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    Guidelines for beginners to understand civil-military relations in Turkey: Part I

    Nihat Ali Özcan, PhD11 August 2011 - Okunma Sayısı: 1533


    Last week's generals' resignations received wide coverage both by media and on the agenda of the political elite. So much attention could be extraordinary for some people; however, understanding the nature of the civil-military relationship in Turkey - without drifting with the tide of the daily ideological debates - is only possible with some background information. My intention is to contribute to understanding the nature of the civil-military relationship in Turkey, and the direction it's going.

    As all over the world, the nature of civil-military relations in Turkey is changing. The pace, manner, and results of the change are relevant to the character of the military as well as the economic and social structure and political history of the nations. Debates could be traced back up to two centuries in Turkey. But before going that far, let's zoom in on the important milestones within the last five decades that have shaped the civil-military relations.

    The first event we have to focus on to understand the civil-military relationship is the military coup on May 27, 1960. This intervention deeply influenced not only civil-military relations, but also the core structure of the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, by ruining the chain of command due to its dramatic outcomes like the execution of the prime minister and its anarchic character.

    The second important milestone in civil-military relations was the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup, following the Jan. 24, 1980 economic decisions. The Jan. 24, 1980 decisions, which laid the foundations for the liberal economy, initiated a process that radically changed not only the economic, but also social and political structures and ideological points of view of Turkey. Generals, who executed the Sept. 12 military coup, by supporting respective policies, actualized those decisions that would erode their position in the long run. Without their contribution, construction of the new economic order would have never been possible. As a matter of fact, one may find clues about today's "new Turkey's Anatolian tigers" in the generals' decision.

    Yet another important development affecting civil-military relations and core of the military is the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, movement. While the PKK's protracted insurgency strategy, based on attrition, affects the nation's economic, social, political and ideological structure radically and slowly, at the same time it greatly distresses the state apparatus. Those circumstances, on the one hand, have added a new dimension to the civil-military relations, while on the other hand unavoidably strained and wore out the military's own structure.

    Accelerating the change were not only the developments in Turkey. Important global developments also affected civil-military relations. So much so that the end of the Cold War and the rise of the liberal ideology in the 1990s have greatly distressed the civil-military relations, the role of the TSK and its core in Turkey, just like it did elsewhere in the world.

    Another tuning point over the role and structure of the TSK and civil-military relations is the so-called Feb. 28, 1996 "post-modern military coup." This pounce that cleared the "Islamic" Erbakan government from power by "soft" means has provided the TSK with an "unrealistic" position. Yet in the medium-run, it has caused important changes in its own structure and on the civil-military relations. Next week, I will continue writing by dwelling on these issues one by one.

    This commentary was published on 11.08.2011 in Hürriyet Daily News.