Category Archives: Turkish Elections

Turkey’s Civil-Military Crisis

On July 29th, 2011, the Chief of the General Staff and three other commanding Generals (Navy, Land and Air Forces) resigned. The only General who stayed in his post was the Commander of the Gendarmerie, Necdet Özel. This is a very significant event, not only because this is the first time in Turkish history that a mass resignation of military generals has taken place, but also because it constitutes a very important development in the often troubled sphere of civil-military relations in Turkey.
The reason why the four Generals resigned seem linked both to the Government’s determination not to promote Generals at the Supreme Military Council (YAS) meeting who are suspects in a coup case as well as the indictment of generals and officers with the attempt to overthrow the government though an internet campaign. The latter is a result of the trials that have been going on regarding the persons involved in the military-led Ergenekon conspiracy against the government. The alleged coup attempt was part of the long running dispute between the military institutions and the government due to the intensified efforts of the latter to implement constitutional reforms and thus decrease the power of the military over the state’s administration and political life. Today, although the military’s political power is clearly reduced, the Kemalist elite could not have remained inactive as it was confronted with the negative development of the re-election of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). In this light, the Generals’ action may have been aimed at employing the Kemalist historical heritage and the political culture that still characterises a large portion of the society in order to create the necessary conditions, and provoke the needed popular support, for a military coup or even a massive anti-government protest.
The recently re-elected AKP government had reacted calmly to the situation thus far. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said that this is neither a crisis nor something that cannot be handled, while he initially appointed Necdet Özel, the only General who did not resign, as Land Forces commander and active Chief of General Staff. Thereafter, on August 1, YAS convened to discuss the situation and take decisions, regarding the replacement of the resigned Generals, by the 4th of August. Finally, on August 4, President Abdullah Gül approved YAS’ decisions regarding which Generals should be promoted and who should replace those who resigned. In general, the government’s calm reaction played an important role in maintaining political stability and keeping the tensions to the minimum.
Overall it seems that, while this crisis is of historic significance and could have caused serious problems, the ruling party has handled it well. However, many questions remain unanswered. Was the resignation of the Generals really part of a greater plan? Is this the beginning of yet another coup? How will the AKP utilise the army? Is it possible that we will witness a decline in Turkey’s military power, and therefore in its overall power? As yet, answers remain elusive given the paradoxical nature of Turkish politics.
Despite the low profile reaction of the government it is obvious that the situation is indeed serious. Even so, Erdogan effectively replaced the military elite, thus acquiring more control over the army while maintaining the organisational and administrative stability of the armed forces. To what extent though does this restructuring, of the military institutions, leave the lower levels of the army unaffected and thus create space for anti-governmental tendencies to emerge? It seems that at least for the time being such danger is limited as Erdogan’s political actions have been fairly successful. Furthermore, the nationalist rhetoric, which the military-political elites and their supporters feed off, is not absent from the AKP’s statements or policies. It is important to note that in the days following the Generals resignation, Erdogan adopted a harsher stance regarding the Cyprus problem, clearly aimed at intensifying the nationalistic feelings among the people and thus maintaining social cohesion. That is because the Cyprus problem has always been a very sensitive matter in Turkey that bridges any differences within the society and the elites. From that perspective Erdogan managed to promote himself not only as the Islamist Democrat but also as the leader who does not abandon national problems, like Cyprus, illustrating the extent to which public opinion has acted as an important prong of the Turkish policy-making.
It would appear that the AKP and Erdogan are doing a good job striking a balance between nationalism, democracy and Islam. However, we should not rush to any conclusions since the Turkish political scene is driven by very complicated dynamics which could lead to significantly different developments in the short-term. There is always the possibility that the AKP’s increased power over the military will give the government a more authoritarian character which would mean that the Kemalist authoritarianism will continue to exist albeit in a different form and under different leaders. Lastly, domestic developments in Turkey tend to depend, among other things, on regional developments. Therefore, given the regional fluidity and the security challenges Turkey is facing on its borders, anything is possible.
Zenonas Tziarras, Global Politics, 07/08/2011 at

