Pelin Telseren Kadercan and Burak Kadercan
Dr. P. T. Kadercan is a visiting assistant professor of history at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who specializes in modern European and Near Eastern history. Dr. B. Kadercan is an assistant professor of strategy and policy at the Naval War College in Newport, specializing in territorial and religious conflicts; the views expressed here are solely his own.
The piece was submitted for publication in April 2016, several months before the coup attempt of July 15. The authors consciously chose to make no changes to the content of the document beyond copyediting.
During the summer of 2013, as hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets to criticize Mohammed Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party for its increasingly autocratic and "Islamic" posture, the Egyptian military under General Sisi toppled the government and suspended the constitution. By contrast, what did not happen in Turkey when hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in June 2013 to criticize then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (JDP) attracted little attention. The military, the pivotal actor in Turkish politics since 1960, with four coups under its belt, was not there. What would have happened if the so-called Gezi Park protests of summer 2013 had broken out in 2007, when the army was still considered a potent political force? Suggesting that Turkey in 2007 would have looked like Egypt in 2013 would be a stretch; Turkey is not Egypt. Yet, it is difficult to make the case that everything would have been the same. The question then becomes, what happened to the military?
Between 2007 and 2011, the presence in politics of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) was literally shattered. This came as a result of a series of high-profile trials (some of which are now widely accepted to have been based on fabricated evidence) as well as public-relations (or, according to some, defamation) campaigns that ironically resembled the armed forces' modus operandi during its last — "post-modern" — coup in 1997. Put simply, the process through which the army quit the political sphere was neither voluntary nor graceful. It was, in the end, a countercoup of sorts. The puzzle, then, runs even deeper: how could the JDP defeat the military in a game — rough power politics — in which the latter had excelled since the coup of 1960?
In this article, we provide a novel and counterintuitive explanation for this puzzle: as its political might grew, the army's mode of involvement in politics became too sophisticated and over-bureaucratized for its own good, eventually rendering it too "slow" a political actor to keep up with the JDP's "agile" and pragmatic modus operandi. As tensions between the army and the JDP were boiling by 2007-11, the latter was able to catch the former off-guard and effectively pacify it by putting its weight behind legal cases such as Ergenekon and Balyoz. These involved numerous members of the military being charged with crimes ranging from conspiracy against the elected government to outright terrorism. At the same time, the JDP galvanized public support behind then Prime Minister Erdoğan, who himself had been a victim of the military's overbearing political might in the past, outflanking the TAF in the political sphere.
This explanation poses two challenges to the existing literature on the place of the armed forces in Turkish politics and proposes a theoretical framework that can travel beyond the Turkish experience. First, we argue that students of civil-military relations should directly engage the precipitous fall of the TAF, which is not easily explained by the existing accounts. The relevant processes through which the military was ousted from the political arena then can inform us about the future trajectory of Turkish democracy. The second challenge we pose, in turn, points toward how the conventional wisdom anachronistically projects into the past the image of a unitary and all too (politically) powerful TAF (which best applies to the 1980-2002 period). The ways in which the coups of 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997 were carried out, not to mention the decision-making processes behind them, can hardly be associated with an unchanging military. For example, the coup of 1960 was initiated by a handful of mid-ranking officers, while the post-modern coup of 1997 was conducted within the chain of command. We argue that exploration of the institutional evolution of the TAF vis-à-vis civil-military relations reveals key insights about not only its rapid downfall as a political actor but also its rise to prominence in the first place.
In addition, we propose a theoretical framework that can help explain under what circumstances politically strong militaries can be "toppled" through countercoups. Finally, the paper offers a counterintuitive conclusion about the future of Turkish politics: the risk of a military coup launched by mid-ranking officers is considerably higher now than it was before the countercoups of 2007-11.
