Mr. Bonner is a former foreign correspondent and television writer/producer. He has published seven books, including three on Protestantism.
Turkey’s military occupies a position of influence in society and politics unseen in any Western democracy. The common statement that Turkey evolved from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire is an error. It is an imagined state that denies the major Ottoman principle of millets (autonomous cultures and ethnicities). Its succession was as a military-led, semi-atheist seizure of power that began when French-speaking military medical students in Istanbul formed a secret society known as the Ottoman Union in 1889. When Ahmed Riza, the director of education in Istanbul, was assigned to Paris that year, his links to the Ottoman Union were discovered. He resigned, remaining in Paris to espouse the materialist theories of Auguste Comte. He and his followers were also influenced by Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931), a French sociologist who taught that parliaments were hazardous because it was impossible to forecast what the illiterate masses would do. In Ahmed Riza’s words, “Silly people should not be allowed to enter into politics; however, some have unfortunately even become deputies. This is the defect of liberty that enables the masses to assume a role in the future of the state and nation.”
Ottoman sultans who sought to modernize could not turn to colonialist Britain or France. They instead sought advice from then-unimportant Prussia, which organized military academies to train a professional army, replacing the hodgepodge of officers from the former tribal elite. The dethronement of Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid was through a coup mounted by graduates of these academies (although it is not seen as such in Turkish history books). Sukru Hanioglu describes a meeting of commissioned or associated officers in Salonica in July 1906 to accomplish this. They met at the house of another officer. Then, in July 1908, an Albanian-Ottoman officer, Major Ahmet Niyazi, ordered his 400 men to leave their garrisons and move to neighboring mountains. A younger officer named Enver (it was common to use only one name) followed his lead. He had studied in Germany, becoming proficient in the language and gaining the friendship of leading officials. On his return home, he was posted to Salonica and there joined the anti-royalist Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). Enver threatened to march his men on Istanbul to force the sultan to restore the suspended 1876 Constitution. The sultan agreed, but the unionists, admitting they lacked needed experience, allowed him to remain on the throne ex-officio. This still meant freedom, and there was dancing in the streets of Istanbul and other cities. 1
The CUP coup was threatened when Wahdeti, a Naqshbandi sheikh, organized a group named the Society for Muslim Unity. On the night of April 12-13 (March 31, 1909, in the old Rumi calendar), Muslim students marched to the parliament building demanding a return to Sharia (traditional Muslim law). An “Action Army” was quickly organized and sent by train from Salonica to Istanbul, and the revolt was quelled. Sultan Abdul Hamid was deposed and replaced by his brother Mehmed V.
A COMMISSIONED-OFFICER CASTE
The March 31 incident, as it is called in Turkish history, though lasting fewer than three weeks, is enshrined in military memory as irtidja (reaction), the first firm evidence of a reactionary religious threat to the ;Two courts-martial convicted and hanged Islamists including Dervish Wahdeti. Academy graduates, asserting the hegemony of what would become a commissioned-officer caste, summarily dismissed about 10,000 officers from the former tribal elite.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), including the Army, the Gendarmerie General Command (for internal defense), the Coast Guard Command and Air Force, now number approximately 600,000 men, the second-largest military within NATO (after the United States). But that is misleading. Most of the army consists of conscripts drafted for 15 months, during which they learn little more than how to fire a rifle and march in a line. The nucleus of the army consists of 30,000 commissioned officers who answer to no civil authority: a virtual state within the state. They were described by Chris Kutschera in February 2000:
From the beginning of their career, when they enter a military school at the age of 14-15, for a period of four years, or a military academy, at age 18-19, also for four years, the future Turkish officers are instilled with the idea that they form an elite living in a world apart with a special mission. To be admitted to these military schools and academies an applicant must fulfill all the conditions required from a student who applies to an elite school anywhere in the world: good marks, especially in sciences, good looks, good general attitude and — something a little more unusual — a rigorous investigation not only of the candidate’s personality but also that of his family, including his parents’ profession [and] their political activities. Their entire history is extensively researched, and the existence of even a distant relative suspected of being a militant, a member of a leftist or Islamist party is enough to disqualify the candidate. Personal investigation of the candidate’s personality, background and personal circumstances continue throughout his career with rigorous examinations conducted at regular intervals and particularly before any promotion is considered. . . . [T]he cadet lives in a special world: the quality of life in Turkey’s military schools and academies . . . clean and comfortable classrooms, good food, good libraries, modern laboratories, computers, exceptional sports facilities, and especially well trained professors. . . . Slowly ascending the hierarchy according to scheduled promotions — determined by his behavior, his ideas, his marks — the Turkish officer is already deeply entrenched in a world apart, isolated from ordinary civilians, both physically and socially. . . . [H]e lives in superior housing, clean and well maintained, with gardens, guarded day and night by sentinels, for which he pays a subsidized rent (six to eight times less than normal market rates). All his life unfolds in a special setting, from the American-inspired PX supermarket offering a wide range of goods at cheap prices, to the military hospital, where officers and their families are treated totally free of charge. But the more ostensible symbol of the officer’s unique status is the “officer’s house,” be it in Istanbul or in Diyarbakir, in Izmir or Van, where he meets his colleagues and their families in a pleasant place, surrounded by greenery, and again at a price defying competition. Civilians are not admitted, except for the direct members of the officers’ families and the generals’ guests. 2
The segregation between commissioned and non-commissioned soldiers extends even to recreation facilities, as was tragically illustrated in August 2009. Emrah Ucar, the son of a non-commissioned sergeant, socialized with two sons of commissioned officers. They went together to a military beach and summer facility in southern Marmara, Eregli Tekirdag. Emrah was turned away because he could not show proper identification to a guard at the gate. His friends told him that if he climbed a nearby pole he could jump over a wire fence and meet them on the other side. The pole was electrified. Emrah died when he touched it and fell to the ground. His father, Ali Ucar, who had who served for 22 years in the Supply Command, told reporters that Emrah was the family’s only child.
