Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Turkey Coup Plot: What's Behind the Tumultuous Identity Crisis

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Turkey Coup Plot: What's Behind the Tumultuous Identity Crisis

Article excerpt

In addition to the Armenian genocide resolutions roiling Turkey in recent days, the country has also been shaken up over the arrests of top military officials in an alleged Turkey coup plot. How the turmoil affects Turkey's EU bid and its regional ambitions.

The recent arrests of dozens of high-ranking military officers here - among them the former heads of the Navy and Air Force - for their part in an alleged Turkey coup plot to overthrow the country's liberal Islamic government has caused a political earthquake here. Such arrests were a first in Turkish history for a group previously considered untouchable.

The officers are suspected of being part of a 2003 plan dubbed "Sledgehammer," which aimed to create social chaos and political turbulence in the hopes of removing the government of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The plan, first revealed in documents leaked to the liberal Taraf newspaper, possibly included the bombing of popular mosques and the ratcheting-up of military tensions with Aegean neighbor Greece.

The arrests came amid increasing tension between Turkey's old- guard secular elite and the government and its supporters. Controversy over the arrests has thrown into higher relief the country's deep political polarization and its struggle to strengthen democracy and increase civilian oversight of the military.

Is a military coup likely or possible?

The powerful Turkish military, which sees itself as the guardian of the country's secular system, has orchestrated the removal of four governments since 1960. The last time was in 1997, when it persuaded an Islamist-led coalition to step down simply by expressing its dissatisfaction with the government in a detailed memorandum - the "postmodern coup," as it has come to be known in Turkey.

Things have changed a lot since then. Although a constitution drafted after a 1980 coup enshrined the armed forces' role as defender of secularism and gave it broad powers, reforms linked to Turkey's bid to become a European Union member have clipped the wings of the military.

Although surveys have shown that the military remains Turkey's most trusted institution, popular support has been steadily eroding, along with the public's appetite for military interventions in politics. Case in point: Though Turkey's generals expressed their "concern" prior to elections in 2007 in an online statement posted on the military's website (the "e-coup," some call it), the AKP went on to sweep the parliamentary elections and install one of its leaders as president.

What is the status of ties between the military and the current government?

Ties be-tween the military and the AKP have been tense from the start. The party, which first came to power in 2002, was founded by members of a re-formist wing of the Islamist party that the military had forced out of power in 1997. …

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