Military interventions in politics—whether in the form of coups d’état or more subtle forms of interference—are a major problem for democratic consolidation.1 Civilian politicians in Turkey had to share power with military officers for decades. Until 1980, Turkey was similar to three other Southern European countries regarding military obstacles to democratization.2 According to Freedom House, in 1975 Turkey moved from being partly-free to being one of 42 free countries, while Greece moved from non-free to free, and Portugal and Spain from non-free to partly-free status. Greece has been labeled as free since that time, as has Portugal since 1977 and Spain since 1978. Turkey dropped to partly-free with the 1980 military coup and continued to be labeled as such for three decades.3 The frequent military interventions in and armed forces’ tutelage over politics is the main reason why Turkish democracy was not consolidated.
All democratically elected Turkish prime ministers struggled with various degrees of military interventions. Adnan Menderes was hanged following the 1960 coup, Süleyman Demirel was thrown out of office as a result of the 1971 and 1980 coups, while Necmettin Erbakan was forced to resign as a consequence of the 1997 “soft” coup. Most recently, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan was frequently challenged by the military establishment.
From 2007 to the present, several court cases against coup plans have resulted in the prosecution and detainment of over three hundred military officers, including sixty active duty generals and admirals
What made military generals powerful enough to consistently undermine the authority of democratically elected politicians in Turkey? I argue that ideological allies, particularly in the judiciary, political parties, and the media, in addition to some segments of society, provided the Turkish military with the necessary political power and encouragement. These influential civilians embraced assertive secularist,4 Turkish nationalist,5 and anti-communist ideologies,6 which made them worried about “Islamic reactionary,” “Kurdish separatist,” and “communist” threats. They regarded the military’s oversight of politics as the most effective way of avoiding these threats. This is not to suggest that the Turkish military reluctantly intervened in politics as a result of civilian pressure; on the contrary, the military used these three threats to keep its allies constantly alert and its political role justified.
This analysis covers more than half a century during which the military’s ideological allies and targets had changing emphases from one decade to another. Thus, ideological polarization did not occur between two simple social blocks. Many conservative Muslim Turks, for example, were among those who supported the military’s political influence due to fears of the communists and Kurdish nationalists. Yet, the key supporter of the military was the established elite who combined assertive secularism, Turkish nationalism, and anti-communism.
Nevertheless, the Turkish military’s political influence has recently declined. On April 27, 2007, Turkish Parliament had the first round of voting to elect the new president. At midnight, the military posted an ultimatum on its web site, which was later known as the “e-coup,” to prevent the election of Abdullah Gül from the Justice and Development (AK) Party.7 The ultimatum tried to justify the military intervention in presidential election and to alert the military’s civilian allies by using the “Islamic reactionary” and “Kurdish” threats. It referred to the attempts to reinterpret secularism, Qur’an recitation competitions, and celebrations of the birthday of the Prophet as anti-secular activities. It also targeted Kurds, noting that “all who oppose Atatürk’s statement ‘How happy is he who can say “I am a Turk” ’ are enemies of the Turkish Republic and will remain as such.” Yet the AK Party government did not back off and asserted its authority over the military. Four months later, Gül was elected as the president.
The failure of the e-coup attempt meant the beginning of the declining military tutelage over Turkish politics. From 2007 to the present, several court cases against coup plans have resulted in the prosecution and detainment of over three hundred military officers, including sixty active duty generals and admirals. Recently, the former chief of the general staff, Gen. İlker Başbuğ, was also arrested. Additionally, legal changes removed several military prerogatives by limiting the jurisdiction of military courts in favor of civilian courts. Moreover, the president and prime minister began to intervene in the appointments of top military commanders in an unprecedented way. These transformations coincided with severe criticism of the military in the media.
The military’s political influence has weakened despite the continuing support of its ideological allies. These civilian allies are no longer as powerful, while a new Muslim conservative elite has become increasingly influential in the economy, political society, the media, and the judiciary at the expense of the old, pro-military, and generally assertive secularist elite. Pro-Islamic conservative politicians have legitimized their rule and restricted the military’s way of justifying its interventions in politics by a) replacing the old Islamist rhetoric with a new “conservative democratic” discourse and b) successfully adapting to international conditions such as Turkey’s candidacy to the European Union (EU) and its integration in the world economy, and c) forming an alliance with the liberal intellectuals.
This article first analyzes alternative explanations for the military tutelage over Turkish democracy based on state-centric, culturalist, and institutionalist approaches. Then it elaborates an argument about the role of ideological allies in the military’s political position. Finally, it examines major reasons for the military’s declining political efficacy after 2007.
Alternatives: The Strong State, Militaristic Culture, or Institutional Prerogatives
The State-Centric Approach: The Military Representing the Strong State
According to the state-centric approach, there was a strong state and a weak society in Turkey.8 Therefore, generals, who represented the state, were more powerful than politicians, who represented society. Metin Heper is the most prominent scholar who has promoted this perspective. For him, the non-elected “state elite,” especially military officers, have their “sole emphasis on the long-term interests of the community,” while the “political elite,” with some exceptions, prioritize “party interests, and possibly personal gain.”9 Instead of personally believing these views, Heper probably seeks to demonstrate how generals perceive politicians and themselves. For him, these perceptions explain why “there is a zero-sum game between the arena of the ‘state’ and that of ‘politics’ ” in Turkey.10
There are three main problems in the state-centric approach. First, it does not have a clear definition of state strength. For Heper, the strong state is able to constrain elected politicians and “to frustrate the development of civil society into an entity with political efficacy.”11 Yet this implies an authoritarian state. If that is what Heper means by a strong state, it will not explain the role of the military and other authoritarian forces in Turkish politics. It will lead us to a tautology—authoritarian state is the cause of authoritarianism.
