At the end of 2013, there was a major corruption scandal in Turkey. We listened to a series of tapes over YouTube and although not much came out of it, there was one that I could never forget. A senior AKP member and a police chief were talking. The policeman was trying to explain that what the AKP guy wanted him to do was unlawful. At that point, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s man uttered the sentence, “You do whatever needs to be done, and we will pass the laws to cover you, do not worry about rules or regulations, we will take care of it.” As Turkey slithered from a crippled democracy into an authoritarian and a fascist system, I recalled this sentence frequently. Laws became arbitrary, while truth became invisible. We do not know the inflation rate, COVID-19 infection rate, or even poverty rate in Turkey. Today, even staunch AKP supporters find it difficult to trust state figures on the economy, even though Erdogan tells us the economy is booming, we are the best in the world, those who can still make a living buy American dollars as soon as they get paid. The truth has been the first victim of Erdogan’s power grab, and justice has fallen alongside with it.
Erdogan’s government is an endless law generating machine. There are so many presidential decrees, even the law professors cannot keep track. And more than new decrees, there are decrees that revise the previous decrees, so if you want to understand the recent one, you must dig through two or three other decrees, regulations, or omnibus bills. Most news agencies have simply given up. Journalists that explain the truth and manage to get it out frequently end up at court and sometimes in jail.
One of these decrees came out on January 6. It was a revision of an existing law about transfer of movable assets between the police, intelligence agency and armed forces. Turkey only has one intelligence agency, known as MIT, which deals with both domestic and international intel. MIT’s reach and responsibilities have been expanded in the last decade significantly. Its new building, called the castle, shines in Ankara as the center of military-security complex.
This revised bill has two parts. The first suggests that the three agencies can access each other’s movable assets as long as there is a minister’s signature. It talks about social unrest and terror events. Why was such a change needed? Turkish police have more than enough tools and gadgets and access to intel to crush any social movement. Indeed, it is notorious for use of excessive force on unarmed protesters. The frequent joke is that 99% of the time, uniformed and civilian cops together outnumber the protesters.
Plus, only a year ago, another decree has generated permission for police and the intelligence agency to acquire heavy weaponry on their own tenders. They do not really need to access the army’s gadgets and tools. Most of the reporting on the issue repeated the same “now the police will have access to the military’s weapons.”
If you step back and think for a minute though, you will realize that is not the real purpose of this decree. It is at best an ignorant explanation of a rather mind boggling new law. And the devil is certainly in the detail. As the second part of this amendment suggests no record keeping is necessary if these movable assets are to be transferred to an ally or friendly group based on international agreements and protocols. The record means keeping IDs for each product from a bullet to tank. Standard operating procedures of all proper armies require even in domestic transport every single product is recorded. Why would a government go against such a rule and say, “no do not record anything just transfer these weapons and military assets?” This part of the new regulation no one talks about. Not a word in English or Turkish I could find 10 days after it was published in the official gazette. For internal audits of the state should not such records be kept diligently?
Maybe one of the opposition lawmakers would ask this question at the Parliament. They can no longer ask questions verbally, so they would have to put in writing. The probability they will get an answer is 4%. That is the percentage of last year’s written questions answered at the Parliament. We oddly still have the official gazette which must publish the new bills, decrees, rules, and regulations so they can be considered official.
I guess we should consider ourselves lucky to have that. Does the public really need to know the presidential decrees? Most of us do not have a single clue about them anyhow, and the press cannot decode them or cannot publish them.
Where accurate data is not available, experts and intellectuals are regularly ridiculed and ignored, we end up mediocre at best. Law professors, senior military officials, and military historians I have contacted all threw up their hands and asked me my question back, why would Ankara issue such a presidential decree? I cannot help but recall Erdogan’s man on that tape “you do what you need to do, we will pass the laws to cover you.” This indeed is the crux of the Turkish style presidential system in effect since 2018.
The writer is a visiting scholar of political science in Los Angeles at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and a columnist for Al-Monitor.com.