Turkey reins in its renegade generals

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.

Bloomberg reports:

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

5 thoughts on “Turkey reins in its renegade generals

  1. Dawud

    no elaborate comment at the moment, but having worked there myself, I know that Bulent Keneş is the managing editor of Today’s Zaman, and writes editorials.

    Otherwise, not being in Turkey at the moment, I’m rather stunned by the ferocity with which these arrests and charges are taking place, as the AK Party seemed willing to take it on the chin quite often during the time that I was living in Turkey and working on the newspaper (the latter during late 2006-2007)

  2. delia ruhe

    I am confused about where to come down on this story. I’m reading both Today’s Zaman and Hurriyet, but that’s like confining myself to the NYT and the LAT on the issue of Israel-Palestine. I don’t understand all the hysterics about the AKP. So far as I can see their only sin is their social conservatism, i.e., their rather prudish positions on sexually explicit TV and their attempt to lift the hijab ban in universities — rather mild when compared to GWB’s faith-based Amerrika. The problem here seems to be that the military is unambiguously pro-US — to the point where American neocons are freaked right out over the possibility that Turkey’s military may just have to serve the Turkish people, rather than its own and Washington’s interests. Can someone enlighten me?

  3. empty

    In Turkey many of the newspapers are aligned with political parties. Zaman is very closely allied with AKP the ruling party. I would read Zaman’s articles knowing that I was getting a very partisan take. The counterpart to Zaman would be Cumhuriyet but that only publishes in Turkish. Caveat lector..

Comments are closed.