Second, the Turkish state did not appear to be strong regarding other criteria in the social sciences literature.12 In Weberian terms, the Turkish state experienced several periods when it lacked a clear monopoly on the use of violence, such as during the street fighting of the late 1970s,13 and in the ongoing struggle against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).14 The Turkish state has also shown weakness in terms of taxation. From 1999 to 2005, the average estimated ratio of the underground economy (unfiled legal and illegal transactions) to the official GDP was 33 percent in Turkey, compared to a 21-country OECD average of 16 percent.15 The Turkish state also failed to fully collect even filed taxes in the following years by hefty percentages: 2005 (10%), 2006 (8%), and 2007 (10%).16
Third, the state-centric approach over-romanticizes the generals by depicting them as the primary defenders of the national interest, while it undermines politicians as seekers of self-interests. For example, in terms of the economy, the Turkish Armed Forces Pension Fund (OYAK) has acted as a self-interest-seeking institution. Using such advantages as being exempt from various taxes, the OYAK became one of Turkey’s largest conglomerates, with 20,000 employees and annual profits exceeding one billion dollars.17 In 2007, it sold its bank to ING for 2.7 billion dollars. It is “difficult to speak of OYAK’s economic activities as having an orientation toward national military self-sufficiency—let alone national economic development….They are rather profit oriented in the strict sense of the term.”18 Even retired non-commissioned officers, who paid mandatory dues to OYAK, criticized it for representing the special interests of high-ranking officers.19
According to state-centric scholars, the Turkish military “has always had respect for democracy.”20 Thus the military coups in Turkey are by and large the result of politicians “drifting away from rational democracy” and are a way for the generals “to ‘clean up the mess created by politicians’.”21 These scholars generally do not regard the post-2007 decline of the Turkish military’s political influence as a trend against the will of the military commanders. Instead, they argue that the three chiefs of the general staff from 2002 to 2010 consciously worked to end military tutelage over the democratic regime.22
The depiction of Turks as a military-nation is an institutionally constructed myth
On the contrary, other scholars rightly stress that the Turkish military returned to its barracks after the coups not out of respect for democracy but according to a strategy based on “ruling but not governing,” i.e., controlling politics without taking political responsibility.23 I would argue that the post-2007 de-militarization process was not a result of pro-democratic decisions by the three chiefs of the general staff. Out of the three, only Gen. Hilmi Özkök (2002-2006) positively contributed to this process, but interventionist generals and militaristic journalists restricted his contribution.24 Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt (2006-2008) and Gen. İlker Başbuğ (2008-2010) tried hard to keep, if not to extend, the military’s political role. Büyükanıt attempted the “e-coup,” and pursued an alternative political agenda opposing that of Prime Minister Erdoğan on such broad issues as Turkey’s relationships with Hamas and the Kurdish authority in Northern Iraq. Başbuğ was also politically active, although he was mostly defensive due to the court cases against numerous military officers (later including himself). As a consequence, the post-2007 decline of the military’s political power occurred despite, not because of, the will of the military hierarchy.
The Culturalist Approach: A “Military-Nation”
The culturalist perspective explains the military’s political efficacy by referring to alleged Turkish cultural characteristics.25 An extreme version of this approach defines Turks as a “military-nation” which inherently trusts the generals more than the politicians. Historically, the supporters of this perspective argue that the military is unique in Turkey because it played a leading role during the War of Independence (1919-1922). Yet armed forces have led independence movements in many other countries too. Moreover, during the Turkish War of Independence, militias (Kuvva-i Milliye) played important roles in local resistance movements in Western and South-Eastern Anatolia (in Antep, Maraş, and Urfa), when the centralized army was in the process of formation. Even after that, the elected Parliament in Ankara led the War.26 This weakens the culturalist approach’s claim that Turkey has a unique history of independence that makes its society pro-military and provides its military with an exceptional political status.
The main contemporary data allegedly supporting the culturalist approach is based on various public surveys in which the Turkish military constantly appears to be the most trusted institution. There are three main caveats to this explanation. First, the military is the most trusted institution not only in Turkey but also worldwide,27 based on its direct link to security, its connection to self-sacrifice, and its less-polemical position relative to political institutions. Second, confidence in the military is generally contingent on security conditions, rather than necessarily reflective of a nation’s culture.28 For example, with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the percentage of Americans who expressed confidence in the military as their most trusted institution increased from 66% in 2001 to 82% in 2003 (decreasing to 71% in 2007).29 Turkish society’s high level of confidence in the military (81%) until very recently30 could be explained by several conditions, including the fight against the PKK and the conflicts erupting throughout its neighbors in the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. An insecure geography generally leads people to prioritize security and to attach more importance to the military.
Finally, the Turkish people’s trust in the military does not equal approval of its political role. When asked whether “sometimes a military regime would be better than a civilian government to solve country’s problems,” 23 percent of the respondents in Turkey said “yes,” while 64 percent replied “no.”31 As subsequently explained, it can be argued that even those who support military interventions have ideological, rather than cultural, reasons to do so. Moreover, in elections, a majority of Turkish society has generally voted for parties that were not the generals’ first choices.32 Several retired generals have run for political offices but very few of them have won democratic elections. By contrast, in Israel, former military officers have been much more successful in party politics.33
As Ayşe Gül Altınay rightly stresses, the depiction of Turks as a military-nation is an institutionally constructed myth.34 Until it was cancelled in January 2012, military officers taught the obligatory “National Security” course in all Turkish secondary schools for over three decades. Turkey has also had conscription for all male citizens, which in general creates “close identification between citizen and soldier, people and army.”35 Moreover, the Turkish military’s lack of accountability elaborated in the next section prevented public scrutiny over it. That made generals more likely to be trusted than politicians, who were under constant public criticism. Thus, the Turkish people’s positive attitudes towards the military36 neither reflected their acceptance of a militaristic culture, nor implied their approval of military intervention in politics. Instead, such attitudes have been contingent on geopolitical and strategic circumstances, as well as being institutionally constructed. In sum, the Turkish military’s political influence could not be explained by primarily cultural factors.
The culturalist approach has a particularly hard time explaining the military’s declining political power in the post-2007 period. Because this approach refers to some permanent, or at least hard to change, national characteristics, it does not help explain rapid transformations. In fact, in the post-2007 era, the coalition between liberals and pro-Islamic conservatives in the media led to frequent public criticism of the military. Multiple court cases against military officers also contributed to their declining public popularity. As a result, the trust in the military in public surveys declined to 63 percent in early 2010.37 This also shows that the Turkish people’s attitude toward its military is contingently formed, rather than culturally determined.
