Normalization of civil-military relations dominates EU monthly report

The monthly pre-accession report of August prepared by an EU delegation in Turkey has recognized an extended civilian oversight of the military in Turkey during August, on the eve of the release of the annual EU Progress Report on the country due on Oct. 12.

The monthly report, which comes before the release of the annual report on Turkish progress in the pre-accession period to the EU, touched on a large number of key developments in the country as well as the problems in Turkey’s journey to the EU.

The report, titled “Turkey: Monthly Pre-Accession Report,” put forth a large summary of developments, particularly in domestic and international politics, economics, democracy and human rights, while it assessed Turkey’s ability to assume the obligations of membership in over 30 fields.

The emphasis of the report lay largely with the normalization of relations between the civilian administration and the military top brass, as it cited the resignations of the top commanders from their posts in late July, days before a Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting took place, and hailed their swift replacement by Turkish officials in three days.

The EU delegation in Ankara prepares 12 monthly reports and sends them to Brussels. It is joined in doing so by EU delegations in Tel Aviv, Damascus, Amman, Cairo, Beirut and East Jerusalem. The monthly reports constitute the backbone of the annual report, which is usually published in the autumn of each year.

“President [Abdullah] Gül and PM [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan managed to contain the crisis with the swift appointment of acting Chief of [General] Staff Gen. [Necdet] Özel and [the] completion of the YAŞ meetings in three days without any delay decreased the tension,” noted the report and elaborated that force commanders were appointed in line with Gül and Erdoğan’s preferences. Pointing to a compromise between the military and the government to contain the crisis, the report also acknowledged that Gül and Erdoğan, in return, “endorsed the extension of the posts of detained active-duty officers,” who would otherwise have to retire. The report also registered “a symbolic step toward normalization” with the removal of a so-called e-memorandum, containing “harsh warnings against the government to block Gül’s presidential claim [in 2007],” from the website of the General Staff on Aug. 29.

The report also highlighted that Victory Day celebrations on Aug. 30 were hosted by President Gül instead of the chief of General Staff, in a move that defied a long-held military tradition and signaled shifting dynamics in the country toward increased civilian strength. The Turkish military constitutes the second-largest army among NATO countries, second only to the forces of the United States, and has enjoyed decades of significant clout over domestic and foreign politics in the country.

The report commented that the shift was welcomed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) as “normalization between military and civilian officials,” regarding a new seating plan in YAŞ that prioritized the premier. However, it added that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) held it “a disgrace to the army” when Gül hosted the Victory Day celebrations, blocking a traditional military show-off. It also referred to media reports which covered the government’s efforts on “harmonizing the state’s official protocol list with similar lists in EU countries,” a move that foresees the placement of the chief of General Staff after members of the Cabinet.

The projected new constitution was also placed at the top of the report’s highlights, as the report acknowledged that a drafting commission would be set up in mid-September comprising deputies and prominent constitutional experts, and a request of support for such a commission was communicated to the leaders of the two main opposition parties, the CHP and the MHP, by Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek. Çiçek reportedly asked both parties to send deputies capable of “compromise and consensus,” but did not approach lawmakers from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), who announced on Wednesday that they were going to end their four-month-long boycott of Parliament and take their oaths of office in order to claim their seats in the legislative body and join in on the preparation of the new constitution.

Concerning developments in the judiciary, the report noted that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) had come under allegations in the media with claims suggesting the party meddled in the investigation in the Deniz Feneri charity case. “The fact that the prosecutors were removed in a very short time was criticized widely whereas the media close to the AKP argued that the necessary procedures were followed,” it stated, and noted that an investigation of the matter was ongoing. The EU report also listed impending case rulings and sentences on Kurdish activists and politicians.

Although the report assessed that a recent decree from Aug. 27 amended laws in a way that made it possible to return the property of non-Muslim community foundations they claimed in a 1936 declaration, it induced that the amendment “failed to remedy all problems and several deficiencies” of the original law. The report nevertheless found the amendment “a positive move in the right direction” which could provide the return of properties to their rightful owners.

In terms of grander cultural rights and the protection of minorities, the report cited the admittance of Armenian immigrant children to minority schools, the elections of the board of members for non-Muslim community foundations and the introduction of Syriac language courses in the southeastern province of Mardin. But the Kurdish issue remained another knot in the report as it referred to escalating tension stemming from the increased activity of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The report also dwelled on the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) case against Kurdish politicians, BDP officials and mayors, saying the case was ongoing but without much progress.

As a backlash to the developments on the EU route, the report introduced a study by Bilgi University that showed a radical notion of censorship in the country’s media, self-imposed or otherwise. The study, having surveyed dozens of journalists from a large number of media outlets, arrived at the conclusion that 85 percent of journalists believed censorship, regardless of origin, was common in the Turkish media, while another 15 percent said it was fairly common. The report also quoted the study as putting forward that “in the past the military had a strong influence on controlling news stories; however, now the power seems to have shifted toward the police.”

The report also recognized continued violence and murders against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transvestite, transsexual (LGBTT) persons in the country, citing three examples from August where a woman was brutally beaten by her husband and required hospitalization, a gay man was stabbed to death and a transsexual was beaten up by seven men, but the perpetrators were released after giving statements.

In a chapter devoted to economics, the report listed figures and financial developments in the country, verifying that annual inflation in consumer prices increased to 6.65 percent in August, overriding the official target of 5.5 percent, but the unemployment rate decreased from 11 percent in May 2010 to 9.4 percent in May 2011.

The report also acknowledged that exports increased by 24.2 percent in July in comparison with last year, while imports saw a 29.9 percent increase in the same term. The 12-month trade deficit reached $100 billion, which the report announced as a new record for the country. It cited high tax revenues as the main reason for the country’s good budget performance in June, and added that the industrial production index had increased by 6.7 percent in June in comparison to last year.

The report devoted one-half of the almost 70 page study to showcase Turkey’s ability to assume the obligations of membership, where it listed all recent developments in the country that brought Turkey closer to EU standards. It also indicated developments in Turkey’s foreign policy with sub-chapters devoted to countries Turkey had connections with during the month. “Contacts between [US] President Barack Obama and Erdoğan continued to be frequent. Talks covered the Syrian and Libyan crises and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the report stated matter-of-factly and added that the US appreciated Turkey’s “ongoing humanitarian efforts in Libya and its participation in the NATO No-Fly Zone and Arms Embargo operations,” while the country encouraged Turkey to mend ties with Israel.