OYAK TRUST AND PENSION FUND
The officer caste has a remarkable economic base. When officers below the rank of colonel trained in the United States during the Cold War, they realized how far they lagged behind European armies. Returning home they complained of a loss of economic prestige and staged a coup in 1960. A year later they drafted a new national constitution. It included the Armed Forces Trust and Pension Fund (known by the acronym OYAK), with an executive board (as of 2008) of four active generals, three other active officers, two retired generals and a colonel. It now ranks among the nation’s third-largest economic conglomerates.
Coskun Ulusoy, its civilian chief economic officer, raised OYAK’s assets from $1 billion to $8 billion in seven years. He had an unusual advantage. OYAK is exempt from all taxes, including income and inheritance taxes, stamp duties (in connection with its transactions), tax on dues collected from the permanent and temporary members, and an expenditure tax. To provide a shield from market risks, OYAK is also permitted to transfer any of its losing or bankrupt companies to the state.
OYAK’s fortunes rose in 1994, when it gained control, at what the British Economist Intelligence Unit termed a “cherry pick” price, of Sumerbank and five other private banks that had been taken over by the national Savings Deposit Insurance Fund. They were united as OYAK Bank. This was sold to the Dutch financial-services group ING in December 2007 for $2.6 billion and its name replaced with that of ING.
The conglomerate has about 20,000 employees in 60 affiliates. These include a 49 percent stake in OYAK-Renault, Turkey’s largest car manufacturer; 20 percent of Turkey’s cement production (which makes it the sector leader); 20 percent of Turkey’s paper-sack production; an 11 percent stake in the Goodyear tire company; 100 percent of a leading transportation company; plus a supermarket chain, extensive real-estate and a stock-market company. OYAK also has assets of benefit to its more than 230,000 serving and retired military officers, including exclusive resorts and the Zirvekent housing development in Ankara, in addition to a $27 billion savings fund that distributes regular dividends. As noted, OYAK companies are affiliated with or co-owned by large domestic and international firms such as Sabanci and Koc in the domestic sphere and DuPont, Goodyear, Mobil, Renault and Shell in the external market. It may be seen as an example of the militarization of business and the market in Turkey.
WARS AS TESTS
War began in the Balkans in October 1912, when Bulgaria (the so-called Prussia of the Balkans) attacked Turkey. Turkish soldiers, almost all of them barely trained conscripts, abandoned their weapons, supplies and provisions, including 200 railway cars and two engines, and ran away. These supplied a further Bulgarian advance. When fighting resumed, Turkish forces were decimated by cholera. As dying soldiers were transferred to Istanbul, cholera entered all railway stations. The streets and parks of Istanbul were littered with the dead and dying. This Muslim plight drew the world’s pity; groups and individuals in Britain and the United States donated funds to feed 5,000 men, women and children a day. The Bulgarians, too, were cut down by cholera when they advanced, so action on their front came to halt.
The struggle shifted south as Greece sought to extend its northern frontier, but Turkey left the war, entering World War I in 1914 with barely a respite. The Western Allies sought a quick victory by sailing through the Dardanelles to the Sea of Marmara and on to Istanbul. Fortunately, before the war started, Turkey had been granted the services of Prussia’s Lieutenant General Otto Liman von Sanders as an adviser. He summoned specialists to bolster defenses at Chanakkale, a narrow one-mile section of the strait. They supplied 150-mm Krupp howitzers and laid mines at the narrowest point in successive belts of unorthodox parallel lines. When the British and French fleet began passage through the strait on April 25, and their battleships turned to allow passage for mine sweepers, they struck the parallel mine fields. Three battleships were hit and sank within minutes; three others suffered severe damage. The entire fleet was simultaneously raked by the 150-mm howitzers hidden behind the Gallipoli Ridge. The Allies then ended attempts to force the strait. Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) volunteers were training in Egypt prior to being sent to France and it took six weeks to re-equip them for a land assault on Gallipoli, giving Von Sanders time to prepare.
