By Daniella Kuzmanovic
The judiciary in Turkey tends to have a statist, Kemalist bias. The judiciary in Turkey has traditionally never been considered objective by the Turkish public at large. Rather they have been viewed as representatives of particular perspectives, outlooks and worldviews, most notably that of the statist, Kemalist elite but also to some extent of right-wing nationalists. Two highly interesting reports came out yesterday from Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), which substantiate such claims. The first report analyses data from 51 qualitative interviews with judges and prosecutors (12 women and 39 men) from four various provinces in Turkey (Ankara, Istanbul, Diyarbakır and Trabzon). This report illustrates how people within the system are inclined to articulate and also rule on the basis of the worldview of the statist elite. The second report analyses data from 59 qualitative interviews with people from 20 provinces in Turkey (18 of the respondents are from Kars, though, and many other provinces are only represented by a single or two respondents) about their views on and possible experiences with the judiciary. One of the main conclusions of this report is that people perceive the judiciary as if it is a government agency, and that the courts do not display equal treatment for all citizens.
The reason for the reports is of course that public trust in the integrity, independence and impartiality of the judiciary is a backbone with regard to the development of a democratic culture in Turkey. At present, however, controversial cases and rulings are always debatable by reference to the political outlook of the prosecutors and judges, who have been involved in the case. Every time a case is discussed in public the key question being asked is always who is handling the case – meaning who as in what are the supposed political ideological stances of the particular persons involved, what segment do they belong to? High profiled cases are politicized from the outset. The on-going Ergenekon investigation is a case in point. The accused and their political supporters claim that the Ergenekon network is pure fantasy, a case initiated by the AKP government in order to clamp down on its ideological enemies within the statist elite. On the other hand, other segments of Turkish society welcome the attempts of the judiciary to confront those within the statist elite who think they have the right to act outside the boundaries of the law in the interest of the nation. Another spectacular case from recent times is the Şemdinli bombing case – that is the case investigating the bombing of a Kurdish bookstore in 2005, where it turned out that it had been carried out by persons associated with the Turkish gendarmerie special unit although they had attempted to make it look as if the bombing was done by PKK. During the investigation, as the prosecutor attempted to investigate how high up the system the order had come from hence implicating senior security personnel, he was suddenly suspended from his duty and later fired. On top of that are closure cases against political parties, prosecutions against civic actors, intellectuals, journalists and so forth.
The first of the two reports dealing with the outlook of the judges and prosecutors, among other, emphasizes two aspects of the prevalent outlook. One is that judges and prosecutors tend to be in line with the traditional Kemalist, statist elite regarding the idea that their prime obligation is the protection of the interests of the state, i.e. downplaying the rights of the citizen as the pivotal point of the justice system. The other is a ‘nationalist reflex’ to express suspicion towards Turkish integration with the outside world, here expressed through a fear of what the prevalence given to international law due to a change in article 90 of the Turkish constitution implies to the legal system in Turkey and the ability to protect national interests. The judges even seem to express reluctance to abide to the present article’s underlining of how international law must be given prevalence. Here one only has to recall the former President of the republic, Ahmet Necdet Sezer. He, if any, embodied the kind of outlook which the report from TESEV concerns itself with. Sezer was chief justice of the Constitutional Court before he became president in 2000. While residing in Çankaya, the official residence of the president in Ankara, Sezer went out of his way to defend the secular order of Turkey, which implied constant clashes with the AKP government. He indeed perceived himself as protecting the Turkish state and state principles. In a similar vein he also expressed the classic fear of the statist elite of undermining Turkish national sovereignty if the integration with the outside world is not strictly controlled. Sezer, among other, was known to be skeptical of the extent of privatizations of state owned companies taking place in Turkey and the increased role of foreign capital investments.