The Institutionalist Approach: Privileges, Autonomy, and Unaccountability
According to the institutionalist perspective, the Turkish military’s political power has been based on its institutional privileges (or prerogatives in Alfred Stepan’s terminology).38 I give a certain degree of credit to this approach. Particular legal codes and precedents have provided the military with institutional autonomy and unaccountability,39 thus making it harder for generals to regard politicians as their superiors. These privileges have also maintained for the military a special position in the Turkish state structure.40 The chief of the general staff, for example, has the fourth highest ranking in ceremonial protocol (after the president, speaker of Parliament, and prime minister).41 Nevertheless, these privileges appear to be effects rather than the cause of the military’s political might. What made the military able to maintain these prerogatives, and why democratically elected Parliaments have failed to abolish them, should be explained.
A major aspect of the military’s institutional autonomy is its education system. The overwhelming majority of Turkish officers42 receive their high school education in military boarding schools, which are totally independent of the ministry of education. The military academies, which provide undergraduate and graduate degrees, are also free from civilian oversight. The military hierarchy, moreover, is solely responsible for officer appointments. Promotions and appointments to the general and admiral ranks are decided—without any parliamentary confirmation—by the High Military Council (YAŞ), which is composed of the prime minister, the minister of defense, twelve four-star generals, and two four-star admirals. Since each member of the YAŞ has one vote, the role of the two civilians is merely symbolic. Until very recently, civilians were very rarely involved even in the appointments of four-star generals and admirals, which needed signatures of the president and the government. In 2010 and 2011, President Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan changed this precedent and intervened in the appointments of top commanders.43
The military is further isolated from society through use of its own guesthouses, restaurants, and summer camps. Even this closed system has not guaranteed that officers emerge with a standard mentality. From 1990 to 2009, the YAŞ expelled 1,665 officers, in most cases accusing them of being Islamic reactionaries.44 Until the 2010 constitutional amendments, the YAŞ’s expulsion decisions were constitutionally protected from any judicial review, even by military courts.
The military has its own High Court of Appeals and High Administrative Court that place military courts outside the civilian judicial system. Yet, two of the eleven members of the Constitutional Court come from these two military high courts. Until 2008, civilian courts rarely tried military officers but military courts were entitled to try civilians. Military appropriations, about 10 percent of the annual governmental budget,45 pass through Parliament without debate or criticism.46 The State Supervisory Council, under the office of the president, cannot make the armed forces accountable either. The Court of Accounts, the highest judicial authority that reviews public expenses on behalf of Parliament, was unable to control military expenses until 2010.
These prerogatives were established during different periods of military rule (in 1960-1961, 1971-1973, and 1980-1983) through new constitutions and laws. Parliament was not able to abrogate the military’s privileges because its civilian allies blocked any such attempt. Following the recently declining power of the military and its allies, legal reforms have abolished several of these privileges. 2010 was a particularly important year. In February, the Security and Public Order Cooperation (EMASYA) Protocols, which had allowed the military to take security precautions in cities without the permission of governors, were cancelled. In September, a constitutional amendment package was approved by referendum, which opened the YAŞ’s expulsion decisions to judicial review, prevented the military court from prosecuting civilians, and empowered civilian courts to prosecute military officers, particularly on charges of plotting coups.47 In December, the new law of the Court of Accounts put the military’s supplies and expenses under the Court’s scrutiny.48 These reforms indicate that the military’s privileges are a result, rather than the cause, of its political influence. In conclusion, whenever its political power weakens, the military starts to lose its prerogatives. Having reviewed the problems of state-centric, culturalist, and institutionalist approaches, I will elaborate my argument in the next section.
The Ideational Approach: Ideological Fears and Alliances
This article’s argument is based on the role of ideological struggles in the rise and fall of the Turkish military’s tutelage over democracy. Some scholars see ideology as a simple instrument used by the dominant economic class to exert power.49 In fact, ideology is neither a superstructure nor a mere instrument of power. Ideology and material conditions are separate but interrelated. Agents may conduct strategic behaviors regarding economic interests, but ideas and ideologies come first, because they define actors’ identities and interests. In the words of Max Weber, “the ‘world images’ that have been created by ‘ideas’ have, like switchmen, determined the tracks along which action has been pushed by the dynamic of interest.”50
An ideology is a consistent set of ideas formulated by an elite and generally referring to a utopia. Thus, there is a gap between the “perfect world” that ideologies try to reach and the “real world,” which is more complex and messier. Ideologies bypass many political and social boundaries; therefore, in an ideological struggle, members of the same state institution, social class, or even family can struggle with each other given the opposing ideologies they personally embrace. Ideologies also transform the boundaries between state actors and societal actors. This article reveals how the military and its civilian allies act together based on a shared ideological agenda, while they are challenged by opposing ideological coalitions that also include both state and non-state actors. The article also stresses the ideological aspects of certain fears. These fears may be based on certain levels of socio-political reality and possibility, yet individuals with varying ideological perceptions interpret these realities and possibilities differently.
In Turkey, assertive secularist, Turkish nationalist, and anti-communist ideologies have been promoted by different means such as media propaganda and public education. The pledge, which is recited daily by students in all primary schools (grades 1–8), is an example that shows how public education promotes secular nationalism in Turkey:
I am a Turk, I am trustworthy, I am hard working. My principle: it is to defend my minors and to respect my elders, and to love my homeland and nation more than my self. My goal: it is to rise and progress. O Atatürk the great! I swear that I will enduringly walk through the path you opened and to the target you showed. May my personal being be sacrificed to the being of the Turkish nation. How happy is the one who says: “I am a Turk.”
The Turkish military has long been politically powerful because of the support it received from an influential civilian elite, which embraced these three ideologies and controlled the high courts, some political parties, and major media corporations for decades. In addition to these elites, several segments of society also supported the military due to their ideologically oriented fears of Islamic reactionism, Kurdish separatism, and communism, and their mistrust of democratically elected politicians to prevent these threats.