The Anzacs faced a Turkish Army of 84,000 well-equipped men. Rather than defending the beaches, Von Sanders deployed small outposts on a ridge overlooking the coast, with regiment-sized forces positioned one or two miles to the rear. The strategy was that the outposts would slow enemy landings and channel them toward the larger reserve forces. With a Prussian instinct for the value of aggressive commanders, he had appointed Mustafa Kemal, a little-known lieutenant colonel, to command the 57th Infantry Regiment. Turkey’s war minister, Enver Pasha, had till then sidelined him, fearing a competition for fame. The assault went awry, so that landing craft concentrated further north than intended. This put them almost at the foot of Mustafa Kemal’s regiment. He rushed reinforcements to the forward lines. It appears that, in the initial moments a commander had asked him what should be done. He then issued his famous order, “I do not expect you to attack. I order you to die! In the time that passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take our place.” Kemal would later note that the 57th was “a famous regiment because it was completely wiped out.”
What followed became an imitation of the trench-war stalemate in Europe, and the Allies began a secret withdrawal in late November. The last troops left in January 1916.
The British suffered 205,000 casualties, 43,000 of whom were killed or missing. The French suffered 47,000 casualties. Ottoman records show that more than 56,000 officers and men were killed, 97,000 were wounded and 11,000 went missing, in addition to 21,000 who died in hospitals. The Ottomans had fought two major powers to a standstill, emerging with combat-tested officers who would rescue the nation from defeat.
CIVIL WAR IN THE ANATOLIAN HEARTLAND
Armenians had long sought independence or at least an autonomous region. Believing a victorious Russia would grant them this, they formed volunteer battalions to fight on behalf of the czar. Russian-Armenian forces soon captured the major city of Van in north-central Anatolia and continued to advance. This was the prospect on May 30, when War Minister Enver issued a regulation “for the resettlement of Armenians in Turkey out of the war zone.” Their homes were to be locked and protected pending their return, but there were perhaps a million Turkish refugees from the Balkan War on the streets of Istanbul. It would appear a matter of justice that these homes should be allotted to the Muslims and not kept for Christian Armenians who had sided with the enemy. Tragically, local authorities lacked both the logistics to move populations and a force to supervise the evacuation. The gendarmerie, a well-trained home defense force, had been called to the front. It was replaced by the perpetually unemployed or, worse yet, criminals.
Armenians were driven from their homes, and men and boys were quickly killed. Women and children were forced to walk, ostensibly to Syria, but many were simply driven into the mountains, where survivors were robbed or killed by traditionally hostile Kurdish nomads. It is out of place here to review the Armenian claim that as many as 1.5 million of their group died in the exodus. The most recent survey is in a book by Gunther Lewey. He limited his study to the major deportations of 1915-16 to sort out rival arguments and pointed out that inconsistencies such as an alleged planned extermination of all the Armenians did not square with the survival of large Armenian populations in western Anatolia, and that an effort to exterminate over a million people would not rely on inconsistent methods like marching them to starvation. He wrote:
By deducting the number of survivors from the pre-war Armenian population, we get an idea of the magnitude of the losses suffered by the Armenian community of Turkey during World War I. According to the numbers I have accepted out of a 1,750, 000 pre-war population, 1,108,000 survived, [so that] the death toll comes to about 642,000 lives or 37 percent of the pre-war population.3
MUSTAFA KEMAL TAKES COMMAND
A week before the allied victory in 1918, Turkey’s leaders fled by German submarine, but not before creating the Karakol (the Guard). Between November 1918 and March 1920, the Karakol managed to smuggle a considerable number of military officers to the interior of Anatolia. Mustafa Kemal was a graduate the Baghdad Military Academy and thus part of the commissioned-officer caste. The assumption is that Karakol members approached him to lead because of his proven military ability at Gallipoli.
In brief, Kemal rose to the rank of general after commands in the Caucasus. Fortunately, he was in Istanbul when the war ended. Anticipating an Allied occupation of the capital, he obtained an order (it may have been forged) to move south to Samsun and then ignored an order to return. Ranking civilian officials rallied to his side, forming a “Representative Committee” with Mustafa Kemal as president. On short notice, the committee devised and proclaimed a remarkable National Pact for the infant Turkey. It affirmed the inviolability of former Ottoman lands inhabited by Turks. It also revoked the capitulation privileges of foreign governments and established a steering committee, which elected Mustafa Kemal as its head. He and friends then evaded a military cordon and established the seat of a provisional government in Ankara, 300 miles inland from Istanbul but linked by rail to the still-nominal capital.
THE GREEK WAR
The Western allies had won the war but did not have the manpower to occupy the mainland. The British had been holding the Greeks in reserve to do just that. King Constantine I of Greece had studied at the Prussian Army Staff College in Berlin. The British persuaded him to forsake his German sympathies and remain neutral by promising that with an Allied victory the major Aegean port city of Smyrna would be given to Greece. In mid-May 1919, 20,000 Greek soldiers disembarked at Smyrna and advanced deeper into Anatolia, confident they could defeat the irregular forces that Mustafa Pasha had mustered at Ankara. They reached the Sakarya River about 62 miles west of Ankara by June, but there met fierce resistance. A stalemate gave the breakaway government time to refit.
