In the Newsroom

February 24, 2010
The Turkish military under the ’sledgehammer’

Gizem Yarbil, an associate producer at Worldfocus who grew up in Turkey, writes about the significance of the alleged military plot in that country.

Turkey has been rattled by the news this week that about 50 military commanders were detained for allegedly planning a coup to overthrow the democratically elected Islamic-leaning government.

The commanders are accused of “attempting to remove the government through force and violence” in a supposed plot codenamed “Sledgehammer.” Alleged tactics include planting bombs at mosques and shooting down a Turkish warplane, with the ultimate goal of causing so much chaos and disruption that the military would need to step in and take control.

The military denies all allegations.

The Turkish military, which is generally seen as a bastion of secularism, has overthrown governments four times in the past, most recently in 1997, when it ousted an Islamist Prime Minister. Still, the crackdown is unprecedented in a country in which the military is regarded by many as untouchable.

Turkish soldier. Photo: Flickr user ozgurmulazimoglu

To those of us who grew up in Turkey, the news struck as a shock. There is a genuine respect, especially among the secular elite, for the military which is seen as the main protector of a country whose geographical location and precarious internal issues render it fragile and susceptible to outside threats. There is a fear in the Turkish psyche that outsiders are constantly looking for ways to destabilize the country, and the military is the only institution that can defend Turkey under such a scenario.

The operation is said to be a continuation of an earlier one dubbed “Ergenekon,” in which a shadowy group of academics, journalists, politicians and military officers allegedly tried to create an unstable environment of fear so that they could overthrow the government.

All these charges point to the fundamental political struggle inside the country between the secular establishment and a rising pious Islamic segment of society. The secular elite, represented by the judiciary and the military, is deeply fearful of the governing Islamist-leaning AK Party.

In fact,  many fiercely secular members of the public might even support a coup to overthrow the government, which they see as potentially steering the country toward an Islamic regime.

Although the military is strongly denying the evidence, some of it seems hard to refute. The Associated Press reports that in one conversation, a top officer accuses the political leadership of trying to “tear down the country and carry it into another (Islamic) regime,” and swears: “I will unleash (my forces) over Istanbul… It is our duty to act without mercy.” The authenticity of the recordings cannot be verified but it is hard to imagine that everything was concocted in such a high profile case.

In my opinion, it is high time the military accepts its rightful place in the Turkish state which is to defend the country in armed conflict. In democracies, the military don’t put tanks on the streets and overthrow democratically elected governments. In such cases, the country wouldn’t be a democracy anymore; it would be called an autocratic country ruled under a military junta. If we insist that Turkey is a democracy, the military should act like a military and not interfere in politics. If Turkey wants to be a part of the European Union, this is essential.

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10 comments

#10

[...] The Turkish military, which is generally seen as a bastion of secularism, has overthrown governments four times in the past, most recently in 1997, when it ousted an Islamist Prime Minister. Still, the crackdown is unprecedented in a country in which the military is regarded by many as untouchable. Read the rest of the article on the Worldfocus website. [...]

#9

You think democracy is “37 wise should rule the balance 63 mostly uneducated guys, by means of such an election that made the 37 wise guys have 65% seats in a so called parliement”!..
young girl, you need to study more about democracy!..
I am so sorry, like Nancy, but in a different view & vision !..

#8

Gizem Yarbil, wow! Any chance you might co-anchore a show or two ?

#7

Turkey is a great nation. the military is trying to prevent ISLAMIC rule like Iran.

I’m in favor of doing something good to prevent it from ever happening!!!

EU nations don’t want Turkey as a member state due to its Islamic wys-of-life. A fact that is all known to all of us who knows what’s is going on in Europen Union..

#6

The bias displayed towards Turkey never fails to amaze me. The propaganda machines of Greece are ever present.

#5

So, in Turkey the Military trys to save society from fundamentalists. Wow, the lesser two evils.

#4

Claiming any parallel between Pakistan and Turkey based on the level of democracy shows very shortsighted and biased view. But I am not surprised. I assume Mr. Retsos is of Greek or Greek Cypriot origin and thus must hate Turks automatically.
In Mr. Retsos case, he thinks or force himself to think or brain-washed by his family that all Turks are thieves who stole Anatolia, Istanbul, and Cyprus from Greeks thus must be blamed, punished and if possible sued for any reason. One will never get an objective review or comment from the likes of Mr. Retsos because their family and friends will put them out of their beloved church if they do otherwise.
Fortunately, Turks do not have the same level of hatred towards Greeks or Greek Cypriots. In my visits to Istanbul, I have not seen anybody speaking badly on Greeks except some radicals. Well, go to Greece or better yet talk to any Greek in the US, then you will be surprised how much hate and resentment they possess towards Turks.
For anyone who wants to witness anti-Americanism or anti-Semitism, I suggest Greece is the place to go. No wonder every now and then an American diplomat is getting killed or angry Greeks destroy American property. All because Greeks think or force themselves to think or brain-washed by their family that all the bad things happened to them are of U.S. origin.
I wish life was so simple ☺