In the early Republican era, the civilian political elite imposed assertive secularist and Turkish nationalist policies. The military played an important role in these policies during the one-party regime (1924-1946). These policies went well beyond targeting Islamists and Kurdish separatists; instead, they defined any socio-political actor with a certain level of Islamic and/or Kurdish tendencies as a potential threat. Thus, the military and its allies alienated conservative Muslims and Kurds. After the first democratic elections in 1950, even the combined vote shares of assertive secularist parties never constituted a majority in an election. This made the military and its allies concerned about losing their dominance in a fully democratic regime. Therefore, they kept controlling the political system by either staging direct coups or maintaining military tutelage over democracy.
The Cold War complicated the ideological balance of power in Turkey. Until the Cold War, the Turkish elite was largely unified by assertive secularism and Turkish nationalism vis-à-vis the pious masses and the Kurdish minority. Yet the rise of the leftist movement in the 1960s and 1970s created a rift between the anti-communist military and leftist intellectuals. While losing the support of the leftist elite, the military gained the support of anti-communist, conservative masses. Following the end of the Cold War, the communist movements almost withered away, thus the military no longer needed the conservative support against the communist. It re-emphasized assertive secularism in the 1990s and put a clear distance between itself and its former conservative allies by the 1997 “soft” coup.
The political influence of the military and its ideological allies has constantly declined for the last five years
Without civilian support, the generals could neither stage a coup nor preserve their prerogatives. An important example was the European Union (EU) reforms in 2003-2004. Before these reforms, five top generals had dominated the National Security Council (MGK), which included the president, prime minister, and several ministers. The military general, who functioned as the MGK’s secretary general, had been authorized to give orders to civilian bureaucrats. In 2003, Parliament passed an EU reform package that turned the MGK into a genuinely advisory body by removing its influence over the government and bureaucracy, and by making possible the appointment of a civilian as its secretary general. In 2004, another EU reform package abolished the State Security Courts, which had included both military and civilian judges, and removed the military members from the Council of Higher Education and the Radio and Television High Council.
Some major allies of the military, such as the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the Doğan and Sabah media groups, supported these reforms for three main reasons. First, the MGK-based semi-military rule in 1997-2002 was very unpopular and associated with political instability, corruption, and two major economic crises. Second, in those years, around two thirds of Turkish society favored EU membership, which would not be possible without reforming civil-military relations, at least partially. Last but not least, these limited reforms did not mean a complete de-militarization of Turkish politics. After 2003, the civilian allies of the military did not support further reforms and even tried to prevent them.
Until recently, the military’s allies were successful in blocking a) executive interventions in the appointments of military commanders, b) legislative acts to empower the civilian courts in prosecuting military officers, and c) judicial attempts to prosecute military officers for coups or coup plans. Each of these mechanisms can be highlighted by some examples. First, before the appointments of the chief of the general staff in 2006, Deniz Baykal, the leader of the CHP, publicly warned Prime Minister Erdoğan against vetoing the military hierarchy’s preferred candidate—Gen. Büyükanıt.51 Second, in 2009, Parliament passed a bill that abolished the military courts’ jurisdiction over civilians and extended the civilian courts’ authority to prosecute military officers. President Gül signed the bill into law despite opposition from the generals and the pro-military media.52 Based on the CHP’s application, the Constitutional Court struck the law down. Finally, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which has had authority over the judiciary appointments, promotions, and disciplinary matters, hindered the prosecution of generals in several cases. In 2000, a prosecutor, Sacit Kayasu, prepared an indictment against Gen. Kenan Evren, the leader of the 1980 coup. The HSYK expelled Kayasu from civil service, making him unable to continue his career even as a lawyer.53 The HSYK acted similarly in 2006 in the Şemdinli case explained below.
The military and its allies have been weakened, primarily because of the rising power of their old targets—conservative Muslims and liberal intellectuals
Nonetheless, the political influence of the military and its ideological allies has constantly declined for the last five years. 2007 was the turning point when a) the military e-coup failed, b) the AK Party won a landslide parliamentary election and succeeded in making its second strongest leader, Gül, the president of the Republic despite the military’s opposition, and c) the Ergenekon case was opened against several military officers and their civilian fellows. Since then, the military and its allies have been weakened, primarily because of the rising power of their old targets—conservative Muslims and liberal intellectuals.54
Conservative Muslims, including the movement led by Fethullah Gülen, took advantage of several structural factors, such as Turkey’s EU membership process and increased international trade, to expand their influence in the Turkish economy, media, and politics.55 AK Party politicians, who dropped the old Islamist rhetoric and embraced new conservative democratic discourse, have become successful in elections. The communist threat was already passé in the 1990s. Moreover, a majority of the people was fed up with the Islamic reactionary fear after the assertive secularist exaggerations of the 1997 coup and with the military solutions to the Kurdish question after the long-lasting fight with the PKK.56 This resulted in substantial support for the conservative AK Party at the expense of pro-military parties such as the assertive secularist CHP and the Turkish nationalist National Action Party (MHP), as seen in their vote shares in the 2007 parliamentary elections—AK Party (47%), CHP (21%), and MHP (14%).57
In short, the ideological position and allies of the military, which were once the source of its political efficacy, became the reason for its waning political influence after 2007. The next section examines the recent decline of military tutelage over Turkish democracy and stresses how this transformation has been associated with the weakening power of the pro-military forces in the judiciary, politics, and the media.