Turkey’s eastern commander, Kazim Karabekir, an experienced full general, had assumed command of the Fifteenth Army in April 1919. Fluent in French and German and able to speak and read Russian, he initiated contacts with Russia’s revolutionary rulers by sending an experienced diplomat, Riza Nur, to secure help. The Soviets were eager to make friends with Mustafa Kemal, hoping to convert him to the Communist cause. On August 4, Nur sent a ciphered telegram saying that huge quantities of gold plus 60 Krupp artillery pieces; thousands of shells, grenades and swords; 3.5 million Ottoman, Russian and Austrian rifles; and 25,000 bayonets would soon be on their way. Mustafa Kemal welcomed weapons but politely turned away their politics.
A good deal of the aid was brought across the Black Sea to Erzurum, Diyarbakir and Sivas and then distributed by camel and ox-cart across roadless deserts and over mountains under the worst possible weather conditions to the Turkish forces. With a shortage of men, women joined the transport, babies strapped to their backs. (Like icons, women would be included in monumental bronze groupings of warriors in the War of Independence.)
Mustafa Kemal’s army was only 25,000 strong. The Greeks numbered 100,000, with the best equipment, firepower and means of transport. So sure were they of getting to Ankara in a few weeks that they invited [British officers in their army] to a feast there. They resumed the attack on August 23 and broke a line along a narrow tributary of the Sakarya River. Kemal Pasha mustered his forces to attack the Greek left flank. If it failed, all would have been lost. But it succeeded, and the Greek army fled. In revenge, the Greeks left the most prosperous Turkish cities in western Anatolia burning in their wake. Mustafa Kemal’s forces continued on to Smyrna (now Izmir) where, on September 9, fighting ended.
The Allies had occupied Istanbul, but a sultan nominally still ruled as caliph. He issued a fatwa (legal opinion) imposing a death sentence on Mustafa Kemal and four prominent nationalists. Turkey’s army officers, self-proclaimed guardians since the freedom movement of 1908, perceived this as abandoning the nation to foreigners. In their view, when they picked up the reins, they became Turkey’s legitimate rulers.
MUSTAFA PASHA’S AMBITION
When the government moved to Ankara, a room on the farm of an agricultural school was turned into an office for the author Halide Edib, who had been inducted into the army as a corporal. It was a sort of running joke. She had long since achieved fame as a novelist and gave a stirring patriotic speech in Istanbul on the Greek invasion in May 1919. She was multilingual, including English. Her function was to read the foreign press and translate material for the leaders. As she spent almost two years close to Mustafa Kemal during the Greek war, her memoirs are a valuable record of the earliest days of the Turkish republic. She once described a scene in mid-1920:
For hours Mustafa Kemal Pasha discussed the merits of [a] proposition with the inner circle of his associates. They began after dinner at about nine o’clock and often lasted till five o’clock the next morning. They were carried on in the friendliest, though the most earnest and passionate manner. Most of the talking was done by Mustafa Kemal Pasha himself. Throughout his career he has shown an untiring persistence and has indulged in endless talk, which exhausted everyone around him. His was one of the most intense ambitions known in history, the sort of ambition that is sure to prevail. Ideas and wisdom change the destinies of men gradually, but it is the dynamic and volcanic temperaments of men of destiny that make the sudden and dramatic episodes in history. . . . The immediate goal was clear: deliverance from the invaders. But the final goal was hazy, haziest perhaps in the mind of the supreme actor, Mustafa Kemal Pasha. There was no doubt that he meant to wear the laurels of victory alone, should the issue be victorious.
THE LAUSANNE PEACE TREATY
The Allies invited the Turkish government to a peace conference at Lausanne, Switzerland, at the end of October 1922. The Turkish delegation was led by Ismet Inonu, who had been Mustafa Kemal’s right-hand man in the Greek war. At a December session of the First Commission (concerning minorities), British Chairman Lord Curzon said, “I believe that, of an Armenian population in Asiatic Turkey of nearly three million, a mere 130,000 has remained.” He said hundreds of thousands had taken refuge in the Caucasus, Russia, Iran and neighboring areas and that a region must be found in Turkey to settle them. Ismet Pasha rebutted: “There is not one inch of land in the Turkish motherland to be given to the Armenians.” After interminable talk, the Lausanne Agreement was signed on July 24, 1923, without a word concerning the Armenians.
The Turks had suffered through the Tripoli War (1911), the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912-13), World War I (1914-18) and the War of Independence (1919-23). During that time, they experienced only 22 months of peace. Some 2.5 million men and women had lost their lives — as a percentage of the population, 20 times greater than war-related deaths in France, the hardest-hit among European belligerents. In 12 mostly eastern provinces of Turkey, the percentage of widows among adult females exceeded 30 percent.
A final blow was struck in January 1923 with the Lausanne “Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations.” It mandated an “agreed” mutual expulsion (without consulting those represented) involving some two million people on both sides who were driven from lands they had inhabited for centuries or even millennia. Turkey became a culturally different place. Before the war, 80 percent of the population was Muslim. After the war, the Muslim population share rose to approximately 98 percent. Ethnically, only two politically important groups were left: Turks and Kurds.
