[OPINION] Does the Turkish ‘deep state’ exist?

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Ali Soylu, Ph.D.*

The “state” is sacred, especially for developing countries. The survival, welfare, rights and dignity of the state come before the rights of the individual and society. The societal acceptance that the individual and society can be sacrificed for the state is dominant. The state is the “father-protector”; without it, individuals and society would not exist.

While democratic societies moved away from this distorted sense of state and adopted a human-centered approach, Turkey and its counterparts persistently normalized this outdated understanding. Populist politicians, who use the national and moral values of their society for their own political survival, have a great role in this distorted, inhumane approach. In Turkey, especially in the last decade, the approach that blesses the state and is careless about individual rights has reached its peak.

Those who believe this approach sanctify the state and see the leaders as the shadow and caliph of God. Leaders who run the state marginalize everyone who favors freedom and democracy and prioritizes basic human rights. They accuse the opposition of being “traitors” and “terrorists” and treat them as such. This situation and approach push the country and society (the state they bless) into the abyss.

The state is responsible for regulating the relationship between the people and the judicial system and between the people and the state, and for ensuring the security of its citizens with the security forces. Another task of the state is collecting taxes to ensure justice and security. In other words, collecting taxes, ensuring justice and providing security are the main duties of the state.

Malicious groups and individuals become cruel when they use the authorities and power of the state for their own interests. The state can take on mafia-like features as it uses the social power given to it by the law. The state becomes tyrannical when necessary and can use the stick of the law against the individuals who created it and can seize their property and freedom. The most dangerous is the deprivation of control mechanisms of this collective power. The state that violates the law and conducts illegal business becomes a bandit state or a mafia state.

There is an invisible “deep state” that goes no further than a conspiracy theory, though the majority of the society and even those who run the state believe it. This “deep state,” which became legendary with Turkey’s transition to the multi-party democratic system in 1950 and which no one has seen, is no longer there, if it ever existed.

According to another thought, instead of a secret structure called the deep state, there are gangs and self-interested families and/or groups within the state. However, it is also believed they are no longer effective and even out of the system, replaced by new derivatives. In other words there are groups (for some, the “deep state”) that are loyal to the founding principles of the Republic of Turkey and consider themselves responsible for their own interests and ideologies in order to ensure the continuation of the established order that started with Atatürk.

A large segment of people believes that behind the “deep state” are countries such as the US and some European countries which they define as “foreign powers” who want to destroy Turkey. It is a common belief among the society in Turkey that “foreign powers” are in cooperation with the “deep state” and hinder the development of the country. This opinion has been strengthened in the last decade and advanced by populist politicians such as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Since the corruption operations of Dec. 17-25, 2013, Turkey has become a country where laws are not enforced and what comes out of Erdoğan’s mouth is considered law. Interestingly, when mafia leader Sedat Peker disclosed and confessed his unlawful relations with senior government officials through several videos last year, it became clear that the legal system along with the political and economic systems are corrupt.

The society thinks that the so-called “deep state” mentioned above and its actors, who showed their reactions to the actions of the government with the “Republic rallies” on the street and the “Gezi Park” protests in İstanbul in 2013 were guided by the “deep state.”

However, this “deep state,” for some reason, does not speak up or react to the biggest corruption and theft in the history of Turkey, which was revealed with the operations in December 2013. The same imaginary “deep state” remained a spectator to the biggest mosque in Turkey (a showoff for Erdogan’s magnificent power) built in Çamlıca, İstanbul, the reopening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque (after serving as a museum for 90 years) and the significant curriculum changes in the Turkish education system that destroyed secularism in the country.

The traditional perception of the “deep state” in Turkey is in favor of secularism and against religious radicalization. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) bases its arguments and actions on religious grounds. Therefore, if the “deep state” existed, it would not have allowed the AKP, which has ruled Turkey for the last two decades and destroyed all the values and achievements of the 100-year-old republic, to do all mentioned above. Or Turkey’s “deep state” evolved and came under Erdoğan’s control.

* Ali Soylu is an associate professor of management at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Twitter: @DrSoylu

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