The Turkish Military’s Weakening Political Influence
Two cases have damaged the “untouchable” image of the military and problematized its two major excuses for political intervention. The first case involved Kurdish separatism. In November 2005, in Şemdinli, a Kurdish-populated town in South-Eastern Anatolia, the people caught two non-commissioned gendarmerie officers fleeing a bookshop that had just been bombed. The mob also found the gendarmes’ car with a map of the bookshop, weapons, and a list of possible future targets. This created a public suspicion that some other recent bombings in the area, which had been attributed to PKK terrorism, could have also been the acts of paramilitary groups. The then Army Commander, Gen. Büyükanıt, defended one of the two arrested officers as a “good boy.” The prosecutor of the Van Heavy Penal Court, Ferhat Sarıkaya, claimed that the officers’ illegal activities were within the chain of command, and included Büyükanıt and some other senior officers in his indictment. Baykal characterized the indictment as a “coup against the military” while Doğan and Sabah media groups supported Büyükanıt and targeted the prosecutor. The HSYK, with the tacit consent of the cornered government, expelled Sarıkaya from the civil service, making him unable to be even a lawyer. The Van court, however, adopted the indictment and sentenced the two officers to nearly 40 years in prison. The High Court of Appeals reversed the decision and requested the case be transferred to a military court. When the three judges of the Van court insisted on retaining jurisdiction over the case, the HSYK reappointed them to other cities. The new judges quickly transferred the file to a military court, which released the officers.58 After the 2010 constitutional amendments, the case was once more sent to a civilian court, which sentenced again each of the officers to nearly 40 years. This case shows how their allies in politics, media, and senior courts supported military officers.
The second case produced doubts about the military’s manipulation of the Islamist threat. In February 2006, the Council of State decided that it was inappropriate for a teacher to wear a headscarf even on the street. Two months later, an assassin attacked the Council, shot the judges who made the decision, and killed one of them. Doğan and Sabah media groups presented the incident as an Islamist attack on secularist judges in revenge for the court’s headscarf ruling. Baykal and some high court members held AK Party politicians responsible for the incident due to their criticisms of the judges’ headscarf decision.59 The editor-in-chief of Hürriyet, the flag-ship journal of the Doğan group, depicted the event as Turkey’s “September 11.”60
A day after the incident, the military generals were on the street, applauded by their supporters, while the AK Party ministers were physically attacked at the funeral ceremony. Yet, the police discovered evidence that linked the assassin to a “deep-state” ultranationalist organization, led by retired military officers and known as “Ergenekon.”61 In 2007, the discovery of a series of arms caches and incriminating documents led Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz in Istanbul to open a case against the alleged Ergenekon terrorist organization for coup plotting and for the attack on the Council of State, in addition to other assassination plans.
The weakening of military tutelage over the political regime was primarily linked to the declining influence of the military’s assertive secularist allies in the judiciary, politics, and the media
Since then, three other major cases have been opened against military officers accused of planning the “Sledge-Hammer” coup, preparing the “Cage” plan to attack Christian and Jews in order to frame the AK Party government, and writing the “Action Plan against Islamic Reactionism” to topple the AK Party government and to set up the Gülen movement as terrorist by putting weapons in student housings affiliated with the movement. Although the military hierarchy denied these allegations, the courts detained and prosecuted about three hundred military officers, including five dozens generals and admirals, as well as retired top commanders. Although the courts have yet to make final decisions, these cases have already had political and psychological impacts, such as removing the generals’ perceived untouchability.
The CHP characterized the Ergenekon and other related cases as governmental conspiracy against the military. Baykal had depicted himself as “the lawyer” for the Ergenekon case’s defendants, while his successor in presiding over the CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said that there was no such organization as Ergenekon; but if there were, he would be willing to become a member.62 The HSYK tried to remove the prosecutors and judges who detained military officers in these cases. The AK Party, unlike its passivism in the Şemdinli case, actively prevented the HSYK from doing so. In 2010, AK Party parliamentarians and President Gül initiated a referendum to amend 24 articles of the Constitution. The amendments, which were approved by 58 percent of the voters, led to a process that eventually ended the pro-military, especially assertive secularist, domination in the HSYK63 and the Constitutional Court.64 As noted before, the amendments abrogated several military prerogatives as well. Also in 2010, the MGK and the government removed “Islamic reactionism” from the list of threats while revising the National Security Policy Document.
In sum, the failure of the “e-coup” attempt, the Ergenekon and other related cases, and the constitutional amendments all indicate the generals’ declining political power. The weakening of military tutelage over the political regime was primarily linked to the declining influence of the military’s assertive secularist allies in the judiciary, politics, and the media. Although the total vote share of the assertive secularist parties was generally around 30% in the 1980s and 1990s, the CHP and the other assertive secularist party—Democratic Left Party (DSP)—jointly received only 21% in the 2002 and 2007 parliamentary elections, and 26% in 2011. The fact that a majority of the people does not support assertive secularist policies is a major cause of the low vote share of the CHP and the DSP.
The military has retained its allies by invoking “Islamist,” “Kurdish,” and “communist” threats
The decline of pro-military assertive secularists has also been reflected in the media. The main media supporters of the 1997 coup were the following political newspapers (average circulations in 1997 are noted as thousands within parentheses): Hürriyet (613), Sabah (609), Milliyet (547), Radikal (183), and Cumhuriyet (46). The two opponents of the coup had lower circulations: Zaman (266) and Akit (30).65 The data from February 2011 indicates a transformation from 1997 to present in terms of a) declining circulation of assertive secularist and pro-military newspapers: Hürriyet (449), Milliyet (162), Cumhuriyet (53), and newly founded Vatan (117); b) changing position of Radikal (67), which became more ambivalent, and Sabah (350), which became critical of the military after being sold to a pro-AK Party businessman in 2007; and c) the increasing circulation of newspapers which are critical of assertive secularism and the military: Zaman (848), Akit (58), and recently founded Star (146), Yeni Şafak (119), Bugün (88), and Taraf (51).66The Ergenekon case became a litmus test for the press in terms of being pro-military or critical of it. The Doğan group’s outlets (especially Hürriyet, but also Milliyet and Vatan) undermined the Ergenekon and related cases, whereas newspapers critical of the military supported these cases. Taraf, whose journalists include ex-socialist liberals, Kurds, and conservative Muslims, particularly played an important role in publicizing the coup plan allegations. In short, the weakening of its allies in the media, politics, and judiciary has been a major reason for the military’s weakening political influence in Turkey.