A MILITARY-LED RECOVERY
Fortunately, the fragile republic inherited a trained bureaucracy from the Ottomans. Mustafa Pasha and his peers transformed them into an imitation of contemporary European institutions, including forms of corporate fascism known as statism or solidarism, but there was no attempt, as in the Soviet Union, to enforce atheism. While the early leaders abhorred religions, their successors realized Islam was too embedded in the culture to be expunged. Moreover, it was a force that could reach the entire population through the mosques. The goal then became to control this Muslim voice. A Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) was established in November 1925 to administer mosques and appoint prayer leaders (imams) who would dictate the sermons delivered on the nationwide Friday noon services. Religious functionaries thus became paid civil servants.
Women were given the vote in the late 1920s and elected to municipalities and the Grand National Assembly (GNA) in the early ‘30s. Polygamy was abolished in 1934, along with the titles bey, pasha and others. These moves guaranteed that the burgeoning segment of educated women would side with secularist reformers.
Turks were also ordered to choose a family name. They previously had one name given at birth, usually associated with the faith, such as Muhammad. Mustafa Kemal was bestowed with the surname Ataturk, meaning “Father of the Turks.”
The economy recovered by 1945 under military guidance through fascist-style “corporate” enterprises: There were 30 state farms, 121 enterprises in forestry, 11 in mining and 22 large factories making steel, cement, leather, paper and textiles. The two largest were established with Russian credit and machinery. This “statism” failed, as it did not introduce modern practices into the countryside. Neither did its advocates enforce mass education. The result was two cultures, about 20 percent secular and “modern” and 80 percent deeply Islamic and traditional.
MULTIPARTY POLITICS AND THREE COUPS
Ataturk had experimented with multiparty politics soon after independence in 1923, but an opposition party he had secretly sponsored proved so popular that his People’s Republican Party (CHP) lost key areas. The rival party was shut down, and from then on the CHP appointed delegates to fill the seats of the Grand National Assembly (parliament). They seldom visited the provinces they were supposed to represent, but were called together sporadically to listen to lectures on policy changes, not to report the views of their supposed constituents. In short, it was a single-party “nationalist” dictatorship.
Ismet Inonu, who succeeded Ataturk upon the latter’s death in 1938, kept Turkey neutral for most of World War II, entering the struggle against Germany just in time to join the United Nations. Multiparty elections were allowed in 1945 in conformance with international practices. Fifteen parties were established, including the Democratic Party of Adnan Menderes (born in 1899), the son of a wealthy landowner who achieved fame by selling or distributing most of his inherited estate. The Democrats won a 1950 election with almost 84 percent of the seats in Parliament. Menderes loosened controls on Islam, specifically authorizing a return to the ezan (the call to prayer five times a day) in its original Arabic. Almost overnight the sonorous Arabic phrases sounded from all mosques.
In July 1950, Menderes dispatched a brigade of 4,500 soldiers to join UN opposition to communist North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. Close to 20,000 men served by the war’s end, and 1,200 Turkish soldiers were killed. There had been strong opposition to Turkey’s joining NATO, but this heavy price in lives changed minds. Together with Greece, Turkey joined NATO in February 1952. An American military mission trained the best and brightest TSK officers in the United States, where they incidentally learned how far their military lagged behind European standards.
Lower-ranking officers (colonels and below) at the Istanbul and Ankara War Colleges established a National Unity Committee (NUC). On the morning of May 27, 1960, it issued a radio announcement: “Honorable fellow countrymen, the Turkish armed forces have taken over the administration.” Democrat Party members were arrested and tried for unconstitutional rule and high treason. Three, including Menderes, were sentenced to death and executed.
The NUC prepared a seemingly liberal constitution, with autonomy for the universities, freedom for students to organize and the right of workers to strike. But it also created a National Security Council (MGK) for military guidance and a Constitutional Court without parliamentary oversight to enforce a secularist national ideology. Coup leaders ensured their own safety by adding 1,961 amendments to the Armed Forces Internal Service Act, under which no military officers could be prosecuted for plotting a coup.
There also were moves to control or weaken parliament. The most significant was an enactment of proportional representation, resulting in small clientelist parties (based on an exchange of favors for votes). Ten governments held office between 1971 and 1980, a splintering like that which paralyzed Weimar Germany in the 1920s and the French Fourth Republic in the 1950s.
It must be kept in mind that Turks did not experience the centuries of conditioning of the West’s long Enlightenment or the Realpolitik of the industrial and British and French revolutions. Turkey’s so-called intellectuals thus did not have the slightest notion of the give and take necessary for democratic self-rule. There was fighting in the streets throughout the 1960s, mainly between the right-wing Grey Wolves youth organization and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), on the one hand, and extreme leftist student groups, on the other. These were an excuse for a second military coup in 1971. But, despite the arrests of thousands, return to civilian rule in the summer of 1973 meant a recrudescence of quarrelling, inefficient coalition governments and economic chaos. By December 1978, martial law had been imposed in 13 of Turkey’s 67 (today 81) provinces. It was gradually extended so that, by September 1980, it was in effect in 20, with an estimated 25 percent of the 475,000-man army involved in maintaining civil order. In addition, by 1979, inflation had reached 117.4 percent, unemployment had increased from 20 percent to 25 percent, and industrial production had fallen by almost 3 percent.
