Leila Piran, Institutional Change in Turkey: The Impact of European Union Reforms on Human Rights and Policy (New York: Palgrave, 2013).
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Leila Piran (LP): I wanted to write about democratization and political reform in a Muslim-majority country. Turkey represents a noteworthy example because of the rich history of reforms, ranging from Ottoman reforms aimed at modernization of the Empire to the ongoing Republican reforms starting in 1923. In general, police reform is one of the most challenging projects for any country to undertake, particularly since police departments are authoritarian and hierarchical institutions, especially in countries with a history of military interventions. Even more perplexing was the timing of police reform that occurred during the Kurdish insurgency and sporadic terrorist attacks on Turkish soil.
I wanted to find out to whether the EU was the driver or the anchor for reforms in Turkey. I picked the police because the police, as an institution, is understudied. This is especially the case in developing countries that are going through transitions from military-dominated regimes to democracy, so Turkish police reforms served as the perfect case.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?
LP: The book challenges the European politics literature, which assumes that the EU remains the main anchor for change in candidate countries. This EU-emphasis dismisses domestic factors and drivers that could contribute to reform in a EU candidate country. In addition, the book is unique because it focuses on a case of police reform at the height of domestic terrorism and insurgency in Turkey, namely that of the 1980s and 1990s; most studies of police reform only pay attention to post-conflict police reform in post-war societies or Western police departments that had to reform as a result of loss of reputation and morale among the citizenry due to violence and corruption during protests.
The book also challenges the historical institutionalist approach, which assumes that institutions change abruptly as a result of external pressures. In contrast, I build a case for gradual displacement whereby the Turkish National Police was transformed due to endogenous pressures into a modern and separate police department after the military relinquished power to civilian rule in 1983. At that time, Prime Minister Özal began to revamp the police, boosting its budget and sending police officers abroad for education and training. I posit that this outcome was the result of a gradual process that happened over a period of two hundred years, when the first Ottoman police department was established in 1845, one which was always undermined by the military police, the Jandarma, until recently.
J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous research?
LP: In the early drafts, I did not take into consideration the weight and influence of the 1982 constitution drafted by the military junta on contemporary Turkey. Unfortunately, the legacy of the military coup still haunts Turkey. The military, as the guardian of the secular Republic, used the coup to restructure society and re-appropriate power through suppressing opposition groups, particularly leftists. I understood the state’s power to define and restrict democratic reform because of national security concerns. However, in order to remain objective, I also paid careful attention to the civil society’s efforts for democratic change, reflecting the desire of many ordinary Turks.
When interviewing the police, I noticed that there was a tendency to take all the credit for reform. My skepticism led me to search deeper and identify academic, business, and civil society actors who had lobbied successfully to win over opponents in the Turkish parliament prior to the 1999 Helsinki summit, when the EU gave a clear signal for membership to Turkey.
Initially, I had not realized to what extent the legal and judicial aspects of political life in Turkey would matter to the success or failure of human rights and police reform. In the final draft, therefore, I revisited my field research notes and wrote an additional chapter on the challenges that lawyers and human rights activists still face because of the authoritarian Turkish constitution. Despite several rounds of reforms, the constitution still needs to acknowledge citizens` rights instead of strengthening the state`s already coercive mechanisms. Focusing on human rights as the central topic of the book, I wanted to demonstrate that, regardless of how invested the EU is in this project, police reform cannot succeed without the rule of law, transparency, and accountability within all state institutions, including the courts, prisons, and police stations. In essence, the book developed from a single case study for my doctoral dissertation to a model for reform and redevelopment, explaining why democratic reform results in temporary and limited success because of a country`s acute national security concerns.
