Turkey’s Security Sector Reform in Crisis: What Caused It?

Turkey’s Security Sector Reform in Crisis: What Caused It?


Turkey’s security institutions have been undergoing a thorough reform process for more than a decade now. The reform process has been widely accepted as a process of democratisation of the state and improvement in state-society relations in Turkey. However, as it was self-evident during the Gezi Events, it appears that nothing has much changed in terms of police violence and atrocities compared to pre-reform era Turkey. It is the argument of this paper that contrary to popular opinion, it is not the weak or non-genuine attachment on the part of the state to the reform process; but the very reform mentality, namely the hybridisation strategy itself, contributes to the making of the state crises and the concomitant police violence in Turkey.


Turkey’s Police Academy has been shut down, both professors and students dispersed to many other universities.[1] Some police chiefs are sent to retirement and others are put into extraneous posts in ministries other than the Ministry of Interior.[2] Many others had to resign. In the meantime, the Turkish Parliament has passed the bill of internal security which denoted the strengthening of policing powers in Turkey. Both the government and pro-government voices stated that these changes had been necessary to fight with the “parallel structure” within the state, namely the Gülenist cemaat organisation.[3] Many critical voices including the heads of the opposition parties in the Parliament have mentioned that the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) (AKP) has been trying via these steps to cement further its grip on the executive apparatuses so as not to lose political power, even if it faces with considerable popular opposition as was the case with the Gezi events. These analyses do generally assume that the pro-civilian transformation of the coercive state organs or namely the Security Sector Reform (SSR) of Turkey has been progressing quite well until the AKP, especially until the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became intoxicated by extreme lust for power. Therefore, rather than seeing any serious problem with the nature of the very SSR process in Turkey and its essential mentality that has been in operation since late 1990s, these studies have been critical of the actor who applies it claiming that the main actor no more sticks to the fundamentals of the reform process.

However, it is a fact that the bill on internal security has been very much in tune with the dominant international SSR ideology, which is summarised by its proponents as the replacement of age-old state security ideology and practices (i.e. militarisation) by the notion and practices of human security (civilianisation processes).[4]  For instance, had we lived only a couple years ago, the detachment of the Gendarmerie General Command from the military and its re-attachment to the Ministry of Interior with regard to the appointments of the gendarmerie commanders, an important article of the recent bill, would have been congratulated as the expansion of civilian power in Turkey against the authoritarian-military state tradition.[5] However, many people now consider this change as an attempt to strengthen the executive at the expense of the judiciary and legislative powers in Turkey and indeed, as the rise of authoritarianism.[6]

All in all, the recent changes in the security sector and the related state crises are generally considered as part of a political struggle exclusively akin to Turkey and its political climate and no serious criticism is targeted against the historical-structural framework which facilitates and/or feeds up these changes/crises. This article calls for a reposition of the previously mentioned arguments within a global-systemic perspective, rather than a wholesale refutation of them. The following paragraphs argue that the recent crisis-prone changes going on at the heart of the state apparatus in Turkey are indeed one of the many moments where security sector reform projects suffer from foundational paradoxes around the globe. In other words, despite its own particularities, the Turkish case is not a unique case and if one tries to understand the structural causes of the current crisis in the SSR processes of Turkey, one should look beyond issues, such as how the Gülenist Cemaat took control of the state bureaucracy and did use it as a weapon against its former fellows or how Erdoğan suffers from the malaises of charismatic leadership.

Indeed, it is the argument of this short commentary that the very SSR process itself, once praised very much for its democratic ethos (Cizre and Cerrah, 2008), is itself one of the structural causes of the current political crisis in Turkey. In other words, SSR of Turkey or the whole state apparatus is in existential crisis not due to the parallel state structure and/or authoritarian leadership –which are they end-products rather than immediate causes of the current crisis– but because of the reform process itself. Actually, this paper argues that SSR ideology is very active both in the making of the parallel structures of the state apparatuses and the ever deepening authoritarianism in our neoliberal times.[7] In fact, SSR not solely in Turkey but all around in the Global South suffers from crises, because it aims at creating a hybrid form of state whose, this commentary argues, constructive-essential elements grieve from structural incompatibility.