A third coup was planned by chief of staff General Kenan Evren. In early January 1980, he published a “memorandum” of over 60 demands that the armed forces felt were necessary. As there was no response, he seized power on September 12, 1980. Coup rule continued for three years under Naval Forces Commander Bulent Ulusu, who had retired 13 days before to give the appearance of civilian rule. His 21-man cabinet also consisted of five retired military officers. Hundreds of retired officers were appointed to important posts such as under-secretary, deputy-under-secretary, and directors general of various ministries and public enterprises to make certain the administration would not be an obstacle to the military’s work. They would continue in office for years after coup rule was lifted.
The MGK became the sole rule-making body for three years, with no authority or law above it. About 600,000 people were detained in a hunt for political activists, and some 230,000 were tried. The period of detention without trial was officially 90 days, but thousands were held long after that. Lockouts and strikes were made illegal, and many newspapers were banned indefinitely and journalists imprisoned. The universities were put under tight centralized control through an appointed Higher Education Committee (YOK), which, from then on, appointed all rectors and deans. Over 300 academics had been dismissed by late 1982, followed by a second wave of dismissals in early 1983.
By the end of the military regime, the number of executions had reached 49. Obviously, military rule was harsh, but it rescued civilian rule from what could be seen as near-total collapse.
It is often said that Ataturk and his followers were anti-Muslim, but the officer caste perceived Islam as a counter to “fanaticism.” Tolerating a controlled religion spared Turkey the suicidal struggles of Arab “Jihadism” and the later brutalities of Afghanistan’s Taliban (e.g., amputating the hands of thieves).
The Muslim-friendly Menderes government had established seven Imam Hatip (preacher and caretaker) high schools in 1951. With Arabic and other Islamic subjects added to the normal curriculum, the school term lasted one year longer than normal. The IH schools expanded rapidly during a 1974 coalition government of the People’s Republican Party (CHP) and the Islamist National Salvation Party of Necmettin Erbakan (see below). Higher fees for the five-year school were met by public donations for needy students within the Muslim concept of Zakat (charity). Saudi Arabia also supplied scholarships, along with dorms for students from beyond the immediate neighborhood and scholarships for needy students generally. IH schools grew to more than 200,000 by 1980-81, primarily because girls had been admitted in 1976 (with separate seating for males and females). They were essential to the development of leadership cadres within the less-privileged two-thirds of the population, countering the top-down culture that had prevailed since the first days of the state.
This is demonstrated by the career of Recep Tayyip Erdogan (born on February 26, 1954). He was raised in the working-class Kasimpasa neighborhood of Istanbul. As a fifth-grade student he refused to use a newspaper as a prayer rug in a religion class, telling his teacher he thought it inappropriate. She persuaded his father to send him to an Imam Hatip school. After that, he took a degree from Marmara University.
Turkey’s class balance began to change rapidly in the 1950s with rural migration to major cities and towns, resulting in great belts of slums (gecekondus) with houses slapped together overnight of whatever wood and corrugated iron was available. The migrants’ poverty isolated them from the modernized mainstream, and they sought the comfort of Muslim associations.
Necmettin Erbakan (born in 1926) seized this as a political instrument. After earning a PhD in Germany, he returned home to assume leadership of the conservative National Order Party (secretly formed by Sufi activists). He was elected to parliament in 1969 as a deputy from Konya, Turkey’s most pro-Islamic city. In May 1971, his party was shut down as anti-secular by the Constitutional Court. A year later, his followers established the National Salvation Party (MSP), and Erbakan assumed its leadership.
Claiming Westernization had weakened Turkish society, Erbakan promised to industrialize the country through economic cooperation with the Muslim world. His party (later metamorphosed into Refah (Welfare), was an expression of his bottom-up economic ambitions. Welfare captured 28 out of 76 provincial districts in the March 1994 nationwide elections, including the two most outwardly secular cities, Istanbul and Ankara. This put two-thirds of the nation’s population under municipal governments run by avowed Muslims.
Foreign observers generally see little more than a tussle in Turkey between “backwardness” and modernity, but the rise of the Welfare party was closer to a class struggle. The world was changing and Turkey with it. There were flourishing Muslim banks and media, and, along with the IH education system, Sufi4 brotherhoods (tariqats) formed more numerous and better-funded schools than the IH process. Finally, rapidly emerging pietist entrepreneurs (known as “Islamic Tigers”) would mass their strength behind the soon-to-emerge Justice and Development (AK) Party.
THE RISE OF ERDOGAN
Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed he was the voice of those who could not speak for themselves. When he became the Welfare mayor of Istanbul, he ended a water shortage with hundreds of miles of new pipelines; eased a garbage problem with state-of-the-art recycling facilities; reduced air pollution by a switch to natural gas; and relieved traffic jams through more than 50 bridges, viaducts and highways. Erdogan also repaid a major portion of the city’s debts, amounting to the equivalent of $2 billion, while investing $4 billion in city improvements.
