Analytical paper: Turkish military's mass resignation

On 28 July top 4 generals of the Turkish armed forces resigned at the meeting of the High Military Council (turk. Yüksek Askeri Şura - YAŞ). The mass resignation happened as the court charged 22 top officers suspected in the organizing campaign to undermine the current government. On 12 July the Interior Minister said that the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counterterrorism Group Command (JİTEM) [1], created by the Gendarmerie General Command to fight against terrorism and that is accused of numerous murders in the eastern and southeastern Turkey in the late 1990-s, has been still operating under the different name. Two days later 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in the Diyarbakır Province by the terrorists from the PKK. As it was circulated in the press, this resignation was the protest of the military establishment against the actions of the government in persecution officers that allegedly took part in the 2003 plan "Sledgehammer" to topple the AK party. Though the resignation was unexpected it may be seen as a result of the 14 July attack when 13 soldiers were killed by the PKK terrorists. The later investigations, conducted separately by the General Staff and the government, suggested that the lack of competence of the military and the ill system of response were in fact the reasons of the high toll of casualties.

The resignation of 4 generals, the investigations of Ergenekon case and the failures in the war against the PKK are only the visible part of the ongoing process. There is no doubt that modern Turkey represents one of the rare cases of the countries where relations between the military and the civil government have been developing in more or less peaceful way. Though the army, that perceives itself as the main keeper of the Atatürk's legacy, has demonstrated its ability to intervene into the politics by organizing several successful coups and to topple the political establishment that somehow threatens the Turkish republican order, at the same time the army has however revealed its capacity to the self-restriction by transition of the power to the civilian governments after each military coup d'etat. The Islamist parties (Refah Partisi and later Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) beginning in the 1980-s and being armed with the policy of the EU harmonization have long been in pains to get the army under the civil control. The result of this policy was the beginning of the Ergenekon case, when there were demonstrated the connection between the military and the criminal (terrorist) organizations. The success of the parties with the Islamic agenda in the struggle against the military establishment may be explained by the successful economic policy of the former and rise of the popularity of the religious rhetoric after the end of the bipolar Cold war.

The successful changes in the top army administration at the YAŞ meeting were only the latest step towards the full subjection of the military. Already in the past there were signs that the military isn't able to do something against this tendency, Among these symbolic gestures were the silent approval of the Annan plan on Cyprus introduced in 2004, that called for the unification of the two divided communities into the federation, and the nonparticipation in the Iraqi campaign in 2003.[2] Much more important was the attempts of the AK governments in the last 10 years to desecuritisize the Kurdish issue by implementing of the new approach to the regional problems. The threat of separatism and terrorism is perceived in the society as the main danger to the public order and therefore the war against the PKK is particularly important in the domestic politics. From this perspective, as AK party was trying to solve all the existing problems with the Kurds primarily by the political means, the settlement and the peace initiatives deprived the army of the foundation for their legitimacy as the keeper of the order in the country.

All the changes in the relations between the military and the civilian government, including the constitutional amendments 2003-2007, are regarded as the movement in the right direction. The more the civil government under the AK party's rule approaches to the EU's standards, the more evident becomes the process of the army's subordination. To date the parties to the process have been demonstrating the prudence and thus refraining from the open conflict. Though being the part of the broader democratization trend in Turkey the development of the military-civil relations, where the military gradually gets under the control of the civil government (as in the majority of the democracies), also should be seen as the rivalry between the army and the moderate Islamists that be exploited by the latter in their aspiration to fulfill the hidden agenda of establishing the Islamic norms and thus abolition of the Ataturk's principles that have been guiding Turkey through the past 80 years of the republic.

And the hidden and contradictory process is going on. The military still enjoys the much autonomy in their actions. The decisive driver for the army to take the lead (coup) might be the defamation of the Atatürk's legacy and the principles of the Turkish republic, where the secular nature of state is one of pillars, though it is doubtful whether AK party will ever dare change it, at least in the near future. In the long rung, the army is going to exert influence in the politics unless the new constitution is made and the system of the military educations is changed.

[2] Bulent Araş, Rabia Polat. Turkey and the Middle East: frontiers of the new geographic imagination, p.474
[3] Foreign Policy Perceptions in Turkey TESEV-publications, may 2011, p.10


  1. The recent events in Turkey can be described as the total loss of the military, that has been keeping this country from the islamist threat for years. Now we will see what is going to happen in the absence of the real opposition to the ruling government...

  2. I don't see any dangers in the current government. Seeing the improving situation with rights of the unprotected groups of the populations such as the Kurds, Alewites or women, one may conclude that islamists are much better that the junta.