#3

The Turkish military has established its right to be the above the civilian government in 1960 when it overthrew prime minister Adnan Menderes, and hang him publicly for corruption. Menderes gas been spending his evenings in nightclubs in Turkey and in Germany, drinking and cavorting with high class prostitutes while most Turks were struggling in poverty. The picture of Menderes hanging in a public square made the headlines around the world, and gave a message to other prime ministers what may happen to them - if the Turkish army didn’t approve of the way they behave as handlers of the affairs of the state. Since then, all the elected presidents and prime ministers were just marionettes of the military - even if they were elected with a landslide. Another country with such history is Pakistan, where the army overthrew the elected prime minister Zulfikar Bhutto, and hang him in 1979.

In 1997, the Turkish army ordered prosecutors to remove then Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan from office because his Welfare Party was considered “too Islamic,” and a threat to Turkey secularism. But then Tayyip Erdogan, leader of “The Justice and Development Party, also an Islamic based party was elected. But Turkish right wing parliamentarians close to the military scuttled any of his efforts to change laws, and the army issued warnings to him not be be “too Islamic.” When, Erdogan nominated Abdullah Gul for president in 2002, the army objected because Gul’s wife was wearing a headscarf, and he was deemed “too Islamic” to serve as president of the secular republic. Tayyip Erdogan didn’t back down. He dissolved parliament, called for new elections, won them with a landslide. He then used his parliamentary majority vote to elect Gul president - against the wishes of the army and right wing Turkish politicians in 2003. And this is how the army brass hatched the operation
“Ergenekon” to remove Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul in 2003.

Turkey has been trying for 30 years to enter the European Union (EU), the EU demands “strong human rights laws” and “full control of the military by the civilian government” before its admission is considered. That puts the Turkish army prerogatives in a disadvantage. Add to that the pro-Islamic wave created by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan; add the high anti-Jewish wave in Turkey created by the destruction of Gaza by Israel, add the constant U.S. threats about Iran, and the Islamic wave in Turkey has weakened the army, and empowered the government of Tayyip Erdogan to arrest dozens of high ranking army officers without being overthrown by the “formerly untouched” military!

The strong pro-U.S. Turkish military, trained and financed by the U.S. with about $3.5 billion a year -almost as much military aid as Israel, has lost its clout by the Islamic anti-American wave that has shaken Turkey. There were anti-West bombings, and massive anti- U.S. demonstrations in Turkey against the U.S. warmongering and occupation of Islamic states, and against the U.S. support for Israel, and Israel’s destruction of Gaza with an American wink. On January 29, 2009, in an economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tayyip Erdogan shouted at Israeli president Simon Peres: “You know how to kill people [Palestinians], don’t you?” and left the meeting in protest. He returend home to a massive hero welcome at the airport! And that massive public support enabled Erdogan to arrest high numbers of Turkish Generals - something that would have been unthinkable before the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Epilogue: The U.S. wars against Muslims and the ensued anti-American wave across the Muslim world has sunk secularism in Turkey. And, worse for the U.S., Tayyip Erdogan is on Iran’s side on its dispute with the U.S. and Israel over its nuclear program. Nikos Retsos, retired professor

#2

There currently is a huge rift between Israel,and Turkey for better than two years now,…which has alot to do about the arrest today. Turkey,and Israel were strategic partners ,and had fluid on-going negotiations,and trade agreements between both countries that were more than amicable,unfortunately since the bombing of the palestinian people,and the “Gaza Death Camps”(approx 12-18 months ago)currently seen in the news every day,the President/Prime Minister has walked-out on talks with Israel,and others… over the horrific conditions of every-day life brought about by Israel’s, “Literal Imprisonment” of an entire race/culture corraled in a fenced cage. It has brought back terrible memories,regarding the Turkish people’s not so distant past.The Islam Religion in local/regional/nat’l politics is know different than religions in America today,influencing our geo-political compass. What’s new here is,the President of Turkey ,”nipped-it-in-the-bud” for obvious reasons. Like I said,..this is not new news,just current.

#1

My son is in the military in Izmir. I must say that from all that he has commented on Turkey and it’s people and it’s geography is very distent from the comment above. My son has done extensive travel in the military and has never seen such beauty and experienced peace as he has in Izmir. Harsh words to call a whole people,extremely limited in your vision. I am sorry.

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