J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
LP: I would like for everyone to read the book regardless of how much they already know about Turkey and human rights reforms. Above all, I would like EU officials and Turkish policymakers to read my book because many of them have false assumptions that Turkish police reform is completed. However, the police need to constantly go through education and human rights training. If the EU and Turkish leaders had focused on constant training of the police, then perhaps police would not have behaved in such a violent manner against protesters during the last summer`s Gezi Park protests. I hope that reading this book would spur a genuine debate on the importance of promoting human rights in Turkey and elsewhere.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
LP: I am working on a comparative study of state Islamicization policies in Iran and Turkey. I examine the factors that might contribute to the success and/or failure of these policies. Meanwhile, I am writing a paper on the future of human rights and democratic reforms in the aftermath of the Gezi Protests.
J: How do you think human rights and democratization policies in Turkey will unfold in the coming years?
LP: Unfortunately, a large number of Turks have lost their faith in the EU reforms, and the current government`s commitment does not seem genuine. The EU`s enforcement and reinforcement mechanisms are limited because it relies heavily on conditionality. As long as there is no effective and long-term solution to the Kurdish issue, human rights violations will continue. Meanwhile, as long as the state continues to violate citizens` rights and violently disregard their grievances, democratic consolidation will not take hold in Turkey. The strong state tradition is still valid in Turkey. The state has become more powerful and coercive despite its satisfactory economic performance. This coercive state could explain why the AKP enjoys relatively significant support among its supporters. As the Gezi Park protests indicate, the police have become more coercive, in turn, because of their subservience to the state and the current government of Prime Minister Erdogan. Therefore, I do not envision a positive outcome for Turkey concerning democratization and human rights in the long run unless the public’s dissatisfaction with the AKP’s damaged reputation as a result of the recent corruption scandal would change their votes at the polls in March and the presidential election in summer 2014. We should wait and see.
Excerpts from Institutional Change in Turkey: The Impact of European Union Reforms on Human Rights and Policy
In contrast to recent studies, evidence drawn from my interviews with senior police officials underlines the gravity of internal threats to Turkish sovereignty and state survival. The sudden rise of terrorist incidents and the high number of casualties in the beginning of the 1980s grabbed headlines in the media. In addition, the massive disorder of the 1970s was not a distant memory. Therefore, the government was compelled to resolve the public’s concerns swiftly. The PKK and leftist movements such as DHKP/C (Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front) and TIKKO (Liberation Army of Workers and Peasants) carried out numerous terrorist attacks against Turkish targets.
Therefore, the TNP, as part of the government’s law enforcement apparatus, began to revamp its organizational structure to address its shortcomings and dispel the perception that the government was not equipped to deal with the ongoing threat against state sovereignty.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the police had been preoccupied with maintaining public order during student demonstrations and pro-labor rights rallies; therefore, the government had allocated significant resources and training to address this grave issue. Naturally, the police had specialized in maintaining public order.
However, that changed in the 1980s with the rise in terrorist incidents and with escalation of the Kurdish insurgency. The Turkish military’s jurisdiction covered only those areas where the government had declared martial law. Initially, such areas covered over half of Turkey’s territory, but as the police became more competent, particularly in the larger metropolitan areas, the military began to relinquish its jurisdiction in for of the police. Due to the scale and escalation of the conflict to other areas, the military and the Jandarma needed to redeploy their resources in areas away from Western Turkey, and they could not achieve that until the police had gained the capacity and the efficiency to replace them. As a result, the government began to rely on the police as a major actor in its counterterrorism campaign.
The early 1990s were marked with vibrant internal debates that led the Turkish government to continue on the path of reform with particular focus on the police since Turkey’s human rights record had impeded its application for membership. Following the arrest of Ocalan in 1999, the Kurdish insurgency went underground and spread to Syria, Iraq, and Europe. In 2004, the PKK commenced a campaign of attack on Turkish civilians and military forces. Therefore, 1999–2004 marked a period during which the temporary reprieve from the Kurdish problem provided the space and opportunity for the government to focus on substantial democratization and human rights reforms in accordance with EU demands.
