The end of the military’s dominance in Turkey?

Published: July 30, 2011
The army in Turkey is secular and insists that it has a constitutional duty to keep Turkey on the secular path. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

The army in Turkey is secular and insists that it has a constitutional duty to keep Turkey on the secular path. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

After an incremental standoff with the ruling Justice and Progress Party (AKP), Turkey’s army chief Isik Kosaner has gone down in history as resigning from his job together with the navy and air force chiefs. The AKP moved quickly to appoint a new army chief in his place, provoking rumours that a tamer phase in Turkish army’s history is about to begin.

The Turkish military leadership was cross with the AKP after 22 military officers were arrested for planning the overthrow of the government through a plot named ‘Sledghammer’. General Kosaner, appointed last year, wanted some of the officers released to enable him to promote them in the upcoming meeting of the Supreme Military Council. His choice of the chairman joint chiefs committee had already been rejected by the government.

This is a decisive moment. It puts an end to the military habit of overthrowing governments in Turkey. It did that regularly from 1960 to 1980, provoking comparison with Pakistan and arousing suspicions in Pakistan that the generals here took their cue from Turkey. And America took the blame partially because both Pakistan and Turkey were American allies. But the comparisons were superficial in that the Turkish army overthrew Islamist parties while the Pakistani generals overthrew non-religious ones.

The AKP has emerged as a strong democratic government with internationally acclaimed high economic growth rates under its belt. Despite its background as a coercive Islamist party, it has trimmed its sails according to the social environment in Turkey and has trodden the moderate path, insisted on joining the European Union (EU) and made obeisance to Turkish nationalism. But since its feud with the army began in 2003, it has put 200 retired and serving military officers on trial.

There are a few ‘non-comparisons’ with Pakistan that must be mentioned. The army in Turkey is secular and insists that it has a constitutional duty to keep Turkey on the secular path. The coups it has staged have pushed back any religious movements because the Turkish constitution unlike Pakistan’s, does not declare Turkey an Islamic state. Unlike Pakistan, the press, civil society and the judiciary are opposed to the thinking of AKP leader Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In July 2008, the party narrowly escaped a constitutional court ban, followed by a series of unsuccessful military plots to overthrow the government.

But the AKP is supreme in Turkey, eight years in power and an enviable economic performance. Last year, it won a controversially framed referendum which gave it the right to reform the constitutional court and make Turkey a truly democratic state.

But the ironies will continue to bristle in the coming days. The AKP and Erdogan, feared by secular Turks as harbingers of a fundamentalist order, are not acceptable to the EU because Turkey’s constitution is not in line with the democratic values of Europe. At least this is the objection they raise to Turkey joining the Union, but the fact is that Europe is going through a wave of Islamophobia — the latest demonstration of which the world saw in Norway recently — where Turkey will actually be seen to be more dangerous after becoming democratic.

Prime Minister Erdogan has proved himself to be a cautious man, unmoved by the extreme passions of those who vote for his party. He is promoting a movement of moderate Islam not yet known to the rest of the Islamic world and thus setting up his country as an example of success for Muslims lost to the message of the middle path of their faith. The latest retreat of the Turkish army as the behind-the-scenes driver of Turkey’s policies clears the way for some essential evolutionary experiments on the way to democracy that it was blocking.

Pakistan has always had good relations with Turkey — an ‘all-weather’ friend like China — but their problems are not common. However, Ankara may still be more inclined to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan than to the Taliban who consider Turkey an enemy because of its troops under the Nato remit in Afghanistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2011.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Doctor Strangelove
    Jul 30, 2011 - 10:53PM

    The Turkish Generals need to get in line with true European Democratic Values. Torture, muder, theft and thuggary should be purged before they get into Europe. They need to wash their hands first with the Kurdish populations before they sit at the European table. I am confident that Turkey will eventually get there. Ten thousand years is a nano second for GOD. GOD has all the time in the world.Recommend

  • asadul Islam
    Jul 31, 2011 - 8:10AM

    turkey, as i saw in 1995, has changed a lot. but i think it is going fundamental. if it really goes fundamental, it will strike back europe some day.


  • SK - Salman
    Jul 31, 2011 - 3:27PM

    @Doctor Strangelove: Though your comment: “God has all the time in the world” seems to be made in jest, your confidence that “Turkey will eventually get there” may not come to fruition. The existence of EU until Turkey gets there cannot be assured as the shaky grounds it stands on has been exposed recently by the economic ruination in Greece. It is not the Constitution of Turkey, or it’s human rights record, that is the hindrance in joining the EU, it is the religion of Turkish people that is the main obstacle. Were it not so, trust me, having known Greece intimately, I can say that its’ people are no less religiously imbued than the Turks are.

    By the time Europe will have gotten over its’ bigotry and accepted Turkey as a EU member, the world’s configuration will have changed with China as one of the Superpowers and Turkey as a power in its’ own right. The American supremacy would have subsided to a level which would not guarantee the imposition and existense of European transplanted state in the Middle East and its’ meddling in the region. By then the tables may have turned around and it would be the Europeans urging the inclusion of Turkey in some kind of an alliance, if EU does not happen to be around.


  • Faraz
    Aug 1, 2011 - 5:43PM

    @ Doctor Strangelove
    As if ” torture, murder, theft and thuggery” has never been committed by European countries. What is this? The EU should get rid of these double standards or simply state it out loud that they don’t want Turkey to be a part of Europe. I personally think that the main reason behind their reluctance to let Turkey into the EU is the increased fear of Islamization of Europe, especially in Germany & France, the 2 principal opposers to Turkey’s admission in EU.

    As far as the resignations are concerned, I think it’s good that the military’s influence is now almost over.Recommend

  • N
    Aug 2, 2011 - 3:16AM

    Military, with all its so called “secular” intentions, independence and fire power, cannot stop the forward march of Islamism. The Islamic parties are in power. They have enough stamina and power to shape the minds of millions. Just like in Iran, they have won. Pakistan headed the same way. The military will bend to the civilians – just may not be the civvies, we like.


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