Saturday, 30 July 2011


As NATO's second largest military ally, Turkey is now a source of instability; this at a time that neighboring Syria is immersed in civil war/popular uprising, Iran is engaged in self-defense against the West, and NATO is failing miserably to depose Libya's Gaddhafi. On 29 July 2011, Turkey's Chief of General Staff General Isik Kosaner along with three other top military commanders resigned in protest over Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's decision to detain 250 officers accused of conspiring against the duly-elected government.

It is true that Turkey's judicial system is corrupt and subject to political manipulation, and to that extent the generals are correct to level accusations against Erdogan who remains popular and whose goal is to co-opt the military so he can achieve his dream of becoming a de facto modern day 'Ottoman Sultan' who transcends the long-standing Kemalist secularist tradition. The divide in Turkey between the Kemalist secularist elements and Erdogan's socio-culturally conservative Justice and Development Party is now threatening to destabilize the political arena and undercut the thriving economy.

In a statement to the press, Turkey's chief of staff declared:  "They tried to create the impression that the Turkish Armed Forces was a criminal organization and ... the biased media encouraged this with all kinds of false stories, smears and allegations." 
While Erdogan has done all he could to diminish the military's dominance, the idea that Turkey will have a weak military and be free of its ubiquitous role in every aspect of society is unthinkable for now. No matter what Kosaner states, it is true that the military would love to rid the country of Erdogan who has been using induction into the EU as a pretext to curb the military's powers. Interestingly, Erdogan goes along with military objectives in rhetoric, while through back channels he plans to undermine the military's goals. This is in cases where it concerns the Kurdish minority, Cyprus, the EU and the Middle East.

The only way for Erdogan to emerge even stronger is to weaken the military's role, and the only way to do that is by precipitating a crisis of constitutional proportions, so he can replace the Kemalists with his own men.  By naming paramilitary Gendarmerie commander General Necdet Ozel as new head of land forces, and acting deputy chief of general staff, Erdogan was signaling to Kemalists that their era is finished. That Erdogan chose to move against the old guard in the armed force now is not an accident.

To contain inflation, the central bank took steps to stop the lira's sharp fall arising from economic instability. All of this is a huge gamble for Erdogan who is a masterful politician. However, how long will smoke and mirrors continue to work for this consummate charismatic politician is any one's guess. Removing the top brass in the military may have been the key to Erdogan's plan to impose total control over the institutional structure. However, the military is in every aspect of society and it is almost impossible to rid them of their influence. Moreover, is it in Erdogan's best interest not to have the Kemalists in a relatively strong opposition, given that they help maintain consensus in society?

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