Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Turkish Delight

Whilst we were preoccupied with our domestic political stupidity, something interesting happened in the Bosphorus: all of Turkey's senior military leaders resigned. Apparently this stems largely from an investigation and arrest of a number of senior military men who were involved in something that supposedly came close to a fifth military junta back in 2003 when the kinda-sorta-Islamist AK Party took political control. The Army says no-such-thing; that the planning was purely military and that the arrests - which include up to 200 people from the military, journos, academics, and various pundits - are a political witch hunt by the AKP.

The modern Turkish state pretty much begins in 1923 when the military, led by Kemal Ataturk, defenstrated the Sultanate. The Turkish armed forces are still probably the single most powerful faction in the country...but has the stress of the fight over Euro membership, the late corruption of the Army, and its conflict with the Islamists finally knocked the Army out of Turkish politics, or, at least, reduced it back to subordination to the Sublime Porte?

A non-secular Turkey is a big change in the politics of the Middle East...IF this is what this suggests. Feel free to speculate, discuss, or disparage.


  1. Turkey as the "Great Islamic Hope"?

  2. Depends on which way Turkey swings. If they go the same way as the Caliphate or Indonesia it would be a time of religious tolerance and fantastic business opportunities.

    If they go the more traditional Arab style, then look more toward Egypt as an example.

    Or they could go all in on nuttiness (why not, everybody else seems bent on doing it) and start looking more like Iran.

    I think there's reasonable hope that they'd go with the first route because the Turks are most definitely NOT Arabs and have a much different pre-muslim set of traditions.

  3. I don't know much about this, but it's better than a coup I guess?

  4. Pluto; Right now it looks more like Argentina after the fall of the Videla junta. The civilians are kicking the generals in the teeth because they can, and because the military has lost a lot of the respect it earned and kept since Kemal's time. But there does seem to be an element of secularist-vs-sectarian, too, and that probably isn't "good" for the whole idea of a sound, secular Turkey.

    Andy: Hard to tell. I think so, and yet, Turkey is unlike places like, say, Latin America where the caudillo relies on the Army stepping in to crush the liberals and peasants when they get out of line. For a long time the Army actually WAS the "liberals" - it represented a modernist, secular force that ti then built into Turkish politics. If this had been ten years ago I'd have said that anything that diminished the Army as a force in Turkish politics would be by nature bad for U.S. foreign policy in the region.

    Now, I'm not so sure.

    But I think it DOES suggest that the old consensus of the Army as the untouchable-guardian-of-the-Kemalist-secular-constitution may be breaking down...and that, in turn, implies a more volatile Turkey at a time when this damn region needs LESS volatile, not more...

  5. The alleged coup attempt supposedly took place back in 2003 when Erdogan first came to power. So the resignation (or forced resignation??) of these top military leaders now is probably due to their support of the jailed ones.

    Interesting that the new guy going into the top post of Army Commander and Deputy CofS, General Özel, is from the Gendarmes.

    I also wonder what if anything it has to do with the unrest and massacres in Syria. There is a significant population of Turkmen in Syria as they are the third largest ethnic group there. Many of those live in Hama and Homs where Assad has been cracking down and butchering his opposition.

    Hugh Pope, author of two books on Turkey and the Turkic world and who lives in Turkey, says that although they may go more Islamist he does not think that they will establish a super-theocracy similar to either the Iranian or Saudi models. Even without oil, or probably because they have no oil, they are a commercial giant. Turkish exports sell off the shelves as fast as they can be stocked not only in the Mideast, but also in Russia, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics. Their products are also popular in China, but the Chinese are quickly learning to counterfeit them. Some Turkish banks charge interest, albeit a low rate, and some are interest-free Islamic banks (I always wondered how that works? ).

    But Pope warns that whatever happens in Ankara is usually echoed in the former Soviet Republics of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyztan, and Sinkiang Province in China.

    BTW, his books on Turkey are well worth the read.