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The Rise and Fall of Military Tutelage in Turkey: Fears of Islamism, Kurdism, and Communism

What explains the rise and fall of military tutelage over Turkish democracy? This article argues that the military’s civilian allies, particularly in the judiciary, political parties, and the media, provided it with political power. The reason why these civilians supported the military tutelage over democracy was their ideological fears of ‘Islamic reactionism,’ ‘Kurdish separatism,’ and ‘communism.’ Yet since 2007, the military’s political influence has declined due to the weakening of its ideological allies and the rise of a counter-elite, mainly the alliance of the pro-Islamic conservatives and the liberals. The article reviews the alternative state-centric, culturalist, and institutionalist explanations, while comparing the pre-2007 and post-2007 periods of civil-military relations.

The Rise and Fall of Military Tutelage in Turkey Fears
 

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.

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