Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

THE REPUBLICAN PEOPLE'S PARTY AND THE MILITARY IN 1970s TURKEY

Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

THE REPUBLICAN PEOPLE'S PARTY AND THE MILITARY IN 1970s TURKEY

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Republican People's Party (CHP) in Turkey is often described as a politically conservative, status-quo, and pro-military party. In light of the fact that the CHP has opposed a variety of reforms introduced by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government for the last few years, we may consider the CHP as such; however, this article challenges this dominant perspective that assumes the CHP is inherently rigid and unable to transform its party program in a changing political context. This study analyzes how the CHP under the leadership of Bülent Ecevit in the 1970s attempted to break the party's historical relationship with the military in three issue domains: domestic security, international security, and civilian control of the armed forces. By offering a more nuanced understanding about the CHP's position on the military, this study argues that the existing approach that takes the political alliance between the CHP and the military for granted would blind us to the CHP's attempt to end tutelary politics by the armed forces in the 1970s.

Introduction

In its second term in power, the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP) introduced a variety of "democratic opening" initiatives in Turkey: peaceful settlement of the Kurdish issue, improvement in the conditions of religious minority groups, and civilian control of the military. The AKP also proposed to amend the 1982 constitution written by the military junta. The main opposition party-the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP)- challenged these initiatives1 to reform the political and legal systems. As the constitutional referendum approached in the summer of 2010, the CHP, under the new leadership of Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, carried out a furious and vocal nationwide campaign against the package of amendments.2 It contended that proposed judicial reforms would empower the government over the judiciary, violating the separation of powers, and also opposed the AKP's attempts to tighten civilian control of military officers and to limit the authority and political influence of the General Staff.3

Given the CHP's recent challenges to the political reforms proposed by the AKP government, the CHP is often described as a status-quo, pro-military, and reform-resistant party by the media.4 At first sight, it seems legitimate to consider the CHP as such; however, this article challenges that perspective by examining how the CHP, under the leadership of Bülent Ecevit in the 1970s, tried to adopt more reform-oriented policies, curb the military's political interference, and achieve civilian supremacy in domestic politics. It is empirically misleading to overemphasize the CHP's inability to change, for as this study shows, the CHP moved to the left of center, and Ecevit attempted to break the CHP's political alliance with the military by articulating new policies on domestic and international security issues.

In an article on the CHP's reaction to the AKP's democratic opening to the Kurds, Fuat Keyman observes that during the 1990s, "the CHP was the only center party in Turkish politics attempting both ideologically and politically to enhance the possibility of solving the Kurdish question democratically,"5 arguing that the use of military force would only intensify the low-intensity war between the army and the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers' Party).6 Thus Keyman demonstrates a perplexing twist of the CHP from a proposal to solve the Kurdish issue peacefully in the 1990s to its staunch opposition to the AKP's democratic opening to the Kurds in 2009- 2010.

The main goal of this article is to extend such comparative analysis of the past and the present of the CHP into another dimension of the CHP's "twist": its shifting discourse about and relationship with the military. Currently, the CHP has been quite critical of the AKP's attempt to limit the authority of the military tribunals, bring the General Staff under civilian control, and strengthen civilian oversight over the National Security Council. …

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