x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Turkish verdict means it's time for new issues

Turkey's sentencing of 300 officers for an attempted coup is a chance for the government to move on to other issues

Friday's sentencing of more than 300 Turkish officers for plotting a coup against the government almost a decade ago, is a welcome victory for civilian rule and law and order. But it is also a signal that Turkey can now move on to other issues.

The case, dubbed "Sledgehammer", reads like the plot of one of Turkey's soap operas: a military cabal plotted in 2002-03 to bomb two mosques and to shoot down a fighter jet and blame Greece, creating a crisis in which they could seize power.

Starting with the formation of the republic in the 1920s, the army made itself the bulwark of the country's secular "Kemalist" constitution. At least four times, most recently in 1997, the military has pushed a civilian government from office.

But times have changed. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power for a decade, has presided over an economic boom and remains highly popular, winning a new majority in the legislature just last year. And during its time in office the AKP has greatly reduced the shadow that the "deep state" - a term for military leaders and certain allied economic interests - used to cast over democratic government. This trial, and two others still not yet completed but involving related matters, have transformed the relationship between the armed forces and the civilian government, and in a healthy direction.

However, "civilian" does not mean "ideal" and the growing power of the AKP administration raises some concerns of its own. There are plausible and unanswered claims that some evidence against the officers was faked, raising grave questions about judicial independence; the weekend verdicts will be appealed.

The Journalists Union of Turkey said in March that 94 reporters were in jail, more than in China and Iran combined, mostly for merely doing their jobs. And new school reforms, while welcomed by many, are seen by some others as creeping Islamism.

Most seriously, the government has made no progress in reconciling with the Kurdish minority, estimated at over 18 per cent of Turkey's 75 million people. Constitutional talks, once seen as a way to open a better era in relations with the Kurds, appear stalled, and the situation on the border with Syria is raising, not lowering, tensions in Turkey's Kurdish areas.

The army has now plainly been subordinated to the civilian government, as is proper. Now Ankara needs to show that it will use its authority in the higher interests of all Turks, including the Kurds.