Welfare won nearly 22 percent of the votes in the December 1995 elections. This raised the possibility that, with a Muslim-friendly coalition partner, it could form a government. An unlikely coalition of the center-right Motherland and True Path parties was formed to prevent this, but it collapsed in June 1996 after less than year, leaving no option but to invite Erbakan to form a government, which he did in coalition with the True Path Party. As the leading partner, Erbakan became the first openly Islamic prime minister. He signaled a new approach with state visits to Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries, attempting to establish a Muslim economic bloc.
When the generals finally moved against Welfare in 1997, they did so with the precision and determination of a military campaign. A demarche (memorandum) by the National Security Council on February 28 demanded that Prime Minister Erbakan take steps to protect the secular nature of the state, including changing the education laws to force the closure of the religious Imam Hatip schools, or else there would be a coup. Erbakan resigned but continued to fight for survival in the Constitutional Court. The nation’s chief prosecutor, Vural Saves, asked the court on May 21 to shut down the party on the basis of an 18-point indictment. The full bench of the Constitutional Court announced its decision on January 16, 1998. Welfare was to be folded and six of its most senior members, including Erbakan, were banned from taking part in any political activities for five years. This is known as a “post-modern coup” because it was achieved by manipulating public opinion rather than by putting tanks on the street.
For Turkey, this was an instance of the conundrum “beware of what you ask for because you might get it.” By driving Erbakan out of politics, the commissioned officers cleared the path for dynamic Muslim activists who would eventually sap their strength.
But first, after ousting Erbakan, the generals shifted their sights to Tayyip Erdogan, the Welfare mayor of Istanbul. During the drive to demean Erbakan, Erdogan had addressed a meeting in defense of Islam, quoting an old poem: “Turkey’s mosques will be our barracks, the minarets our bayonets, the domes our helmets and the faithful our soldiers.” He was sued for inciting religious hatred and convicted in early 1998. On appeal, his 10-month sentence was reduced to four, which he began serving in March 1999. The trial had made him the most popular politician in modern Turkish history. Cars with thousands of supporters followed his transport to prison displaying the sign, “This love affair will last forever.”
Three other Welfare activists were incarcerated with him. “Prison matures you,” he remarked upon his release. He and others had spent those months analyzing the problem of directly challenging armed opponents. They concluded this would always fail and merely fuel continued opposition, deciding that patient and peaceful non-confrontation would be more effective.
The Welfare party split between older traditionalists and the young reformers led by Erdogan and Abdullah Gul, the party’s foreign minister. With others, they formed the Justice and Development (AK) Party on August 14, 2001. They welcomed the acronym AK, as the word “ak” in Turkish means white, clean or unblemished. Their logo was a clear incandescent light bulb, symbolizing illumination and a transparent government. Surprisingly for a newly envisioned party, it won a sweeping victory in the 2002 national election. But, because of his prison sentence, Erdogan was not allowed to take office as prime minister. He flew to the United States to introduce himself merely as a party leader in a speech at the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University on January 30, 2003. Uniquely, rather than attempting to make his mark with brave promises to confront all challenges, he called for compromise and caution:
Steps need to be considered and taken with care. I believe determined and consistent yet gradualistic processes will enhance the chances of success in democratization. . . . If democracy is a culture, then it would take time and effort . . . to take root.
Returning home, he stood for office in a by-election in another constituency and won. He then took office as prime minister.
The AK Party’s twin resolutions of patience and fortitude would carry it over a rocky road. The first plot against it was the work of General Sener Eruygur, the commander of the Gendarmerie General Command (JGK). This was later revealed by the weekly magazine Nokta (Point). A March 2007 article quoted from the diary of the retired naval commander Admiral Ozden Ornek (inadvertently left on his laptop) that Eruygur had planned a coup in 2002 with the code name “Blonde Girl” (Sarikiz). It was foiled by the chief of the general staff, General Hilmi Ozkok. Eruygur plotted a second coup a 2003 code named “Moonlight” (Ayisiz). General Ozkok stopped that one, too.
Police swarmed through Nokta’s office, copying computer files while ignoring the coup threats. They charged its editor-in-chief, Alper Gormus, with insulting and slandering a senior military official. He replied that he was just doing his job as a journalist. Eventually the charge was dropped, but by then Nokta’s publisher, who ran it as a commercial enterprise among other interests, was so upset at the fuss that he closed it down, firing Gormus and the entire staff.
It is beyond the scope of this paper to follow Turkey’s development step by step. The nation is not a century old, and it must grow up by reinventing itself. General Eruygur retired and organized a series of demonstrations with men in red tee-shirts bearing huge red Turkish flags and displaying signs, “Soldiers, do your duty” (i.e., defend the nation). Videos of the streets running red prompted foreign speculation that the Turkish state was teetering, but Erdogan and his AK Party knew it was all pretence and did nothing. Other coup plots were revealed, but they, too, failed to gain higher-echelon military support.
