Traditonally the military has been the guardian of the country’s secular democracy
The situation in Turkey keeps getting worse. Private debt is out of control, the tourism sector is in free-fall and the decline in the currency has impacted every citizen’s buying power. Because of increasing pressures on the central bank and political storms, Turkey’s annual growth rate has already slowed.
The 2013 Gezi protests and corruption charges against the government, the 2014 presidential election and two general elections in 2015 have put the Turkish economy under stress. Turkey’s annual growth rate, which for 50 years had averaged 4.5%, remained at an average 3% in the past four years. Economists are warning that delays in structural reforms and Erdogan’s economic views could push the growth rate even lower, triggering a crisis.
Kamil Yilmaz, a professor of economics at Koc University, says, «Turkey has slowed down because it could not implement structural reforms. Because of the political developments of the past three years, investments have all but come to a halt. Further slowing of the economy is inevitable under these conditions».
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be out of control. He is cracking down on opposition, imprisoning opponents and seizing media outlets. Not once the Turkish leader has threatened to dissolve the constitutional court. It is taking place at the time the security problems have deteriorated amidst a wave of terrorism.
The events make the Turkish military emerge on political landscape again after many years of marginalization during «Sultan» Erdogan’s rule. The divisions between the Turkish military and Erdogan have a long history, but today it is amplified by tumultuous events in and outside the country. For instance, the plans to create a buffer zone in Northern Syria and send the Turkish troops to Syria and Iraq are opposed by military brass.
It makes spring to mind the decision of Egyptian military to take the reins in the country when US President Obama supported the takeover of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood. The military challenged the United States and took power to prevent the worst from happening. In the 1990s the military saved Algeria from collapse.
The current President of Turkey has never trusted the military viewing it as a challenge to his insatiable imperial ambitions. Despite that, the outbreak of war in Syria and the ongoing operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeastern part of the country make the President reconcile with the role of the military re-emerging as an influential force.
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, predicts an imminent military coup in Turkey. According to the expert, «Turks – and the Turkish military – increasingly recognize that Erdogan is taking Turkey to the precipice». Rubin believes that «he [Erdogan] has taken Turkey down a path in which there is no chance of victory and a high chance of de facto partition». According to him, «If the Turkish military moves to oust Erdogan and place his inner circle behind bars, could they get away with it? In the realm of analysis rather than advocacy, the answer is yes». Rubin writes, it is doubtful that the Obama administration would do more than castigate any coup leaders, especially if they immediately laid out a clear path to the restoration of democracy. Neither Turkey nor Greece lost their NATO membership after coups.
The Turkish military has long seen itself as the «guardian of Turkish democracy», which it defines as the staunchly secular state created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic. It directly intervened three times (1960, 1971 and 1980) in Turkish politics. In 1997 the military carried out what some scholars describe as a «postmodern coup». Back then the military issued a series of «recommendations», which the government had no choice but to accept.
The Ergenekon trials, a series of high-profile court hearings, took place in 2008-2011. 275 people, including military officers, journalists and opposition lawmakers, all alleged members of Ergenekon, a supposed secularist clandestine organization, were accused of plotting against the Turkish government. The trials resulted in lengthy prison sentences for the majority of the accused. In 2010 Turkish police arrested hundreds of current and former military officials accused of plotting to overthrow Mr Erdogan’s government. Hundreds were sent to jail, but the cases eventually crumbled.
The «palace coup – 2016» took place just a few days ago. After losing a power struggle with Mr Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu decided to step down after an extraordinary party meeting on May 22 and not run for the office again. Critics of Mr Erdogan called it a «palace coup» that would let the president consolidate power.
«The restoration of the Turkish army’s influence has resurrected concerns all the way up to the presidential palace that generals might try to topple Mr Erdogan, a polarizing figure whose extensive crackdown on domestic dissent has triggered alarm in Western capitals, according to people familiar with the matter», writes Dion Nissenbaum, a US national security expert based in Washington, in his article published by The Wall Street Journal.
US military and diplomatic officials credit Turkey’s top general, Hulusi Akar, with boosting the military’s influence. After announcing his decision to step aside following the power struggle with Mr Erdogan, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with Mr Akar at Turkey’s military headquarters. «One of the main reasons that Turkey looks to the future with confidence in a democratic system, despite lots of regions in crisis around it, is the Turkish General Staff», Mr Davutoglu said. «Whether it is the issue of terrorism within our borders or instabilities emerging out of Syria and Iraq, Turkish Armed Forces represented our country’s power and might».
Was it accidental that the outgoing Prime Minister sang praises to the military and extolled democracy?
Turkey is at a crossroads. The time is right for changes. One way or another the movement down the slippery slope should be stopped. Turkish people have a very simple choice: either to replace insanity with intelligence and wisdom on the way to peace and prosperity, or continue on the present downward course under the smoldering ashes of civil war and destruction. With Mr Erdogan in power the country seems to have no future.