[A-List] Turkey and Its Army + Turkish Elections and the Left
critical.montages at gmail.com
Wed Jun 13 11:17:25 MDT 2007
It's a great irony of history that the EU presents more trouble to
Turkey's army, the Kemalist Westernizers, than to the Islamists today.
The Left in Turkey, decimated by the 1980 military coup and now out
of touch with "peasants-turned-workers," is no match for either. --
Turkey and its army
Jun 7th 2007 | ANKARA AND ISTANBUL
>From The Economist print edition
The Turkish army continues to play a big role in the country's
domestic and foreign politics—too big, say its critics
THIS week's flurry of stories about a purported Turkish invasion of
northern Iraq confirmed again the special position the army has in
Turkey. The reports turned out to be exaggerated, but troops and
armour are massing on the border (see picture), and fears of a
large-scale intrusion into Iraq remain (see article). For now, though,
attention will revert to the army's part in domestic politics.
It is brought home over tea in Istanbul's posh Galata district by
Tayfun Mater, a left-wing activist, as he describes being tortured
after the coup in 1980. "The worst bit was when they hung me from the
ceiling by the arms and applied electric shocks to my penis and
testicles," says Mr Mater, who spent five years in prison. By the time
the army handed back power to the civilians in 1983, over half a
million Turks had been put in prison; 50, including a 17-year-old boy,
Until recently most Turks believed the days of coups were over. But
that belief was shattered late on April 27th, when a threat to
intervene against Turkey's mildly Islamist government was posted on
the general staff's website, touching off a political earthquake that
The "cyber coup" eventually led the prime minister, Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, to call an early general election on July 22nd. Abdullah Gul,
the foreign minister, had to withdraw his bid to replace President
Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who was due to step down in May. Yet the polls
suggest that Mr Erdogan's AK Party may return with even more than the
34% that, thanks to most other parties missing the 10% threshold for
seats, catapulted it to sole power in 2002. What might the generals do
The question echoes around the Ankara cocktail circuit, but it raises
a host of others. Was the ultimatum delivered under pressure from
hot-headed junior officers threatening to take matters into their own
hands? Does the army really believe that the AK government is steering
Turkey away from Ataturk's revered secular republic towards religious
rule? Was it all a crude stab at wrecking Turkey's chances of joining
the European Union? And, again, will the army invade northern Iraq?
The diary of Ozden Ornek, a retired naval chief, leaked in late March
to Nokta, a Turkish weekly, suggests several factors may have been
involved. Excerpts include details of two separate planned coups
concocted in 2004 that were quashed by the then chief of the general
staff, Hilmi Ozkok. Conversations between the plotters show suspicions
of both AK and General Ozkok. Indeed, his enthusiasm for democracy and
the EU leads them to conclude that he is an "Islamist" too.
Mr Ornek insists the diary is fake and is suing Nokta for libel. But
General Ozkok has hinted otherwise, saying that the claims "needed to
be investigated". Meanwhile, military prosecutors have filed separate
charges against Lale Sariibrahimoglu, a respected military analyst,
for her comments to Nokta (which has since been closed down). She
could spend two years in jail if convicted on charges of "insulting
members of the military".
The notion that "the army knows what is best for the people and that
they cannot be trusted to govern themselves lies at the heart of their
continued meddling in politics," observes Umit Kardas, a retired
military prosecutor. It was such thinking (drilled into young officers
early on) that led the generals to enshrine a right to intervene in
the regulations that they drafted for themselves in the 1980s.
The EU insists that any such right must be scrapped if Turkey is ever
to join its club. So must the system of military courts, which shield
soldiers from prosecution by civilians. The chief of the general staff
should be answerable to the defence minister, not the other way round.
Not surprisingly, the generals' feelings towards the EU are now mixed.
Joining the EU would crown Ataturk's dream of cementing Turkey's place
in the West. Yet they want this "only if it can be on their own
terms—and that means retaining all their privileges," according to Ali
Bayramoglu, a long-time observer of the army.
Mr Erdogan became the first political leader to have trimmed the
army's powers, when his government reduced the National Security
Council (through which the army barks orders) to an advisory role.
This and other dramatic reforms helped to persuade the EU to open
membership talks with Turkey in 2005.