For example, lawyers and the coalition government had thoroughly scrutinized nearly all laws related to police and law enforcement and made recommendations for revisions. The most significant step toward democratic policing stemmed from reforming the Criminal Justice System Act (CMUK) in 1992. Turkish lawyers and lawmakers revamped and modernized the original act, which was modelled after the German Criminal Justice Act. Inspired by the British Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984, they introduced new changes such as shortening the period of detention, improving conditions for interrogation, and granting legal representation to suspects who do not have access to an attorney or the funds to hire one. According to the old act, a detainee could only have access to an attorney in court, not in the police station.
These unprecedented and significant steps toward democratization were met with opposition from TNP senior officials. For instance, the chief of Antalya police, Erturk, claimed that the police faced difficulty in applying the new act since it offered legal representation to the suspect at every stage of detention, but did not respect the rights of the victim. Moreover, the previous Minister of Interior, Gazioglu, thought that the new act was not fit for the Turkish policing system since it gave too many rights to the suspects and limited police powers.
Although the Turkish public viewed the police’s fight against terrorism as “successful,” the press always questioned the ill-treatment of suspects after every counterterrorist operation. By the early 1990s, for instance, there had been sufficient public discussion and media attention addressing the alarming rate of police misconduct and inhuman treatment of suspects. Cao and Burton’s study employing data from the World Values Survey indicates that the Turkish public has had a high level of confidence in its police compared to more mature democracies of the EU. Over two-thirds of Turkish respondents in the European and World Value Survey reported increasing confidence in the TNP. These results hint at an upward trend in public confidence in the police that in 1990 was 62.5 percent and had risen to 68.6 percent for the 1995 sample. In 2000, 70.7 percent of the Turkish public expressed confidence in the police. The 1995 level of confidence was significantly higher than the one in 1990, but it was lower than the most current data in 2000. I should note that the sample size has consistently increased over the years, from 1,030 respondents in 1990 to 1,907 respondents in 1996, and then to a final 4,543 respondents in 2000. Cao and Burton conclude that the rising trend in public confidence in police corresponds with theoretical predictions that public confidence in the police tends to increase when society becomes more democratic.
Other objective experts note otherwise. Dr. Andrew Goldsmith, who was commissioned by the UNDP and the Ministry of Interior, believes that the rising public trust in police seems to stem from the TNP’s receptiveness toward social demands for democratization and human rights.
As I will discuss in chapter four, the TNP sponsored several public relations campaigns to improve its own image. Moreover, the Ministry of Interior launched community policing initiatives in big cities that could have contributed to the increased level of public trust in police. Cao and Burton conclude that rising public trust in police is based on the popular perception that the TNP and the political elite have protected society against serious threats, particularly against Kurdish separatist groups’ demonstrations.
This outcome does not astonish in the sense that Turks desire political stability and many associate the PKK’s ultimate aim as territorial autonomy of the Kurds from Turkey. Therefore, populist and nationalist support for the police’s antiriot squads against pro-Kurdish rights demonstrators should not be confused with the emergence of the public sector’s democratic accountability.
Another unusual outcome from Cao and Burton’s research reveals a rising level of Kurdish confidence in urban police as opposed to rural police. Goldsmith finds this an odd development since the majority of studies on public-police relations in other countries suggest the opposite trend. In Turkey, however, rural inhabitants–police relations are not typical because of the overarching and unresolved issue of internally displaced persons, the Kurdish separatist issue in rural areas, and a long history of the martial law and emergence rule.
Furthermore, I contend that the rising public confidence in the police demonstrates their rising trust in the government’s performance, since the government views the police as a bureaucratic law enforcement agency accountable to the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Erdogan. In addition, the Turkish public’s rising confidence in the police may indicate their satisfactory response to the police’s day-to-day service to the public. As the police has conformed to the EU protocols, it has transformed from a watchman kind of police into a competent service-oriented force.
