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Bombing throws spotlight on Turkey
A bombing allegedly carried out by members of the security services has shone a spotlight on Turkey's shadowy "deep state" and raised questions as to whether the country's EU-inspired liberal reforms have really tamed it.
The "deep state" is made up of elements from the military, security and judicial establishments wedded to a fiercely nationalist, statist ideology who, if need be, are ready to block or even oust a government that does not share their vision.
"They believe they act on behalf of the nation and the state and so may sometimes be willing to ignore the law," Semih Idiz, a commentator for CNN-Turk and a TDN columnist, told Reuters.
Ankara began its European Union entry talks last month after a flurry of reforms that included greater civilian control of the armed forces after four military coups in 40 years. In their last intervention in 1997, the generals ousted an Islamist government deemed a threat to Turkey's secularism.
The detention of three members of the security services after the Nov. 9 bombing of a bookshop in the town of Şemdinli in Turkey's troubled Southeast reawakened suspicions that the "deep state" is still alive and well.
When prosecutors then freed two of the men, and Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt, the head of Turkey's land forces, described one of them as "a good soldier," the suspicions deepened.
"There are two states (in Turkey)," former President Süleyman Demirel told NTV, commenting on the bombing and making clear he believed Turkey had not changed very much.
"There is the state and there is the deep state. ... When a small difficulty occurs, the civilian state steps back and the deep state becomes the generator (of decisions)."
Though there is no evidence suggesting the involvement of senior military personnel in the Şemdinli bombing, diplomats and analysts say the government's ability to bring the bombers to justice will demonstrate just how much Turkey has broken free of the "deep state" and become a more open, transparent society.
"This is a litmus test for Turkey ... because of our European Union candidacy," said İdiz.
The European Commission said in its latest progress report published last week that Turkey had to do more to rein in the military, eliminate torture and boost Kurdish cultural rights.
The government, clearly rattled by allegations that members of the security forces may have taken the law into their own hands, has ordered a full parliamentary inquiry into the Şemdinli incident and has urged the public to remain calm.
However, angry locals fearing a cover-up have clashed daily with police in Şemdinli and other towns in the impoverished Southeast, chanting pro-Kurdish slogans. Several people have been killed and many more injured in the protests.
"Şemdinli is, of course, in the Southeast, near Iraq, so you have the Kurdish issue too to contend with. The 'deep state' has always been most visible in that region because it is more lawless and harder for Ankara to monitor," said one diplomat.
Turkish security forces have been battling an armed campaign by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the Southeast since 1984. Violence, strongest in the 1980s and 1990s, has recently increased after the PKK ended a six-year unilateral cease-fire.
Senior army commanders have complained that the government, in its efforts to bring Turkey into line with EU practices, has prevented them from cracking down more effectively on the PKK.
Some Turkish media have speculated that elements in the "deep state" are trying to provoke instability in order to win a freer hand in the southeast. Others see only the hand of the PKK in the Semdinli and the many other bombings in the region.
Adding to the complexity of the situation, the military establishment deeply distrusts Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) because of their roots in political Islam.
William Hale, a veteran specialist in Turkish affairs at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, said the Şemdinli affair recalled a 1996 scandal that erupted after a car carrying a top police official, a wanted mobster and a parliamentarian crashed in western Turkey.
The crash pointed to shady links between politicians, police, the military and criminal gangs, but the investigation petered out due, he said, to a lack of political will.
"The difference is that then we had a government only half in control (due to the 'deep state'). Now, the government has no excuses. The AKP is a party of outsiders, anti-deep state, even anti-state in some respects," he told Reuters, in an allusion to the government's Islamist leanings.
"Erdoğan needs to show the EU that things have changed."