Elections in Turkey

The victory of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was very much expected in the recent Turkish Parliamentary elections that took place on June 12. The AKP managed to get 49.9% of the votes which is not sufficient for an overall majority in the parliament and means that the winners will likely have to seek cooperation with their opponents in order to achieve certain goals. Below we examine the possible outcomes of the AKP’s attempts to create a new constitution as well as assessing the broader outlook for Turkey as it goes forward.
Even without the vast majority that many expected, the AKP’s victory is clear and will help it to start implementing its agenda, albeit with more difficulty than it would like. Of course, this agenda has been much discussed over the last weeks and many of its points are probably known by now. Among other things it includes Turkey’s relations with the EU, the Kurdish question, energy policy and the effort to create a new constitution. The latter point about the new constitution is the culmination of Erdogan’s policy since the AKP’s first election in 2002 which aims to weaken Turkey’s “Deep State” – or in other words the military’s influence in political life – and reduce its influence in the state’s governing apparatus. This will enhance and ease the AKP’s rule by promoting its political objectives, especially its challenging foreign policy agenda.
The efforts to create a new constitution seem like a relatively easy and mostly bureaucratic undertaking since, as has been argued by many, the AKP will likely be able to implement it eventually, either through cooperation in parliament or a referendum. That would, of course, be yet another victory for the AKP after the success of the referendum of September 12, 2010 and the past elections. But this is far from the reality. The political battle[1] that Erdogan and the AKP are about to fight, is perhaps the hardest since the “Ergenekon” case where Kemalists, linked to the army, planned to overthrow Erdogan’s government.
It is important to note that a large part of Turkish society, approximately 30% or more, still supports the Kemalist character of the state and is concerned about the future of the country under the Islamist government of Erdogan. Perhaps the gradual emergence and strengthening of Islam in the country’s political life was inevitable since Kemal’s attempt for modernisation overlooked the extent to which Islam was part of the culture of the people and elites. Nonetheless, Erdogan’s policy today is not all that different. Since 2002, using the guise of Turkey’s candidacy for EU accession and its quest for democratisation, the AKP has implemented various reform packages which aimed, among other things, to undermine the Kemalist influence. We have seen, however, that this process has not left the Kemalist generals unmoved for yet again in the history of the Turkish state, they have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to overthrow the government.
In this light, Erdogan’s attempt to implement a new constitution could be shown to be an even greater danger to the country’s stability. The Kemalists, though weakened, are likely to react unpredictably if a serious attempt to revise the constitution were to take place, since it is this very constitution that made them protectors of the Turkish state and the guardians of the Kemalist principles. In essence, Erdogan is methodically trying to uproot the ideology upon which the creation of the Turkish state rests.
The AKP’s challenges in establishing a new constitution are expected to be stiff. In terms of Turkey’s policy on issues such as the Kurdish Question, the Greek-Turkish Relations and the Cyprus problem, the country’s behaviour is not likely to change. This is mainly because of the geo-economic developments in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as because of Turkey’s questionable ambition to become part of the EU. At its core, the clash between Islam and Kemalism is a conflict over power. However, in national issues (e.g. Armenia, Cyprus, Greece), the interests at stake are the same for both sides.

[1] There has always been a political battle between Kemalism and Islamism (in this case the AKP). Kemalism (named after Kemal, the founder of Turkey) is the ideology upon which the creation of Turkey was based and is mainly driven by secularism and nationalism while opposing the engagement of religion (Islam) in politics. The armed forces are by law the protectors of the Kemalist principles. Islamism – and particularly Turkish political Islam – has its roots in the Ottoman tradition and culture. Since the mid-20th century up until today it has been getting stronger and more involved in the state’s political life, thus causing a clash between the secular Kemalists and neo-Ottoman Islamists.
Zenonas Tziarras
Posted on June 26, 2011, on