The referendum proposed by Turkey’s government has been passed with 58 percent of the population approving it in a vote with 77.5 percent turnout. The Obama Administration is praising the 26 amendments that bring Turkey in a more democratic direction but undermine the military and judiciary that protect the country’s secularism. The State Department may not realize it, but it has congratulated Prime Minister Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) on paving the way for the further Islamization of Turkey.
After the results came in, the State Department spoke in favor of the referendum. “We hope that through these reforms, it will further enhance Turkey’s democratic processes and human rights protection…. This was a choice for the Turkish people, and there was a very strong, decisive vote to move towards greater civilian oversight of these democratic institutions,” a State Department spokesman said. Iran also hailed the referendum.
Erdogan framed the reforms as necessary for Turkey to become a member of the European Union and establish itself as a democracy. Unfortunately, democratization also benefits the AKP and its Islamist agenda. Civilian courts will now have power over the High Military Council and military courts cannot be used to try civilians, but civilian courts can try military officers. This is a way of reducing the political power of the military that has safeguarded Turkey’s secularism.
The referendum also permits the parliament to select who sits on the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges. Previously, the judiciary was independent, choosing its own leadership free of political influence. This is particularly concerning because the AKP holds a majority in the parliament, allowing the party to oversee the judiciary without any significant checks and balances. The second most powerful party, the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), controls less than one-third of the parliament.
A new constitution can now be written because of the referendum. The AKP has not discussed any link between Shariah law and the new constitution they are preparing, but with a huge majority in parliament, the AKP can fully actualize its agenda. Luckily, the AKP says the new constitution will not be proposed until after the next general elections in July 2011.
Erdogan and the AKP have been hard at work at Islamizing Turkey and promoting anti-American and especially anti-Israeli sentiment. One of their biggest adversaries is the military. The referendum takes away the immunity granted to the military officers involved in the coup of 1980, although some say the statute of limitations prohibits their prosecution. The prosecutor’s office is working on a report on its conclusions about whether prosecution is permissible.
The government has also arrested over 40 current and former military officers for allegedly planning a coup in 2003 and over 200 people altogether have been charged. Among those arrested is the former head of the special forces, the former commander of the First Army, and the former commanders of the navy and air force. They are accused of planning to blow up mosques, attack minorities and spark a military conflict with Greece, which they deny. Opponents of Erdogan accuse him of trumpeting up the charges for political reasons.
Erdogan was himself put in prison in 1998 for his work with the Islamist Welfare Party. His party has been praised for being “moderate Islamist” by the Muslim Brotherhood’s political chief and his foreign policy confirms his Islamist agenda. He and President Gul met with the Iranian-backed militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr in the spring of 2009, despite the Iraqi and American blood on his hands. Erdogan says that Hamas is not a terrorist group and under his leadership, Turkey opposed sanctions on Iran and has grown close to Syria and Sudan. The former ally of the U.S. and Israel is firmly in the anti-Western bloc. There are even reports that Turkey is considering developing nuclear weapons.
Proof of Erdogan’s Islamism can be found in his ties to the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief, more commonly referred to as the IHH. This is the Islamist group that masterminded the ambush of Israeli soldiers when they sent a ship to break the blockade on Gaza. Previously, IHH members were arrested in 1997 for planning to support jihadists in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. The French counter-terrorism magistrates’ report said that the IHH’s goal “was to illegally arm its membership for overthrowing the democratic, secular, and constitutional order present in Turkey and replacing it with an Islamic state founded on the Shariah.”
It is telling that the IHH has praised Erdogan and its operatives have confirmed having close links to the AKP and Erdogan, including those involved in the flotilla incident. The ship used to challenge the Israelis was purchased from an AKP-owned company and interestingly, the IHH members got onto the ship without inspection. Investigators have also found a letter from the leader of the IHH to President Gul requesting help in having Israel release one of the organization’s members. Over 20 of the IHH’s board of directors have close connections to the AKP.
These facts underscore how dangerous the referendum is. If the AKP still holds a majority in parliament after the July 2011 elections, the Islamist group will have free reign to pass whichever constitution it envisions. Fortunately, the biggest secular opposition party, the CHP, has chosen a popular new leader named Kemal Kilicdaroglu. A poll from June shows him with a one percent lead over Erdogan, but the poll was taken months before the referendum, which should give Erdogan a bounce. One Israeli political expert predicts that the AKP will be defeated and Erdogan removed as Prime Minister if current trends persist. Erdogan’s foreign policy could also cause a backlash against him, as Hezbollah is supported by only three percent of Turks and Hamas by five percent.
The Iranian regime is reportedly rushing to Erdogan’s aid by donating $12 million to his political party for use in the upcoming campaign. According to the report, which Turkey denies, the Iranians are offering up to $25 million more and agreed to finance the IHH. If the report is true, then one can expect Turkey to move even closer to Iran and the Islamists if the AKP succeeds in the next election.
It is frightening to think about how the AKP will take advantage of this referendum. Party loyalists and Islamist sympathizers can be chosen to pack the courts, the final branch of government that can oppose their agenda. These courts can then be used to try military officers. And next summer, if the AKP holds a majority in parliament, they can pass a new constitution. The next election will be a decisive moment in whether Turkey will be a friend or enemy of the West.
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