Turkish Military Grows Restless

John Barham, International Editor

A well-informed U.S. official has commented to Security Management that he expects the Turkish military to “take some kind of action” to destabilize or even topple the recently-elected government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan leads a moderate pro-Islamic government that won an overwhelming parliamentary majority in last July’s elections. In August, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party also conquered the presidency when Abdullah Gul was elected president in a parliamentary vote.

The U.S. official commented, “The Islamists control parliament, the government, the presidency. This gives them almost total control over the civil service, the judiciary, and if they chose to, they could even control the army.” The Turkish military considers itself the guardian of secularism and pro-western values.

The army has led three military coups since 1960 and in 1997 intervened to drive from office a coalition government that included an Islamist party. In April, the army warned it would not allow a candidate with Islamist roots to become president. This triggered a political crisis that led to the July elections, which further entrenched Islamists in power.

While he said he had received no firm intelligence about an impending coup, the American official said he is expecting a strong political reaction from the military. This could take the form of a behind-the-scenes negotiation, overt political pressure, or even a full-scale coup. "The army commander does not want to go down in history as the man who lost secular Turkey," said the official.

The Islamists, the military, and western governments all face uncomfortable choices. Erdogan is under pressure from his political base to advance his party’s Islamist program. The military could be isolated by the U.S. and the European Union if it overturned the constitution to oust the Islamists. Western governments are anxious to avoid a crisis in Turkey because it is one of the Muslim world’s few democracies. It is also a NATO member and a strategically important ally in the Middle East that borders on Iran, Iraq, and Syria.


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