This article analyses military intervention as a problem for democratic consolidation in Turkey. It examines how the Turkish military kept intervening in politics for decades and why it has increasingly become unable to do so since 2007. The article mentions the weaknesses of state-centric, culturalist, and institutionalist explanations to this puzzle. Instead, it argues that civilian allies, who have developed notions of threats based on assertive secularist, Turkish nationalist, and anti-communist ideologies, provided crucial support for the military’s political roles. The military has not been a passive receiver of this support. Instead, it has retained its allies by invoking “Islamist,” “Kurdish,” and “communist” threats. An alternative conservative elite, cooperating with formerly leftist liberal intellectuals and some Kurdish actors, received popular support and challenged this civil-military coalition, producing the decline in the military’s political influence. Civil-military alliances based on particular notions of ideological threats are not unique to Turkey. Civil-military cooperation against the “communist threat” was crucial for the military regimes that ruled over two-thirds of Latin American countries in 1979, all of which reestablished civilian rule by 1993.67
There are still many games in this Turkish town, yet democracy has begun to prevail with the decline of the military’s political power
This article suggests that if a numerically small but politically influential elite does not trust the electoral choices of the majority, democracy cannot be consolidated unless either the elite’s perceptions change or it is replaced with a new elite. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue that elites generally support “a move from democracy toward non-democracy” because they “know that once their temporary de facto power goes away, democracy will reintroduce the policies it favors.”68 Acemoglu and Robinson rightly point to the tension between elites and democracy; yet, they overemphasize the role of conflicts between elites and masses over economic redistribution through higher taxes. In Turkey, several elite actors supported military tutelage over democracy due to their concerns about ideologically-framed threats rather than economic redistribution. In contrast, politicians supported by the masses, such as Menderes, Turgut Özal, and Erdoğan, pursued more liberal (i.e., free-market) economic policies than the pro-military CHP politicians, who defined themselves as social democrats but were still largely backed by the elite. Moreover, ideologies can crosscut the elite vs. masses dichotomy, as recently seen in the cross-class ideological coalitions in Turkey.
There are still many games in this Turkish town, yet democracy has begun to prevail with the decline of the military’s political power. This article focuses on domestic ideological struggles while briefly pointing out two other complementary factors. The first factor is the divisions within the Turkish military. I did not have space to discuss the military’s internal conflicts during and after the 1960 and 1971 coups, and only briefly mentioned how Gen. Özkök blocked interventionist generals in 2003-2004. Another sign of divisions is that some military officers have leaked vital documents to the courts and to media outlets such as Taraf about antidemocratic plots within the military. The second factor is the international conditions that have impacted the Turkish military’s political role. I stressed, again briefly, the historical role of the Cold War in the military’s anti-communist stand, the conservative Muslims’ adaptation to world trade, and the impact of the EU membership process on the limitations of the Turkish military’s prerogatives. Beyond these structural issues, foreign states’ policies, such as the degree of United States’ support for military interventions, have also been important international factors affecting the Turkish military’s political position. Further research is needed on the Turkish military’s internal divisions and international constraints.
* The author would like to thank Şaban Kardaş, İhsan Dağı, Alfred Stepan, Ergun Özbudun, Şükrü Hanioğlu, Ziya Öniş, Berna Turam, Şener Aktürk, Senem Aslan, Etga Uğur, Zeki Sarıgil, Mustafa Gökçek, David Stevens, Turan Kayaoğlu, Sinem Gürbey, Menderes Çınar, Hootan Shambayati, Güneş Tezcür, Cihan Tuğal, and Mehmet Gürses for their helpful comments.
- Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), p. 3. According to Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way, even the “‘procedural minimum’ definition of democracy… includes four key attributes: (1) free, fair, and competitive elections; (2) full adult suffrage; (3) broad protection of civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, and association, and (4) the absence of nonelected ‘tutelary’ authorities (e.g., militaries, monarchies, or religious bodies) that limit elected officials’ power to govern.” Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 5-6; emphases added.
- Guillermo O’Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead, eds. Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Southern Europe (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986). For Spain, see Narcis Serra, The Military Transition: Democratic Reform of the Armed Forces (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010). For Greece, see Yaprak Gürsoy, “Civilian Support and Military Unity in the Outcome of Turkish and Greek Interventions,” Journal of Political and Military Sociology, Vol. 27, No. 1 (2009), pp. 47-75.
- Freedom House, “Freedom in the World: Comparative and Historical Data 2007,” retrieved in January 2009 from http://www.Freedomhouse.Org/
- “Assertive secularism” requires the state to play an assertive role in excluding religion from the public sphere. It is the opposite of “passive secularism,” which demands that the state play a passive role by allowing public visibility of religion. Ahmet T. Kuru, Secularism and State Policies toward Religion: The United States, France, and Turkey (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 11-14.
- I am referring to a particular version of Turkish nationalism, which aims to assimilate Kurds.
- Anti-communism was an amalgam of several ideological positions from capitalism (that opposes the communist economy) to social and religious conservatism (that contests communist materialism).
- I will use the official acronym, the AK Party, instead of the AKP.
- Metin Heper, The State Tradition in Turkey (Beverly: The Eothen Press, 1985), p. 16.
- Metin Heper, “The Ottoman Legacy and Turkish Politics,” Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 54, No. 1 (2000), pp. 78, 81-2; see also Heper, The State Tradition in Turkey, pp. 5-6.
- Metin Heper, “State and Society in Turkish Political Experience,” in Metin Heper and Ahmet Evin, eds., State, Democracy and the Military: Turkey in the 1980s (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1988), 1-2. See also Ersel Aydınlı, “A Paradigmatic Shift for the Turkish Generals and an End to the Coup Era in Turkey,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 63, No. 4 (2009), p. 585.
- Metin Heper, “The Strong State as a Problem for the Consolidation of Democracy: Turkey and Germany Compared,” Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2 (1992), p. 189.