The rest of the paper will try to substantiate these arguments in two steps. The first part will try to briefly situate the current security sector reform agenda of the international community within the state-building efforts of the last century and point out to the main paradoxes that this agenda suffers from. The second part will try to point out on the particular way(s) the SSR mentality is reproduced in Turkey and on how these so far have ended in the making of a new crisis-laden state structure.

SSR: The Newest Phase in State-Building

Security Sector Reform should indeed be seen as the recent nomenclature used for the newest state-building efforts in the Global South.[8] It is put into practice either through state-building projects which usually come after military interventions such as the United States invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan or through programs of good governance usually kicked up by international actors such as Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and European Union (EU), through regional actors such as the African Union and/or through global initiatives such as the New Deal for engagement in fragile states. It is defined as the restructuring of the state coercive apparatuses on the basis of good governance, rule of law and civilian participation. Recently popular themes, such as civilian oversight of the security sector, community policing, strengthening of the police organisations vis-à-vis the militarised apparatuses, and so forth, constitute the heart of the project of SSR (Hänggi, 2004; Luethold, 2004; Cizre and Cerrah, 2008).

As implied, Security Sector Reform makes this third era in state-building where the previous two state-building doctrines of liberal internationalism are considered to be insufficient or ineffective for the rule of capital. The first state-building doctrine belongs to the post-1945 era where the nation-state and the concomitant developmental state form was the dominant model. This doctrine was generously shaped by the modernisation perspective that had a firm belief in progress and in the idea that transformation of the social formation on the basis of capitalist market will bring democracy as well. This doctrine posited the state as the main actor of social and political change.

The second doctrine belongs to the post-Cold War era where the modern state was considered essentially as the main impediment to socio-economic development. As opposed to the previous one, this doctrine has been focusing on un-making the state sovereignty. Yet, this latter has not created a rosy garden for the rule of capital. Fukuyama (2012), one of the leading names which created the intellectual ammunition of the second state-building doctrine has recently repented for the mistakes this doctrine possessed and discussed the need to endorse a new approach to state-building which should not be based only on the complete destruction of the state apparatus, as happened in Afghanistan and early phases of Iraqi operation, but also on re-making its institutional architecture.

Therefore, reformers reversed the post-Cold war motto of “sovereignty is the problem not the solution” to effective state-building processes and they declared that states possess “responsible sovereignty” (Chandler, 2010). According to this newest understanding, the institutional matrixes of the states should be re-constructed in such a way that there would be no more need for exogenous intervention to fill in the national and/or regional security vacuums. As opposed to the previous state-building doctrine, where “traditional sectional political interests are understood to be corrupt and self-serving” (Chandler, 2006: 93), it is argued that the new state-building necessitates involving informal and customary security providers and traditional justice actors in the state-building processes. Therefore, SSR process is reformulated as a process of integrating traditional, non-secular and local forms of (security) governance with modern Weberian statehood, thus creating a hybrid form of state.  It is argued that the peculiar features of the non-Western statehood, especially the fragmentation of public authority, should be considered as the legitimate ground to build on the hybrid state rather than as a deviation from the Weberian model (Andersen, 2012: 112).

However, hybridisation process appears to be an unhappy marriage between locality and the modern principles of state monopoly of violence. It is unhappy first because these two possess conflicting logics of political field organisation. One organises the political field on the basis of the antagonism between the local and the universal and the other on the basis of the right versus the left. The former organises the political field on the basis of morality and the latter on the basis of secularism. The local-universal antagonism organises the political field on the basis of social communities –both real and imagined–and the other implicitly on the basis of adversarial social classes.

This unhappy marriage is not just conflicting but also transformative. Where the universal is posited as the antidote of the local, it becomes impossible to sustain the state monopoly of coercion, an institution based on the notion of universal security provision, even if the applicability of this universality has always been an abstract promise in class-based societies.  In such situations, monopoly of coercion deprived from the yoke of universal legitimacy criteria ends in state terror. Where the local and traditional is seen as the panacea to the bad governance (argued to be caused by the institutions of raison d’état), it has become impossible to sustain with the notion of secular legitimacy as the latter becomes subsumed under the notion of public relations or public confidence. Turkey’s SSR adventure represents a strong case of this transformation whose conflictual nature has become clearly apparent due to the Gezi Protests.

