Istanbul (AsiaNews) – The appointment of General Işık Koşaner as the new Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces ends the long and difficult tug-of-war between Turkey’s top military brass and Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan. Coming during Ramadan, it marks the latter’s victory over the Armed Forces, and thus weakens one (the first) of the pillars of the Kemalist state, the other being the courts.
Erdoğan’s victory will reshape the leadership of the Turkish Armed Forces. With Işık Koşaner’s appointment (until 2013), the prime minister has purged 11 top officers involved in some capacity in the Ergenekon (a clandestine, ultra-nationalist organisation) and Beyloz (planned attacks against religious minorities to blame on Islamists to overthrow the government) affairs.
The outgoing chief, General Mehmet İlker Başbuğ, tried in a last ditch attempt to maintain the Kemalist hold on the military leadership by proposing General Hasan Iğsız, who is implicated in the Ergenekon affair, as new commander of the Army, and would thus be first in line to succeed Koşaner in 2013 according to the rules of Turkey’s rigid military hierarchy. However, his proposal angered Erdoğan.
According to Taraf, a normally well-informed newspaper, General Başbuğ tried then to stop General Necdet Özel, an Erdoğan favourite, from being lined up as Koşaner’s replacement. By submitting the name of General Aslan Güner, he knew the latter would be rejected because he had offended President Abdullah Gül’s wife. Yet in doing so, he hoped to force Erdoğan’s hand and have him appoint Özel as army chief. Under the succession rules of Turkey’s Armed Forced, this would have forced Özel to retire in 2012 and stopped him from taking over from Koşaner.
In a move worthy of a harem conspiracy, Erdoğan appointed instead Erdal Ceylanoğlu as the new commander of the Army, knowing that he would retire next year because of the mandatory age limit, thus giving him the freedom to appoint his favourite, General Özel, in 2013 when Koşaner steps down.
The new chief of the General Staff, General Koşaner, is a soldier of few words. He has steered clear of the current confrontation between military leaders and government. According to Radikal, a well-respected newspaper, in 2006 the general made it clear that he would oppose a coup. Similarly, during the heated debate at the time of President Gül’s election, he said, “The law does not indicate how the wife of the president should dress. What matters is that whoever is elected respects the constitution.” According to Prof Mesut Caşın, of Yeditepe University, the general is a tough guy.
After the latest clash between Erdoğan and Turkey’s military leaders, Kemalism as a state ideology and political philosophy appears to gasping for life. The current situation is a far cry from the time when political leaders had to submit to the wishes of the military-led National Security Council.
Still, Turks are paying for a system that stood in the way of a truly democratic state. Turkey’s form of government was statocratic and national-fascist in orientation, its elites fearful that the democratic emancipation of a pluralistic society would spell the end of the system itself.
Under its constraints, Turkey’s parliamentary democracy was permanently placed under the power of the armed forces and a militarised bureaucracy. However, a close observer of Turkish affairs, Dr S. Ligheros, noted that whilst Kemalism developed as new religion to replace the old system founded on the prerogatives of the sultan as Caliph, old mindsets and behaviours do not easily change by political fiat.
Now, the second pillar of the old establishment, the courts, is coming up for a tough shakeup. In fact, a constitutional referendum is scheduled for 12 September. In the meantime, whenever he is in a tight spot Erdoğan uses the threat of resignation to stay in power, quite conscious that few if any in Turkey want to take his place.