- The World Bank Institute compares 207 states on six indicators with percentile scores from 0 (worst governance) to 100 (best governance). Turkey’s scores raise questions about its strength: Absence of Violence (21), Voice and Accountability (42), Rule of Law (53), Control of Corruption (59), Regulatory Quality (60), and Political Stability and Government Effectiveness (64). World Bank Institute, Worldwide Governance Indicators 2007’, retrieved in November 2008 from http://info.worldbank.org/
- The street fighting between leftists and rightists in the late 1970s resulted in 5,241 deaths and 14,152 wounded in Turkey. Data quoted in Kenan Evren, T. C. Devlet Başkanı Orgeneral Kenan Evren’in Söylev ve Demeçleri (Ankara: Başbakanlık Basımevi, 1982), p. 24.
- Fighting between the Turkish military and the PKK in 1984-2008 has caused the deaths of 5,660 civilians, 4,937 military personnel, 1,545 police officers and village guards, and 32,000 PKK terrorists. Quoted from the press conference of Gen. İlker Başbuğ in ‘Cezaevi Ziyareti Bir Vefa Borcudur’, Vatan, September 17, 2008.
- Friedrich Schneider, “Shadow Economies and Corruption all over the World,” Economics: The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2007), pp. 20, 37.
- Governmental data quoted in “10.3 Milyar YTL’lik Vergi Tahsil Edilemedi,” Sabah, February 3, 2006; “Beyan Edilen Verginin Yüzde 8’i Tahsil Edilemedi,” Hürriyet, February 9, 2007; “Verginin Yüzde 10’luk Bölümü Tahsil Edilemedi,” Takvim, January 26, 2008.
- OYAK has operated in the finance, insurance, automotive, petroleum, cement, construction, travel, and food industries. The interview of OYAK’s CEO Coşkun Ulusoy, “Our Target is YTL 34 Billion in 2015,” Capital, July 1, 2007, pp. 282-3.
- Taha Parla, “Mercantile Militarism in Turkey, 1960-1998,” New Perspectives on Turkey, No. 19 (1998), p. 31.
- Ahmet İnsel and Ali Bayramoğlu, Bir Zümre, Bir Parti: Türkiye’de Ordu (Ankara: Birikim, 2004).
- Metin Heper, “Civil-Military Relations in Turkey: Towards a Liberal Model?,” Turkish Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2 (2011), p. 241.
- Metin Heper and Aylin Güney, “The Military and Democracy in the Third Turkish Republic,” Armed Forces and Society, Vol. 22, No. 4 (1996), p. 620.
- Aydınlı, “A Paradigmatic Shift,” pp. 591-4; Heper, “Civil-Military Relations.”
- Steven A. Cook, Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).
- “Dört Yıldızlı Tepki,” Milliyet, May 24, 2003; “İrtica ile Mücadele İçin Daha İyisi Gelmeliydi,” Hürriyet, March 11, 2008.
- Gareth Jenkins, Context and Circumstance: The Turkish Military and Politics. Adelphi Papers, No. 337 (2001), p. 6.
- According to Ahmet Demirel, the First Parliament had an effective opposition group and democratic discussions while waging the War of Independence. Birinci Meclis’te Muhalefet: İkinci Grup (İletişim: Istanbul, 1994), p. 614.
- Gallup International, “Trust Will Be the Challenge of 2003: The Voice of the People Survey 2002,” retrieved in March 2009 from http://www.voice-of-the-
- Giuseppe Caforio, “The Military Profession, Public Trust, and Public Interest,” Connections: The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1 (2008), pp. 95-109.
- “Military Tops Public Confidence List in New Gallup,” June 3, 2005, http://www.defenselink.mil/
news/newsarticle.aspx? id=16496; “Confidence in Congress: Lowest Ever for Any U.S. Institution,” June 20, 2008, http://www.gallup.com/poll/ 108142/Confidence-Congress- Lowest-Ever-Any-US- Institution.aspx
- “Military in Turkey Elicits Highest Levels of Public Confidence,” August 9, 2007, http://www.gallup.com/poll/
28351/Military-Turkey-Elicits- Highest-Levels-Public- Confidence.aspx
- The Konda Survey on November 3, 2007 reported in Tarhan Erdem, “Yeni Türkiye’yi Anlamak,” p. 42, retrieved in April 2009 from http://www.konda.com.tr/index.
- Measures of popular confidence should not be interpreted as support for the military’s assertive secularism either. In 2007, Turkey’s religious organizations had the second highest confidence score (69%), placing them right behind the military. “Military in Turkey Elicits.”
- Mehran Kamrava, “Military Professionalization and Civil-Military Relations in the Middle East,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 115, No. 1 (2000), pp. 71-6.
- Ayşe Gül Altınay, The Myth of the Military-Nation: Militarism, Gender, and Education in Turkey (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
- Samuel P. Huntington, “Reforming Civil-Military Relations,” in Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner, eds., Civil-Military Relations and Democracy (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), p. 11.
- For civilians’ appreciation of the military in Turkey, see Tanel Demirel, “Soldiers and Civilians in Turkey: The Dilemma of Turkish Democracy,” Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 40, No. 1 (2004), pp. 127-50.
- The Survey of A&G reported by its president Adil Gür in his interview: “Orduya Güven En Düşük Noktada,” Taraf, January 29, 2010.
- Alfred Stepan, Rethinking Military Politics: Brazil and the Southern Cone (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), pp. 93-102.
- Ümit Cizre-Sakallıoğlu, “The Anatomy of the Turkish Military’s Political Autonomy,” Comparative Politics, Vol. 29, No. 2 (1997), pp. 151-66; Gerassimos Karabelias, “Dictating the Upper Tide: Civil-Military Relations in the Post-Özal Decade, 1993-2003,” Turkish Studies, Vol. 9, No. 3 (2008), pp. 457-73.
- The generals, who staged coups in 1971 and 1982, tried to justify their interventions by article 35 of the Turkish Armed Forces Internal Service Law (which was passed following the 1960 coup): “The duty of the armed forces is to protect and defend the Turkish homeland and the constitutionally designed Turkish Republic.” Yet this article did not save the officers who were prosecuted following 2007 for the alleged coup plans.
