Deconstructing old and new 'deep state'

Published in Turkish Daily News , 03 April 2008

For the outsider observing Turkey, the issue of the so-called "deep state" can be quite confusing, if not incomprehensible. Though the media and commentators regularly report their activities and allude to their dark relationships with state officials, often questions of who they are and why they are involved in such activities are omitted along with a deeper analysis as to the nature of their organization and how people are recruited into their ranks.This failure to analyze the "deep state" often leads to wrong conclusions, which attribute the activities of these groups directly to the Turkish State and Armed Forces. It would, in fact, be true to think so if the groups named broadly as "deep state" were like the ones that existed during the cold war and 70s. However, today's ‘deep state' is completely different and more dangerous than the earlier ones.

After the cold war:

Though throughout the centuries rulers had their secret forces to do dirty jobs in order to maintain their power, during the cold war clandestine operations became national policies to fight an unconventional and secretive war with a vicious enemy. Intelligence and security forces worked alongside criminals, capable individuals and groups in secretive operations to send messages, control their societies and counterbalance their enemies' activities. Some elements of this still exist in Turkey and can be seen in the untold stories of how the Turkish armed forces and police force have tried to “solve” the Kurdish “problem.” With the end of the cold war these groups and individuals faced the cold space all alone. State policies, intelligence priorities and social tensions have evolved, making them redundant. Some simply adjusted to the new reality in full melancholy, others turned to becoming mercenaries, providing their expertise for money in the new market of civilian security.

Yet, once one gets used to confronting an archetypal enemy, life gets rather dull when the dragon is dead. So the knights roam the banal streets of our contemporary existence with a dragon-shaped vacuum in their hearts. Since fighting against a giant enemy provides a strong, clear and comforting identity and self-worth, the ex-knights are not only bored but also left in a void. And what value has a knight without a crusade? What's more, the knights have been declared useless once their expiration date has passed. Their mighty and most noble patron no longer needs, wants or employs them. Their societies do not know, value, cherish or care about them. From a firm belief in being the protectors and guardians of their societies, they face the anonymity and darkness of insignificance.

The curse of anonymity, insignificance and passive participation in an aggressive age affects all of us. The ratio of “losers,” who cannot make it or feel safe in this slippery century, increases every single day. For the economically and socially deprived, there is no chance of establishing a singular significance. One option they have is the possibility of being assimilated into a higher cause, with social ties with our ex-knights, whose former titles and relations are seductive for the sensually deprived. When the ex-knights and the deprived meet, their orgies become self-fulfilling and interdependent. They need each other to satisfy each other's deprivations.

Retired officers and protégés:

That is why the new deep "state" is formed by two particular groups: retired or redundant army or security officers and their committed protégés and foot soldiers. Together they make up the gang of final attempts to feel alive, resolute on finding and slaying enemies, in the process saving imagined kingdoms from imagined ills. Since it is almost impossible to clearly pinpoint enemies in this century, unlike during the cold war when one could look at a map and see who was with or against us, mistrust and conspiracy theories, along with a resentment of the “system,” mystify the state as well as its citizens. Everyone and everything is and can be the needed enemy; a nation, composed of zombie-like enemies, that needs to be protected from itself!

They find supporters, especially among mid-management levels of the state structures, in people who are equally “worried” about their nation, but most importantly frustrated with their lack of power or saying they have over the state of affairs, as their hands are tied and mouths are gagged by the state legislation for civil servants, called 657. Where lower and higher ranking civil servants have so much to lose by partaking in “deep state” and their actions are quite visible, middle management can usually find a secretive space where the risk is manageable. This makes the new “deep state” more dangerous than the old one, as the targets and means to deal with them are not controlled or commissioned by the state but are left at the mercy of a groups of thugs with their irrational rationalities. Unlike the old “deep state,” the links of the new ones to the state consist of individuals who are sympathizers and can do only so much for them. Therefore, stopping their activities becomes a difficult task, since these groups are only accountable to themselves.

The post-IRA example:

We have seen a similar pattern following the change in politics in Northern Ireland and the disarmament of the IRA. Yesterday's freedom fighters turned into today's nuisances very quickly, left without financial and social support. Some learned how to cope with the new era and find a safe place in it, but some evolved into thugs, adding a language of higher values to mere criminality and pursuits of money. And not so surprisingly, they also describe Ireland as having been “defeated” from within by weakened politicians who “sold out” their souls. We can show similar examples all across Africa, Latin America and Russia.

If this reading of the new “deep state” is correct, then the new school Turkish deep state, with its funny hairstyles and 60's fashion sense, is the disruptive emanation of the ghosts of a past century. As the global experience of similar ghost sightings show, when there is the political will, even the most “dangerous” ones can eventually be bought, rehabilitated or muted. So the main question isn't how deep their organization is, or what dirt can surface when their heydays are brought into the light. The main question is, does the Turkish government have the political will to do so?