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.
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.