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Former General Gets Life in Prison as Erdogan Tightens Grip on Turkey


The former chief of staff of the Turkish military was sentenced to life in prison today at a high security prison west of Istanbul. Retired General Ilker Basbug was among dozens of people convicted on charges that included plotting to overthrow the government, running death squads, and organizing a terrorist network called Ergenekon. The FT reports:

Others sentenced included Veli Kucuk, a retired brigadier general accused of running death squads in the country’s southeast, who received a double life sentence; Mustafa Balbay, a journalist and opposition member of parliament, who was jailed for 34 years; and Kemal Guruz, former head of the country’s higher education council, who was sentenced to almost 14 years.

“This has become more of a political than a legal case,” said Cengiz Çandar, a prominent Turkish journalist. “It looks like settling scores against an old military authoritarianism by a new civilian authoritarianism.”

He argued that the sheer number of guilty verdicts suggested the case had sucked in far more than a central group of people who conspired against the government.

Democracy in Turkey under Erdoğan is a double-edged sword. His efforts to gain control over the military, which was politically powerful and executed coups d’état in 1960, 1971, and 1980, are in principle strengthening democracy in Turkey by solidifying civilian control over the military and discouraging it from ever again trying to take control of the government. But Erdoğan himself is becoming more and more authoritarian. He paints himself as a populist and widely loved throughout the country, which has been stable and prosperous under his 10-year reign, but he silences critics, jails journalists and dissidents (Turkey is the top jailer of journalists in the world, ahead of China and Iran), and led a brutal crackdown on protests in Gezi Park in May and June. He tolerates no threats to or criticism of his vision of Turkey and its future.

Today that vision took another step forward, and the military took another step back into the barracks. Seeing their comrades sentenced to life in prison, Turkey’s current military leadership probably has no intention of getting on Erdoğan’s bad side. But as for Turkish democracy—well, it too was on display today. Some 1,000 people protested against Erdoğan’s authoritarianism outside the prison this morning but were blasted with tear gas and water cannons by riot police.

With authoritarianism on the rise in Turkey, the military back in power in Egypt, and Butcher Assad still sitting in Damascus, the Obama administration’s attempts to promote democracy in the Arab world increasingly look like a policy in ruins.

[Image of protestors outside Silivri prison near Istanbul where Gen. Basbug and others were sentenced in the Ergenekon trial; courtesy Getty Images]

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  • wigwag

    Obama is Erdogan’s greatest enabler. Has the American President ever met an Islamist tyrant that he doesn’t like?

    • bpuharic

      The tin foil hat brigade is working overtime

      The fact is, for DECADES these oppressive regimes fostered Islamists. They quashed moderate parties, hoping that extremists would be too extreme for domestic consumption. They sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

      The simplistic analysis you just made indicates your view is shaped not by logic but by your nativist hatred of Obama.

  • bpuharic

    It’s a de facto statement that the level of democracy is greater now that it was under Bush. It may not be the type of democracy we LIKE, it may be evolving, but the Arab world is certainly more democratic than it was 10 years ago.

    This is a snapshot of a regime given to religious extremism. It’s so premature to make a conclusion about the direction of Arab democracy that to say Obama’s policies are in ruin is like saying we lost WW2 because of Pearl Harbor.

    • wigwag

      Turks are not Arabs.

      • bpuharic

        Although that’s true, see WRM’s last paragraph above.

      • Jim__L

        It’s really tough to resist the temptation to feed the troll, isn’t it?

  • bigfire

    I’ve always taken it for granted that the constitution of 1924 institutionalized Army’s guardianship of the country, and it’s their duty to overthrow government. Well, that’s dust now.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “the Obama administration’s attempts to promote democracy in the Arab world increasingly look like a policy in ruins.”

    What did the Obama administration ever do to promote democracy in the Arab world? It looks to me like they have gotten into bed with the forces of Tyranny every chance they got, and gave the back of their hand to democracy everywhere.

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