Turkey’s SSR in the Mirror of Gezi

It can be argued that the making of a ‘hybrid state’ in Turkey has been a project on-going now for more than 10 years. It is not exclusively akin to AKP era; and yet, it has been very much developed by it. The Turkish SSR has been carried forward under the themes of democratisation, de-militarisation and civilianisation. Concretely, it has so far expanded the police powers in Turkey where these powers are argued both by pro-governmental voices and liberal intellectuals to represent the civilians and the civilian mentality.

To this end, the Cemaat organisation in the state bureaucracy helped a lot to the making of the hybrid state as it was representing both for the international proponents of the Turkish SSR and for the AKP, the genuine local. It possessed according to their own terminology many “men of society,” who were mostly employed in the police organisation (Hançerli and Nikbay, 2007). These policemen were exemplary, in the sense of re-making the society. Schools and families as well as neighbourhoods were entrusted (in Turkish: polise zimmetlemek) to the police.[9] Imams and local prayer men were integrated into the local policing schemes.[10] Children were declared to be of special importance for the police organisation, especially in their relations with the new society they wanted to create.[11]

This practical policiarisation process of the society has been accompanied in the ideological level by arguments retrieved from conservative intellectuals, such as the mid-twentieth century author Cemil Meriç, a renowned Turkish conservative philosopher who had criticised the Turkish ruling elite for their equation of modernisation with Westernisation.[12] Therefore, the policiarisation process signified for the police intellectuals bringing the real owners of Turkey to the power, closing the divide between the state apparatuses captured by the Westernised elites and the colonised Easterners, indeed the society. The police organisation was therefore seen as the pioneer of hybridisation strategy in Turkey.

As already implied, this process has not said a radical goodbye to the idea of rational bureaucracy, one of the trade-marks of Western Weberian statehood. The need for standardisation, inter-operability of different countries’ security institutions through international organisations such as Interpol, setting a clearly defined hierarchy among different security apparatuses have still been underlined. Weberian statehood asked for the state to steer the security-making processes and this has been considered crucial by the reformers for the gathering of different security actors around similar objectives and especially against similar enemies. Similarly, the state re-building process in Turkey has not totally got rid of the institution of the rationalised bureaucracy as well and yet the notion of rationalised bureaucracy has underwent some important modifications.

For Turkey’s security sector reformers this has meant in practice the fortification of the police intelligence powers to gain further public confidence. Intelligence or information policing –a concept used by the police reformers in Turkey– has been declared as a sine qua non of civilian governance.[13] Some pro-government voices such as the constitutional lawyer Burhan Kuzu supported this process by arguing that information policing serves to the democratisation process, as methods akin to information policing such as wiretapping helps to reduce torture.[14]

Meanwhile, these two main constituents of the hybridisation process were mingling with each other and there has been emerging a new beast, which is expectant to existential crises. The police organisation, for which children were declared to be of special importance under the motto of ‘Can and Canan’ (the beloved), has since then represented a mortal danger for children in Turkey. The police, which was declared by the SSR ideology to be the champion of change against the ‘raison d’état’ dominating the Turkish politics and which was considered by reformers as the genuine social apparatus, under the motto of “police is not a force, it is a service for and by people,” has turned into a fierce enemy of the people. During Gezi Protests, many police officers stated explicitly or implicitly this enmity (Arman, 2013).

Turkey’s SSR has indeed been working as a form-processing mechanism whose inner-tensions have been revealed by the Gezi Revolt which has demonstrated that the real political crisis of Turkey does not stem from the very famous simplistic cultural divide of the East and the West, centre and periphery but on the contrary, from the way current liberal internationalist project (liberal internationalism 3.0)[15] and namely the SSR conceives and tries to remedy it. During the Gezi Revolt, millions of people asked from the police to act honourably, and for the people not against it. This state of affairs has pointed out that there is a structural crisis on-going in Turkey; and thus, to the fact that it is not easy to get rid of the very modern notion of legitimacy by simply substituting it with public confidence, a very dear notion of hybridisation processes.

