of the deteriorating relationship could also weaken Bahceli’s control over his own party.
(NTV, CNNTurk, December 13, Radikal, Yenicag, December 14)