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Resiliency and Pitfalls of Crisis Regimes: Reimagining The Future of Turkey's Democracy through the Lens of the Indian Emergency

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 May 2018

Yüksel Sezgin*
Syracuse University


Five days after the attempted coup d’état of 15 July 2016, a state of emergency was declared in Turkey. Under the emergency rule, constitutional rights and liberties are suspended and parliament and the courts are reduced to the regime's rubber stamp, while the country is ruled by one man through decrees. While many question how the legal and political developments in Turkey will unfold, and whether and how the democratic backslide and decline in rule of law can be reversed, Indira Gandhi's emergency (1975–77) offers a useful historical heuristic case. With striking similarities to the conditions in Turkey today, during the Indian emergency the judiciary, especially the Indian Supreme Court (ISC), was subjugated to the will of Prime Minister Gandhi through means of constitutional amendments and political appointments that compromised the integrity of justices. Yet, shortly after the end of emergency the ISC regained the trust and respect of the Indian people, thereby playing an instrumental role in the restoration of Indian democracy. Through a close analysis of the Indian emergency rule, the present article explores the conditions of democratic survival and whether and how the Turkish judiciary can reclaim its independence, spearhead a rights revolution, and help restore the democratic order.

Special Focus on Turkey: The Evolution of a Referendum
Copyright © Middle East Studies Association of North America, Inc. 2018 

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15 The ruling justified the dismissals in the following words: “(31) The facts that the FETÖ/PDY has been organized within nearly all the public institutions and that the concrete coup attempt stemmed from this structuring turned the danger into present danger and made it compulsory to take extraordinary measures in order to maintain the democratic constitutional order. (32) Dismissal from profession of members of the judiciary, who are considered as having any links with terrorist organizations, particularly the FETÖ/PDY, or structures, organization or groups engaging in activities against the national security, is of special importance for ensuring the reliability and honor of the judiciary which is one of the fundamental values of a democratic society.” See, “Press Release,” The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Turkey, last modified 8 September 2016,

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31 On 11 January 2018 the CC ruled in response to individual applications of two jailed journalists, Sahin Alpay ( and Mehmet Altan ( that the journalists’ prolonged pre-trial detentions violated their “right to personal liberty and security,” and the “freedom of expression and the press.” It would be premature to view these two recent decisions as precursor to a post-emergency rights revolution—as we do not yet know whether this was an early sign of forthcoming systematic changes in the court's treatment of the emergency regime or simply a “mistake”—given the court's track record since July 2016 the latter seems more likely. In any case, at the time of writing, lower penal courts, where the two journalists stand on trial, have not yet complied with the rulings claiming that the high court has overstepped its jurisdiction and thereby refuse to release the journalists from prison.