Therefore, the most recent fight and operations between the Cemaat and AKP should also be seen as the very fight of SSR with itself, an inevitable self-contradiction. Hybridisation strategy of the recent state-building doctrine which aims at re-making the political fields of the Global South on the basis of localisation and reinforcement of the state coercive apparatuses appears to create new beasts, rather than ‘hybrid identities,’ the dearest utopia of post-colonial approaches.

In Lieu of a Conclusion

The hybridisation strategy akin to the security sector reform processes, to which this short article has rapidly pointed out, appears to largely benefit from the ideological force of post-colonial theory. Both the security sector practitioners and researchers largely recur to this theory in order to transform the currently very much de-legitimised and thin state-building concepts of the previous eras marked by top to down modernisation practices and/or exogenous interventions. In other words, it appears that they benefit from the post-colonial theory as a political leverage and know-how to bring viability to the current security sector reform processes. This, nonetheless, does not and cannot prevent the birth of further political crises –not only due to the inner-paradoxes of the SSR agenda of liberal internationalism as discussed above– but also because security sector reform does not happen in vacuum but within the context of neoliberal capitalism. The latter’s role in the restructuring of the current security sector reform concepts and practices waits to be further discussed and researched.

Dr. Funda Hülagü, Department of International Relations and EU, Maltepe University, İstanbul

Please cite this publication as follows:

Hülagü, F. (August, 2015), “Turkey’s Security Sector Reform in Crisis: What Caused It?”, Vol. IV, Issue 8, pp.67-78, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=9682)


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[1]Turkish Police academy has been recently subject to a radical restructuring as the AKP government has declared it to be the hub of the Cemaat organisation within the police organisation in Turkey. For details on the perspective of the government see the recent interview made with the new President of Police Academy responsible from the re-establishment of the Academy (Çolak, 2015).

[2]The strategy of removing the police chefs from their posts by way of early retirement and other means has continued even just after the June 7, 2015 General Elections when the ruling party suffered a serious political setback. For further details, see “118 police chiefs forced to retire,” [Accessed on 10th June 2015], Available at:


[3]The police organisation in Turkey contains many police officers associated with the Gülenist Movement, the Cemaat network of the Islamic preacher, Fethullah Gülen. It is now believed that the police organization’s leading figures have been either from this Movement or sympathetic to it. They have helped the AKP government to consolidate its rule in Turkey through the preparation of political trials such as Ergenekon and Balyoz, where hundreds of military were imprisoned. And yet, the political coalition between the two has been broken since 17 December 2013, when the Turkish police arrested fifty-two suspects on various corruption charges (Park, 2014).

[4]The concept of security sector reform has been produced by the late 1990s under the leadership of actors such as the UK Department of International Development (DFID) and has been since then a key term of debate and policy-making among the different actors of international community such as the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces (DCAF), OECD Development Co-operation Directorate (OECD DCD-DAC) and United Nations Inter-Agency Security Sector Reform Task Force (UN SSR). The concept was first proposed as a means to reframe the security debate –which, according to the security sector reformers, had been that far exclusively and thus delinquently left to the mercy of the security personnel around the world– and to establish its relation with post-Cold War development policies.  For the details on the birth of SSR see Chanaa (2002) and for a more recent debate on the different actors incolved in the development of the SSR concept see Faleg (2012).

[5]For an illustrative discussion on the “merits” of the SSR mentality and its “unfortunate” and potential abuse by AKP government see İnsel (2014).

[6]For an illustrative discussion see Kemal (2015).

[7]The parcellisation of the state in Turkey is not only akin to Turkey as well. It is part and parcel of a very much internationalised process of security sector transformation strategy, pre-dating the most current SSR agenda.  The parcellisation of the state, which displays itself through the actorness of the Cemaat in Turkey, appears to be a common feature of many peripheral and/or semi-peripheral countries and especially of the MENA countries. In most MENA countries, the security apparatuses of the state appear to be dominated by different groups which altogether constitute the ruling blocs of these countries. These groups do as much as often fight with each other as they do coalesce. Moreover, this state of parcellisation has been beneficial to the global powers as they supported the establishment of parallel security forces in cases where it appeared impossible to control the established security institutions.  On this political background of the most recent security reform attempts in the MENA Region, see Yazigh (2009).