- In contrast, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the United States has a much lower ranking in the ceremonial order, after all 100 senators, 50 governors, and 435 representatives, as well as numerous other politicians, judges, and civilian bureaucrats. “Department of the Army Protocol Precedence List,” retrieved in April 2011 from http://www.usma.edu/protocol/
- According to the online press release of the Turkish General Staff, the armed forces included 365 generals/admirals, 39,975 officers, 95,824 non-commissioned officers, 65,215 professional soldiers/gendarmeries, and 465,197 conscripts, in addition to 53,424 civil servants/workers. “Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri Personel Mevcutları Hakkında,” November 21, 2011, http://www.tsk.tr/10_ARSIV/10_
- With the president’s confirmation, the Turkish government appoints the chief of the general staff out of the commanders of the army, navy, and air force. Since commanders of navy or air force were never chosen, the government automatically appoints the commander of the army. The government cannot easily promote a preferred general as the commander of the army, because he should be nominated by the chief of the general staff. Therefore, the government’s intervention in military appointments occurred very rarely in the last fifty years. The gendarmerie, which has police jurisdiction over approximately 90 percent of Turkish territory and a third of the population, is part of the military hierarchy. It is also the chief of the general staff who nominates the commander of the gendarmerie.
- “19 Yılda 1.655 Subay İhraç Edildi,” Sabah, August 4, 2011. The YAŞ did not expel any military officers in 2010 and 2011. Many expelled officers reject the labeling of “Islamic reactionary” and define themselves as pious Muslims. Jeremy Salt, “Turkey’s Military ‘Democracy,’ ” Current History, Vol. 98, No. 625 (1999), p. 75; İskender Pala, İki Darbe Arasında, İlgiç Zamanlarda (Istanbul: Kapı, 2010).
- 45. Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, “Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri,” in Ümit Cizre, ed., Almanak Türkiye Güvenlik Sektörü ve Demokratik Gözetim (Istanbul: TESEV, 2006), p. 62.
- Ahmet Yıldız, “Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi,” in Cizre, ed., Almanak Türkiye, p. 17.
- Ahmet T. Kuru and Alfred Stepan, “Introduction,” in Ahmet T. Kuru and Alfred Stepan, eds., Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), pp. 9-10.
- In February 2011, a new law waived the police officers from the military service. The military hierarchy had been resisting this reform for long time to show its superiority over the police.
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The Communist Manifesto,” in Lawrence H. Simon, ed., Karl Marx: Selected Writings (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1994), p. 129.
- Max Weber, “The Social Psychology of the World Religions,” in H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 280.
- Baykal’s press conference quoted in “30 Ağustos Garanti,” Hürriyet, July 12, 2006.
- The Turkish Constitutional Court, decision no. 2010/16; January 21, 2010.
- On November 13, 2008, the European Court of Human Rights decided against the HSYK’s expulsion of Kayasu, asked for his reinstatement, and demanded Turkey to pay a compensation of 41,000 Euros. “Turkish Prosecutor’s Case Discussed 10 Years Later,” Hurriyet Daily News, March 23, 2010.
- For an analysis of this new elite, especially the AK Party, in lifting some restrictions on Kurdish cultural expression, see Şener Aktürk, “Regimes of Ethnicity: Comparative Analysis of Germany, the Soviet Union/Post-Soviet Russia, and Turkey,” World Politics, Vol. 63, No. 1 (2011), pp. 115-64.
- Turkey’s foreign trade (combining export and import) increased from $0.8 billion in 1960 to $11 billion in 1980, $35 billion in 1990, $82 billion in 2000, and $334 billion in 2008. The governmental report entitled “Türkiye İhracatı’nın Gelişimi,” retrieved in October 2009 from http://www.dtm.gov.tr/
- The PKK’s deadly attacks on military outposts in 2007-2010 created the public perception that the generals were having a hard time even protecting soldiers, let alone solving the Kurdish question by force.
- The Kurdish population constitutes 15 percent of Turkish society. The Survey of Milliyet and Konda, Milliyet, March 21, 2007. Yet Kurdish nationalist parties have received around 5 to 6 percent of national votes. The AK Party is the only serious electoral competitor to the Kurdish nationalist Peace and Democracy Party in Kurdish-populated areas.
- See Güneş Murat Tezcür, “Judicial Activism in Perilous Times: The Turkish Case,” Law and Society Review, Vol. 43, No. 2 (2009), pp. 305-36.
- In 2008, the prosecutor of the High Court of Appeals opened a closure case in the Constitutional Court against the AK Party; he included this murder into the indictment as if the party were liable for it. For the failure of this “judicial coup” attempt, see Kuru, Secularism and State Policies, 185-7. From its foundation in 1961 to present, the Constitutional Court closed down 25 political parties, most of which were accused of being Kurdish separatist or anti-secular Islamist.
- Ertuğrul Özkök, “Cumhuriyet’in 11 Eylül’ü,” Hürriyet, May 18, 2006. The headline of Milliyet was “Laikliğe Kurşun (Bullet to Secularism),” Milliyet, May 18, 2006.
- Serdar Kaya, “The Rise and Decline of the Turkish ‘Deep State’: The Ergenekon Case,” Insight Turkey, Vol. 11, No. 4 (2009), pp. 99-114.
- “Nerede Bu Örgüt Üye Olayım,” Hürriyet, February 16, 2011.
- After being restructured by new members, HSYK cancelled its earlier decisions on the expulsion of prosecutors Sarıkaya and Kayasu in April 2011.
- Ergun Özbudun, “The Turkish Constitutional Court and Political Crisis,” in Kuru and Stepan, eds., Democracy, Islam, and Secularism, pp. 161-3.
- Konrad Adaneur Vakfı, MediaScape Türkiye’ 98 (Ankara: Ankara University, 1998), p. 28, retrieved in January 2009 from ilaum.ankara.edu.tr/gorsel/
- Data provided by Turkuvaz and YAYSAT, two main newspaper distributors, quoted in ‘Haftalık Ortalama Gazete Satışları: 7-13 Şubat 2011’, Zaman, February 21, 2011. Akşam and recently founded Habertürk have been ambivalent in this debate.
- Brian Loveman, “ ‘Protected Democracies’ and Military Guardianship: Political Transitions in Latin America, 1978-1993,” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 36, No. 2 (1994), p. 105.
- Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 224.