Fears that their influence might be watered down even more have
transformed some generals into the EU's fiercest critics. None more so
than Yasar Buyukanit, who took over from General Ozkok last year. His
salvoes against creeping Islamisation are often accompanied by veiled
claims that the EU is trying to dismember Turkey by supporting Kurds
and other minorities.
The army's sense of vulnerability has been heightened by a deepening
rift with America over Iraq. During the cold war, the generals (in
charge of NATO's second-biggest army) were America's chief
interlocutors, which bolstered their influence at home. Anti-American
feelings exploded among Turks in 2003, when American soldiers arrested
11 Turkish special-force troops in northern Iraq, on suspicion of
plotting to murder a Kurdish politician. Most Turks saw the move as
punishment for Turkey's refusal earlier that year to let American
troops cross its territory to open a second front in Iraq. Trust
between the two armies has yet to be restored. Tuncer Kilinc, the last
general to head the National Security Council, told an audience in
London recently that Turkey should pull out of NATO and make friends
with Russia, Iran, China and India instead.
The army's anti-Western stance resonates well with ordinary Turks, who
are disgusted by America's behaviour in Iraq and by the EU's dithering
over Turkish membership. The army is still rated as the country's most
popular institution. To the millions of urban middle-class Turks who
staged anti-government protests last month, the army remains the best
guarantor of Ataturk's secular republic.
Yet, as Mr Ornek reportedly noted in his diary, the deliberate
isolation of officers from civilian life has confined them to an
artificial world in which civilians are "unpatriotic, lazy and venal"
and the armed forces are "industrious, selfless and worthy". As he
then mused, "What can we achieve with such thoughts?" Yet if the army
is to continue to command the affection of its citizens it needs to
change with the times. The generals could not have missed the many
placards during last month's protests that read "No to sharia, No to
coups." A drive to weed out corrupt officers launched under General
Ozkok is an encouraging sign that the army is prepared to be more
self-critical. But respecting the election result, no matter what it
is, remains the biggest challenge of all.
The Turkish Elections -- What's at Stake . . . and What Isn't
by Suzan Erem and Paul Durrenberger
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Economically speaking, though, it seems little will change no matter
who gets elected. As one political activist said, "The IMF is in
charge." The U.S. is effectively backing the Islamist AKP -- they are
God-fearing and have been the ruling party, so it's politically and
economically expedient to do so -- while it continues to train Turkish
military leaders, some of whom have complicated the political life of
the AKP in this election. And while the money flows in from
international investment and the IMF, it doesn't get far.
"They are following the IMF plan, and the macroeconomic indicators for
Turkey look good, but it's not trickling down," said White. "There
are huge, huge amounts of money being made, but it's going into
pockets, political pockets."
Turks from a variety of walks of life confirmed this. One
highly-placed player in the crucial Turkish meat industry verified
that wages in most factories are about $400 per month, rising an
estimated 20 percent after the first year, to $500, but then quite
variably and much less after that. A textile factory auditor told us
workers in that industry make $290 per month. Despite this auditor's
watchdog role, others tell us the factories are like ovens, workers
have no health insurance, and most families have to find income in a
variety of places. And no, the wages don't go that much farther in a
country like Turkey. Modest housing costs run about $250 per month
and food and clothing take much more than what's left. Meanwhile, one
of the wealthiest men in Turkey told us Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP
prime minister, has been "very good for business." He would know.
Yet organized labor hovers around 5 percent, and there's little sign
of a rebirth. Leftists are largely detached from factory workers,
tending instead to congregate at universities, organize social forums
and even stage increasingly popular labor festivals, while kapali
women scour their local neighborhoods talking to newcomers and
recruiting like wildfire. So where's the disconnect? As one Turk
explained, despite its rapid growth, Turkey is not a traditional
western industrialized state. Most of Turkey is still a feudal state
with a veneer of industry on top. (The feudal lords described by
nationally-beloved novelist Yashar Kemal throughout the 20th century
still operate in much of eastern Anatolia, and are even characterized
in a current popular television series.) While European states are
organized according to class interests, he said, Turks maintain
connections to clan, family, and region that obfuscate their class
interests. So the left's disconnect with these village networks is
only one part of the success of the Anatolian tigers and the relative
lack of class consciousness among peasants-turned-workers.
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