by Fatih Beren

Recently, Turkey has dealt with an abundance of diverse and significant security issues and some of them have directly affected the balance between security and freedom. Within the past few years, there seems to be two landmark examples of this – the corruption scandal in December 2013 and the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

The details of these examples are not the key points for this paper. However, to clearly understand the ramifications of these two events on both security and freedom, one must look to the results of the prevention of the corruption scandal investigation and the investigation of the failed coup attempt (FCA). Both of these include many “black spots”. Although there was sometimes no clear objective or motive for the actions, more than one hundred thousand civil servants were fired, over seventy-five thousand people were detained, and almost thirty-five thousand people were arrested in the weeks following the coup attempt. Since then, Turkey’s political path has been shifted dramatically from democracy and western values to autocracy and the principles of dictatorship. This transformation can be argued from the perspective of many academic disciplines such as international relations, sociology, law, and criminal justice, but this paper will focus on Turkey’s response to the coup attempt from the perspective of politics.

Constitutional Principles and the State’s Monopoly of Force Before analyzing Turkey’s response to the coup attempt, I would like to underline some points of the idea of the state’s monopoly of force. The monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force, described first by Max Weber as the defining concept of the state, is one of the main concepts of modern public law. ii In this respect, states have the exclusive right to use, threaten, or authorize physical force against residents within their own territory. It does not mean that only the government may use physical force. Other groups, such as terrorist organizations, the mafia or other criminal organizations may also use physical force, but in an illegitimate way. Due to this concession, modern states are controlled and restricted by Constitutional law, which protects the separations of power, rule of law, and human rights. Otherwise, states could possibly be a threat to the residents of their own country and the acts of the states could resemble acts of terrorism, which is an example of the use of force without any limitations or principles.

After any significant crisis, governments should analyze each case thoroughly and make a rational and strategic response, otherwise it could be considered hasty. In this case, the Turkish government’s response to the coup attempt seems extremely hasty and even politically pragmatic. Even though they had not been involved in any stage of the coup, without any tangible evidence, almost 3500 judges, thousands of police officers, including Supreme Court members, civil servants, deans, academics, and military officers were dismissed and detained immediately. It does not seem to be a criminal investigation, but an absolute crackdown. In the immediate aftermath, when President Erdogan stated that the coup attempt was a gift from God, it was a pretext for him to re-engineer the military and other Constitutional Institutions of the country. This notion suggests the government’s desire for unaccountable and unlimited rights to transform the state. This was totally unconstitutional and the subsequent actions and regulations by the government have proved this assumption correct.

Immediately after the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and suspended the European Convention on Human Rights. Since then, there have been many examples of the abuse of power. For instance, the duration of detention of a non-convicted individual increased from one to thirty days, despite the Parliamentary Coup Investigation Commission has not invited to hear the testimony of the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Chief of General Staff and putschist general Mehmet Dişli, the brother of a senior ruling party politician. With the sacking, detention, and arrest of tens of thousands of individuals in just a couple of weeks, the government’s reaction has offended the constitution explicitly. In addition to this, they have also limited the means for any objecting voice and restricted the rights to a fair trial in Turkey.

Also of great significance, is when President Erdogan stated, “The president (Erdogan) is the head of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary in this country.” iii This quote is referring to the absence of the separation of powers in Turkey today. Erdogan’s regime in Turkey doesn’t seem to have any democratic principles such as professionalism, accountability, transparency and parliamentary oversight.

As a Conclusion

First of all, this is not a sustainable way of governance. Although the government seems to be getting stronger nowadays, it actually does not. As a result of ongoing ‘securitization process’, it is explicitly threating its democracy and rule of law, but there is no strong dissent voice against current antidemocratic practices due to the fear of persecution. Democratic values and constitutional principles, such as the rule of law, separation of power, and human rights, are indispensable and their legitimacy should be based firmly on constitutional regulations.

Second, having the right to take extraordinary countermeasures shifts the government from a democracy to an autocracy, with no hopes of bringing back democratic rule in the short term. Once set in motion, governments never want to give up their “whip hand” to keep their positions and protect their own interests. As seen in Lord Acton’s famous statement, “Power corrupts (and) absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” Another threat to the Turkish Republic is this tendency, as this could further shift the government from democracy to autocracy.

Third, within this period, it is difficult for governments to focus on credible national security threats. To understand this notion more thoroughly, I will use the following analogy: when pilots are confused about the skyline, they will most likely crash – because they can’t decide anymore what is real and what is not real. In terms of governments, when they focus on unreal security threats with the securitization process, they cannot recognize the real and credible threats to national security anymore.

n conclusion, to reiterate, Turkey’s response to the coup attempt and the subsequent crackdown in Turkey is more than just a human rights and governance issue. It is totally and utterly a national security issue, related to the future of the Turkish Republic and the Turkish people.


*Fatih Beren is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Justice Law and Criminology in the School of Public Affairs at American University in DC.

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