The public confidence in the current government and the police shows its appreciation for stability and efficacy. In contrast, the Gallup polls in the late 1990s and early 2000 indicated a low measure of trust in politicians and the Ecevit government. As for the armed forces, 81.3 percent of those surveyed said that they trusted the armed forces in December 1996, compared with 78.8 percent in January 1997 and 78.9 percent in June 1999. Even in September 1999, a month after Turkey had suffered the trauma of a massive earthquake, the armed forces still shined as the most trusted institution with 65.1 percent rate of confidence followed by Turkey’s police with 51.7 percent.
According to a recent Pollmark survey, 64.3 percent of the Turkish public believes that the most successful institution is the police. This opinion poll reveals a surprising shift in the Turkish public’s view that the military, traditionally, been the most trusted institution. However, here the military lags behind the police with 60.4 percent rate of approval and the presidency with 51.3 percent support. According to 30.6 percent of the respondents, their most admired politician is Prime Minister Erdogan. It seems that the ongoing investigation into Ergenekon, a crime network that has allegedly been connected to clandestine elements within the state and is suspected of plotting coups against the government in favor of the military, has tilted public opinion toward the police.
Reference to public opinion polls and survey results in this chapter has compelled me to point to several caveats. I caution against making conclusions based on poll results for several reasons. First, the survey questions asked in the Pollmark study are not published. Second, survey respondents may or may not reveal their true thoughts or emotions for fear of retribution or the danger of losing their jobs. Third, public opinion polls and surveys are not done as frequently and efficiently in Turkey as in its Western counterparts. Fourth, the Pollmark-sponsored survey is limited to 12 major cities in Turkey, so it does not reflect the public confidence in eastern and southeastern major cities, previously known as the hotbeds of terrorism and insurgency, such as Diyarbakir and Van where the armed forces clash with protestors frequently.
The Emergence of the EU: Realignment of Domestic Politics
Internal dynamics and the emergence of other actors provided a conducive environment for reforms within the police. The waning Kurdish insurgency and the arrest of the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999 presented two significant turning points for Turkey-EU relations. The EU’s promising announcement of Turkish candidacy for full membership had meant fulfilling the Copenhagen political criteria with the most controversial conditions consisting of abolishing the death penalty, eradicating police torture, and granting cultural rights to the Kurds—all human rights issues aimed at curtailing the armed forces’ power in favor of Turkish citizens.
When the EU granted candidate status to Turkey at the 1999 Helsinki summit, the Kemalist conservatives continued to view the EU accession process as a threat to Turkey’s national security. Therefore, even the slightest measure toward democratization and amelioration of human rights taken by the Kemalist moderates (in this study, the pro-EU camp, particularly the TNP) was exaggerated as a security issue and had to be protected from unwanted interferences. The most striking feature of this power struggle was that the actors behind these two camps sought or claimed to seek the same goal: a truly modern Turkey in line with the path of modernization set by Ataturk. Although the anti-EU bloc enjoyed considerable support from ultranationalists, certain military generals, the bureaucratic elite, and from left-wing politicians, the economic benefits of EU membership served as an attractive incentive for skeptics who feared that these politically costly reforms would challenge the Kemalist order.
Evidently, the Turkish parliament and the weak coalition government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit worked to overcome ultranationalist and authoritarian sentiments to reach a pro-EU compromise. In spite of Prime Minister Ecevit’s illness and a continuous lack of agreement among members of parliament, the assembly succeeded in obtaining the opposition parties’ consensus in a very short period and passed a European Union Adoption package including fifteen articles that seemed to meet the human rights requirements of the EU on paper. Thus, the comprehensive set of constitutional and legal reforms signalled Turkish preparedness for the opening of accession negotiations in December 2001.
[Excerpted from Institutional Change in Turkey: The Impact of European Union Reforms on Human Rights and Policy, by Leila Piran, by permission of the author. © 2013 by Leila Piran. For more information, or to purchase this book, click here.]