Significant opposition to military dominance was demonstrated when the AK Party’s initial 2002 victory was confirmed by a second on July 22, 2007. It won almost 46 percent of the votes cast, gaining 342 of the 550 seats. Seventy percent of its deputies were serving for the first time, while all but a few of the discredited clientelist leaders of previous decades had vanished, replaced by those who saw politics as service (hizmet). Of the AK Party deputies, 108 held master’s degrees and eight doctoral degrees. Six were professors and five assistant professors. Only 18 did not have a college degree. Most deputies were professionals with careers in civil society, not politics: 61 were lawyers, 53 engineers, 35 university faculty members, 22 economists, 25 administrators, 18 businessmen, 16 teachers, 14 financial consultants, seven industrialists, six pharmacists and four bankers. The remaining 61 had a variety of experience.
Two years later, the end of an era was marked by a March 2009 interview with a reporter for the newspaper Hurriyet by General Hilmi Ozkok (now retired):
The intellectual level of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) staff, the evolution of its communications technology, the level of democracy in the country and the developments in the field of politics, economy and other national values, the participation of the Republic of Turkey in international organizations and unions and the increase in the number of civil society organizations in the country have ended the era of coups in our country.
THE PRESS AND THE MILITARY
Another sign of democratic progress was the growth of an independent press. The newspaper Taraf (to take sides) began to publish in November 2007. It later ran a series of articles exposing the military’s shortcomings. Taraf’s first damning disclosure of the military’s failures was in early 2009. Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) guerrillas killed 17 soldiers at the Aktutun outpost near the Iraqi border on October 3. Days later, Taraf published video images from an unmanned UAV spy plane indicating that the military knew about the attack well before the terrorists opened fire on the soldiers. They show figures approaching from across the Iraqi border to lay mines about three-and-a-half hours before the attack. The group gets larger as more and more of these individuals take their positions on hilltops in preparation for the attack. The images were transmitted for hours to the Electronic Systems Command of the General Staff as well as to a monitor in the office of the deputy chief of general staff in the capital. Apparently everyone concerned saw them except the generals who should have taken action.
Journalists were flown on two planes to Ankara for a televised press conference with the chief of the General Staff, General Ilker Basbug, on October 15. He charged on live television that, for publishing confidential information, the media would be “responsible for the blood that has been shed and will be shed.” He admonished the media to “stand on the right side.” This is a familiar military paradigm of friendly forces versus enemy forces, right and left. Basbug is a familiar figure: he makes long speeches on the national TV station to present the military’s position on national and even world affairs.
Taraf’s most damning revelation came on August 26, 2009. It carried leaked information that four soldiers had been killed on August 17 after a lieutenant gave one of them, Ibrahim Ozturk, a hand grenade whose pin he had pulled out to punish him for sleeping during his night watch. The military had reported that the deaths occurred when a hand grenade carried by one of them exploded accidentally as they were patrolling rural Western Turkey against the prospect of an attack by Kurdish terrorists.
Private Ozturk was a 16-month conscript. Other conscripts quickly filled in the missing details. They reported that Ozturk begged the lieutenant to give him back the pin. He said he was just 25 years old and had 75 days left to complete his military service. “You will kill me,” he said. He asked the lieutenant several times to return the pin but Tumer kept telling him to return to his position and wait for him. He did, and three other soldiers, including a sergeant, gathered around him. There was an explosion about 20 minutes later. The grenade may have slipped from his sweating hand. Shrapnel killed Ozturk, two other privates and the sergeant.
The Turkish military considers itself autonomous of civilian control, with its own military courts. A military prosecutor gathered evidence. Lt. Tumer said he gave Ozturk the live hand grenade to “teach him a good lesson.” He also claimed that he punished the private in line with the military’s training procedures. He was arrested pending further hearings before a military judge. At the time of this writing, no decision has been reached.
Ahmet Altan, a best-selling Turkish novelist, wrote a commentary in Taraf when his paper published the story of the grenade deaths:
Go and ask those parents whose sons died due to the “grenade punishment” whether they know the cause of death of their sons. Forget those parents, even the defense minister does not know how those soldiers were killed. The generals are so involved in politics they have forgot [sic] their profession. . . . There is no military like ours left in this era. Only a short while ago, the Greek chief of general staff was removed from his position for speaking out too much in the political arena. That’s why Greece is an EU member and Turkey is not. That is why the smaller Greece is much wealthier than we. We need a military initiative, and the military needs discipline. Otherwise, our sons will continue to die.
2 Chris Kutschera, “TURKEY: The Little Known World of the Military Hierarchy,” The Middle East Maga zine, February 2000. http://www.chris-kutschera.com/A/turkish_military.htm.
3 Gunther Lewey, The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide (University of Utah Press, 2005).
4 Some explanation might be needed. Sufis believe it is possible to draw closer to God and to fully embrace the Divine Presence in this life. Further, they teach that Sufism may be practiced with any religion — it is the “heart” of religion. No one’s faith or belief is questioned; each can follow his own church, religion or creed. This has led to the spread of Sufism as a definitive factor in Islam and in the creation of integrally Islamic cultures, especially in Africa and Asia.