Who Are The Turkish Police?

June 3, 2013 11:40 a.m.

I got in touch with my correspondent on things Turkish and my main question – in addition to where is this going? – is who are the police?I asked for this reason. The police in Turkey were always part of Turkey’s so-called ‘deep state‘ – the mix of formal and informal organizations, factions and government bodies who depending on your point of view were either the guardians of Kemalism or the shadowy forces who really ran Turkey beneath the veneer of electoral democracy. Broadly speaking, that would mean they were a deeply Kemalist institution. But with the national police now striking so hard against the anti-Erdogan demonstrators, who are the police at this point? Have they been transformed over the decade of Erdogan’s time in power? Who are the leaders? Who are the rank and file?

Here’s what our correspondent told me …

Supposedly the police are the biggest arm of the state that’s been “infiltrated” by the Gülenists. Many people are convinced that the police is a largely Gülenist organization, if not at the absolute leadership levels then certainly among the rank and file of the police force. Pretty much everyone in the police does a stint in the Southeast where they spend a few years beating the crap out of Kurdish protesters, so this is not a new change of tactics for them; sadly, this is the same playbook they’ve always used against Kurds, but now that it’s against middle class and elite protesters it’s getting more media attention outside of the country. I wonder if someone’s given the police orders to be this brutal, or if it’s just the natural reaction of the Turkish police to fight back against protesters. I think the latter’s more likely. Regardless, I assume someone in the Interior Ministry will have to resign at some point or another over this, but I doubt it will go much higher than that unless it gets much worse in the next few days.

I don’t know how this will end up; I think it depends on what happens while Erdoğan is out of the country. The outcome I find most likely is that the proposed strike tomorrow fizzles and that people just angrily go back to work in a few days. Erdoğan holds on, and things continue as they were. It’s possible an internal AKP opposition faction could force Erdoğan to back down, though I don’t know who would lead that. (Could be Gül, which would be interpreted as a Gülen power play, could be someone else.) No matter how much the CHP criticizes, they just don’t have the public support, charisma, or experience to form a government of their own, and they won’t get in bed with either of the other two parties either. Even if all three were to come together, they can’t beat the AKP’s numbers. Yes, it’s been a while since the election in 2011, but the AKP’s fundamental support hasn’t changed all that much. On the flip side, the coverage that’s finally getting out of the police violence seems to be shocking many run-of-the-mill Turks. If the AKP/Erdoğan get the blame for that, it could hurt their numbers.

The next election is scheduled tentatively for the summer of 2015, and at some point the Parliament (TBMM) is supposed to release a draft constitution for referendum that will presumably propose a switch to a presidential (instead of parliamentary) system. Erdoğan wants to be the head of state in 2023, for the centennial of the country. I doubt he’ll do anything to seriously jeopardize his future electoral successes. He’s a smart politician – one of the smartest I’ve ever seen. He’s not out of the picture yet, not by any stretch. I would argue that this event is no more authoritarian (though certainly more provocative) than any of his other ridiculous plans to consolidate power, such as the Ergenekon/Balyoz trials that have decimated the officer corps in the military. Those are actually much more corrosive, but because they are perversions of the judiciary and not blatant, televised violence, they didn’t attract as much popular disgust.

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