Friday, July 29, 2011

Cryptic developments in Turkey

The heads of the Turkish military resigned en masse:

Turkey's entire top brass quit on Friday night leaving one America's strongest military's allies leaderless as the country's Islamic government confronts senior officers for conspiring against the prime minister

Gen Isik Kosaner, the head of the Turkish armed forces, quit his post along with the heads of the ground, naval and air forces in protest over government pressure to sack scores of serving officers they wished to promote.

The generals had been preparing for a confrontation with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at next week's annual promotions board.

Gen Kosaner resigned because he "deemed it necessary," according to a report on NTV. Mr Erdogan had signalled he would block promotions for officers he believed were part of a conspiracy to destabilise Turkey and undermine his government.

The first elected prime minister from an Islamic movement was targeted by a conspiracy known as Sledgehammer, prosecutors have alleged.

Police have drawn up a list of 195 suspect, all retired or active duty members of the military, who had been party to the plot since 2003, the year Mr Erdogan took office.

The authorities are holding 42 senior officers as part of the investigation into the alleged plot to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party.

Senior officers in the army had been trying to get the imprisoned officers promoted despite their incarceration, but the government has insisted that they be forced to retire.

Officials have also hinted that they wish to seek charges brought against two former chiefs of staff, Gen. Büyükanıt, who has been accused of involvement in a 2005 bombing, while retired Gen Ilker Başbuğ has been accused of ordering subordinates to run subversive websites.

Turkey's military regards its role as guardian of the secular state established by Mustafa Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. The second biggest military in Nato has steadily lost ground as Mr Erdogan is rewarded by voters for presiding over an economic boom.

The Turkish Lire fell more than one per cent on foreign exchange markets as analysts warned that the escalation of tensions and a protracted power struggle could derail Turkey's progress.

"Things in Turkey look chaotic," Suha Yaygin, deputy chief of emerging markets at Toronto-Dominion Bank said. "This has never happened in Turkey."
 What does it mean? To me, this sounds like a purge, but where it goes from here I don't know.  No one else seems to know, either.

Claire Berlinski: I don't yet know what this means or what the implications will be, but obviously it's a very big deal.

Berlinski is usually the most knowledgeable person about Turkey, but it seems like they time these developments for when she is not in Istanbul.

Victor Davis Hanson:

News that the top echelon of Turkey’s military offered their joint resignations is not much of a surprise, given ongoing politicized trials against particular officers, and the general acceptance that a secular military is at odds with an increasingly Islamicized government. But there will be lots of long-term ramifications. Turkey, as an historical window on the West, has been praised as about the only Middle East Islamic nation that accepted democracy without foreign imposition, and is often referenced as proof that there is nothing antithetical between constitutional government and a resurgent Islamism.

But with such departures of secular officers, the message grows more complicated and may be that if a high-ranking military official is Islamist, the way to advancement is assured; while the old secular path leads nowhere. Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah seem to be more the eventual models, in which the military becomes a protector of Islam and ensures that the armed forces serve rather than prevent the insidious religious take-over of social institutions. Elections without strong independent judiciaries, constitutional protections of human rights, and freedom of unfettered expression and dissent mean little. In Turkey’s case, Erdogan brilliantly has curbed civil liberties and attacked the military under the guise of ensuring that a traditionally interventionist and secular defense establishment respects the verdict of elections, and he acts with the confidence that results from a rather strong economy under his leadership.
But how long can an economy stay strong with an increasingly Islamist government?

J.E. Dyer:

The Turkish General Staff has had a history of occasionally enforcing centrist, secular government by mounting coups. The most recent occurred in 1997, when the General Staff induced the government of Necmettin Erbakan to resign by imposing conditions on it – largely prohibitions against instituting Islamic customs.

During the Soviet era, the General Staff was concerned about internal threats from Soviet-backed as well as Islamist and Kurdish-nationalist factions. Since the end of the Cold War, with Islamism on the rise, the Turkish military, along with the judicial and education systems, has been instrumental in enforcing the Kemalist idea of a secular republic.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected as the leader of an explicitly Islamist party in 2003, however. Much of Erdogan’s agenda has involved weakening the independence of the military, judiciary, and education officials. Many observers believe that the allegations about the “Sledgehammer” conspiracy, even there is a core of truth to them, are being misused to simply entrap the blameless opponents of Erdogan’s political program. (Other observers believe the Ergenekon conspiracy theme is entirely fabricated. See links.)

More than 40 military officers are currently being held on charges of being involved in the conspiracy. It’s hard to pinpoint what the generals’ intentions are with their mass resignation. They are too old and experienced to believe that they would be currying popular support by perpetrating a dramatic action. They can’t expect their resignation to put popular pressure on Erdogan, who just won reelection with a healthy majority of the seats in Turkey’s parliament.

The alternative possibilities are that they have simply given up, and decided to spend their golden years doing something else (perhaps outside of Turkey), or that they are organizing to confront Erdogan. Militating against the latter interpretation is the fact that Erdogan does have popular support in Turkey, and trying to control the aftermath of a coup against him – even one executed, as in 1997, by memorandum – would be a dicey proposition, with no precedent paralleling the conditions of 2011.

It’s possible that the situation looks different to them, considering the turmoil in Syria, the Arab Spring in general, and the jockeying of Iran for influence in every nation in Turkey’s immediate vicinity. These exotic considerations have little meaning for Americans at the moment, but for Turkey, they naturally loom large. The stakes may appear high enough that taking significant risks seems warranted.

Now – this week – isn’t the least propitious time for such a move either, given the world’s absorption in the US budget fight.

In my view, the only way the General Staff could mount a coup under the conditions of 2011 is to have the explicit (if covert) support of Erdogan’s major political opposition, and probably of an outside actor as well. (The main possibility would be Russia.) Are any of these things in place? There is no immediate evidence of it.

Perhaps the mass resignation is the last whimper of Kemalist secularism. That seems the most realistic assessment. Only time will tell. If that is the case, the rate at which civil life deteriorates in Turkey will accelerate more rapidly now, and a key brake on Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman aspirations will be removed. The world will not be the same place when Americans go to the polls next November.
Unfortunately, my bet is that Dyer is correct.

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