The most determined challenge to military political power in Turkey in decades is being reported in much of the Western media as a struggle between an Islamist government and the forces of secularism. Bulent Kenes, a columnist for Turkey’s Today’s Zaman, frames the issue much more starkly: this is a struggle between civilian and military power.
Turkey has kicked off a new week with another great shock. This time, the powerful sledgehammer of justice landed on the generals of the Sledgehammer (Balyoz) coup plan, a treacherous plot to devastate the whole country.
Accused of preparing thousands of pages of plans and preparations to blow up mosques, to trigger conflict between Turkey and Greece by arranging the crash-landing of Turkish warplanes in the Aegean Sea and give the army a central role in the country’s administration, to close Parliament, to ideologically profile hundreds of thousands of people just to arrest and collect them in stadiums during a future military coup, to introduce Soviet-style centralization to the country’s economic management, to shut the door to foreign investment, to arrest leading media professionals and to close down or take control of newspapers and TV channels, some former force commanders, retired generals and admirals were taken to custody one by one on Monday morning.
These detentions — including 17 retired generals, four active duty admirals and 28 military officers — carried out as part of the probe into Ergenekon, a shadowy network nested within the state aiming to lay the groundwork for an eventual military takeover, is not only regarded as the first of its kind in terms of its scope, but has also shown to the world that there will not be an “untouchable” judiciary class in this country. With that said, can we be justified in asserting that the abnormalities in civilian-military relations — a main source of almost all major problems in Turkey — have come to an abrupt end? Of course not.
Certainly, the fact that those who regard themselves as “untouchable,” superior to the rule of law and free from legal accountability, can now be touched will have important effects in the normalization of civilian-military relations and in the dispersal of the military tutelage that has been haunting us since the establishment of the republic. Still, I personally do not think that the exposure to daylight of military junta members who made plans to betray the nation, seeking to overthrow the democratically elected government, the sweeping detentions or the ongoing judicial processes will be sufficient to solve Turkey’s gravest problem, the “army issue,” and eliminate the army’s overwhelming pressure on politics, the judiciary, the legislature and civil life. This is because I am of the opinion that developments seen during the Ergenekon investigation process are not concerned with the essence of the matter but are related to the grave consequences of this problematic structure.
Turkey’s military said the detention of retired officers over an alleged coup plot was a “serious situation,” in the sharpest escalation of tensions with the government since a 2007 showdown that led to early elections.
The top commanders gathered at military headquarters in Ankara late yesterday to discuss the detention of more than 40 former officers, the armed forces said on its Web site. Police held the ex-officers, including previous heads of the air force and navy, in a series of raids on Feb. 22.
The arrests deepened strains between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the military leadership. Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party has its roots in political Islam, has curtailed the secularist generals’ influence over decision- making as Turkey chases membership in the European Union.