Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

A Paradigmatic Shift for the Turkish Generals and an End to the Coup Era in Turkey

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

A Paradigmatic Shift for the Turkish Generals and an End to the Coup Era in Turkey

Article excerpt

Turkey has been undergoing major democratic transformations in recent years, but one issue remains in question: the role of the military. Have these democratic changes also included an irreversible, structural change for the Turkish military's political role? Are the Turks reconceptualizing their special bond with the armed forces and most importantly, is the military leadership ready to go along with this paradigm shift? This article first provides a typology of civil-military relations worldwide and identifies the main parameters of traditional Turkish civil-military relations as a system in which society maintains a direct, special bond with its military, keeping politics and politicians in a secondary position. It then suggests that this pattern is shifting into a more democratic one, in which society places its trust in politics, thus forcing the military into the secondary position. It then analyzes the discourse and policies of the last three Turkish Chiefs of Staff for evidence that the army is adapting into this paradigm shift. With the completion of this adaptation, Turkey may very well be leaving the coup era behind.

Arguably the most distinctive characteristic of Turkish civil-military relations has been the apparent anomaly that despite various explicit and implicit military interventions into politics and social life, Turkish society has consistently indicated the military as the country's most prestigious and trusted institution.1 In part this loyalty may exist because Turkey has a conscript army. Others have posited that this was only normal since the military has built up the capacity and mastered strategies to manipulate its relationship with society.2 The fact, however, that societal admiration of the army has not been significantly altered, even at times when the military's "manipulation resources" have been trimmed (particularly throughout the recent years of the EU Accession process3), begs an explanation, and implies that there are deeper issues contributing to Turkish society's bond with the army. One explanation is that Turkish societal mistrust of politics4 and fear of state collapse have created mutually constructed expectations in the society and army that, when things go wrong, the army will intervene and save the day. In other words, an ultimate guardianship role for the army appears to have been the essence of the relationship.5 Recent events in Turkish politics, however, seem to suggest that the nature of this relationship might be changing.

In parliamentary elections held in the summer of 2007, the pro-Islamist6 Adalet ve Kalkinma Party (AKP) government received the overwhelming support of Turkish voters, and restrengthened its majority position in the Parliament. It subsequently went on to elect a pro-Islamist to the Presidency, and even went so far as to change the Constitution, allowing headscarved women into university classrooms - an issue which has long symbolized the divide between Islamist politics and the secular establishment. Most politicians, from the nationalist Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP) to the Kurdish Demokratik Toplum Partisi (DTP), and of course, the majority AKP, supported these changes, confident that society was overwhelmingly supportive as well. Indeed, while the army clearly opposed these moves, strong societal support seemed to provide them a convincing message not to intervene.7 The army does not appear interested in listening to more radical calls and provocations, but rather in closely watching and assessing where the majority of the public stands so as not to distance itself from them. The message they seem to be getting is one to not intervene in politics. The obvious question now arises: Is there a paradigmatic change underway in Turkish society's relationship with its military? Are the Turks reconceptualizing their special bond with the armed forces, from a more emotional, existential one, to a practical and professional one that is managed by the civilian political elite? …

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