[8]Security Sector Reform, this paper assumes that it belongs to the late state-rebuilding agenda of the post-Cold War era, where not only fragile states of the post-Cold War world order but also the ex-communist states and as well as many Latin American states (Uilridks, 2009) and MENA countries have been subject to. This reform agenda has been considered as a way of un-making and re-making the states in these geographies not necessarily due to reasons such as state incapacity or failure but because of the fact that both the international community and the new ruling classes of these states have considered this reform process as a major mechanism for repositioning these states within the New World Order. For the strategic factors which shape and support the expansion and deepening of the SSR project see Droz-Vincent (2009).

[9]In a NATO publication, a member of Turkish National Police argues that community policing is as an advanced method of fighting against terrorism (Ekici and Muş, 2009). They cite the example of “family police” recently introduced in the city of Erzincan as a model for “building terrorism resistant communities” (Ekici and Muş, 2009). According to this model, a police officer becomes responsible from a certain amount of families living in the same neighbourhood. This new security culture of “debit” (polise zimmetlemek) is not restricted to families. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Education, elementary schools have been also debited to the policemen since 2009.

[10]For instance, in the district of Zara, a booklet on the crimes of fraud is prepared and distributed thorugh muftis to different mosques so that it can be read during the Friday payers (Alpkan and Palacı, 2008: 101-102).

[11]In Turkey, one of the publications of the pro-reform police officers and intellectuals in Turkey, IPA (June, 2008) Turkey, announced the launching of a campaign conducted through mascots called as “Polis-can and Polis-canan” to make the new Turkish police popular among children. It is argued by Önder Aytaç (2008: 8), the chief editor of the IPA magazine and columnist in the Taraf newspaper that “[I]t is a huge project. In every house, there will be a police-can/polis-canan side by side with the children inşallah!”

[12]One of the pro-reform generation of Turkish police officers, Yılmaz (2008: 16-17) says, “I am proud to claim that since Meriç’s death in 1987, Turkey has been taking strides in incorporating the aforementioned values, resulting in an incessantly maturating democracy sui generis.” Indeed, Meriç can be considered as anti-intellectual to the extent that according to him, intellectuals in Turkey hated people and they were disenchanted individuals whose ties with their own countries were detached (Meriç, 2005: 28). Meriç (2005: 23) perceived modernisation efforts as hopeless struggles since, for him, no civilisation could replace another one. He also thought that the Western civilisation suffered from positing irrationality as rationality, which gained body in the bureaucracy per se.

[13]In 1998, the pro-reform Turkish police officers edited a book in Turkish entitled as “Police in the 21st Century: Basic Approaches- Contemporary Approaches.” This book is one of the first written templates, which reflects the main tenets of the post-Cold War security sector reform in Turkey. In that book, the longest part is built upon the argument that the new police in Turkey should be based on the notion of “Information Policing” (Bilgi Polisliği) (Aytaç, 1998).

[14]For the details of Kuzu’s stance see, “Dinleme Yasaklanırsa İşkence Hortlar,” [Accessed on 26th August 2015] Available at:


[15]Ikenberry (2009), a famous contemporary IR scholar argues that now we are going through liberal international order 3.0, the latest and third version of liberal internationalism, where the US hegemony is no longer sufficient on its own to sustain an international order which benefits from wide popular support. According to Ikenberry (2009), a key question of the current liberal project is how to reorganise authority both at domestic and international levels as there is a paradox to be handled with: on the one hand, the modern state form, which posits the leadership of state in the making and remaking of the whole society, is no more suitable for the organisation of world politics and on the other hand, there is still need for strong states, which are able to exercise effective coercion within their own territories. It appears that security sector reform, as a still evolving concept, makes part of this current search for authority-rebuilding.



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