The remainder of the paper unfolds in four sections. First, we highlight the central puzzle and situate it within the broader literature on Turkish civil-military relations. The second section provides a theoretical framework that can help us better understand the nature of countercoups. Third, we offer a historical narrative that traces the rise and fall of the TAF as a political actor. We conclude by highlighting a number of implications that follow from the theoretical framework and historical narrative.
Defined broadly, the literature on civil-military relations deals with two kinds of questions: 1) the tension — or the "right" (desirable) balance — between civilian and military agents of the state,1 and 2) the conditions under which militaries intervene in and withdraw from politics. The case of Turkey has long occupied a substantial place in debates over both questions, with much of the effort going into the appropriate categorization of the TAF vis-à-vis existing models.2 In general, the TAF's influence in politics has usually been associated with a "light" version of praetorianism: "a situation where the military class of a given society exercises independent political power within it by virtue of an actual or threatened use of force."3 Eric Nordlinger, on this concept, asserts that "military officers become praetorian soldiers when they threaten or use force in order to enter or dominate the political arena."4 According to Nordlinger's classification of praetorianism — rule by a guardian or ruler5 — the TAF was usually seen as a "guardian." In a similar fashion, the TAF can also be conceived as what Amos Perlmutter called an "arbitrator army," operating behind the scenes as a pressure group or fomenting a fear of civilian retribution.6
The TAF's overwhelming role in politics is embedded in the very fabric of modern Turkey, founded in 1923 as a result of — in Samuel Huntington's classification7 — a revolutionary coup.8 The leading cadres of the republic, especially Mustafa Kemal, aimed at rapid modernization. This so-called "Kemalist conception"9 involved mainly the "adoption of Western political and cultural institutions, with no radical change in the existing social structure."10 Mustafa Kemal "emphatically refused to identify Kemalism with any other ideological slogans,… waving aside possible objections that this would leave the nature of the new political regime inappropriately vague."11 Yet, the nemeses of the regime were well-defined. As Henri Barkey concludes, "The new Republican elite's passion for modernization, seen as an escape from backwardness, translated itself into a total dislike and distrust of all things associated with the ancien régime and the old way of life."12 "The modernist position of Mustafa Kemal and his cadres," Umit Cizre Sakallioglu argues, "involved a firm belief in nationalism as a specifically 'modern' phenomenon, which was best represented by European rationalism."13 According to Brown, with a twofold mission in his mind, nationalism and secularism, Ataturk considered cultural [outside of "Turkish" culture] and religious traditions to be obstacles to national revival.14
The Kemalist regime may not have succeeded in "secularizing" the Islamists or making Turks out of the Kurds, but it was successful in creating an urban, state-dependent and secular societal base, an intelligentsia, a civil-servant class, as well as an equally state-nurtured business elite.15 The TAF also played a vital role in the republican ideal of a modern and secular Turkey. Kemalism's legacy on the military, however, was ambiguous: Ataturk "advocated the separation of the military from politics with the proviso that the army, while residing in the barracks, should nevertheless protect the constitution."16 On the one hand, the only way for a military officer to engage in politics was to resign from the force and become a civilian himself.17 On the other hand, the military was portrayed as the only capable and incorruptible institution to which the regime could be entrusted.18
The in-built notion of "guardianship" provided the kind of institutional indoctrination and ideational basis that eventually laid the groundwork for four coups between 1960 and 1997, not to mention an overbearing role for the military in Turkish politics from 1960 onward. Given such a context, civil-military relations have occupied a central place in the scholarly literature on Turkish politics. In particular, the relevant literature in both the pre-countercoup era and its aftermath has approached civil-military relations in the context of "democratic consolidation." The existing approaches fall into three categories: 1) the institutional accounts that emphasize the design of political organizations; 2) structural explanations that focus on the "macro-social" transformations vis-à-vis the state-society relationship; and 3) "international" explanations that highlight the role played by the European Union and/or NATO.19 These accounts share an underlying assumption about the withdrawal of the TAF from the political arena: the "transition" was bound to follow a gradual process.
Overall, we pose two challenges to the existing literature. First, it does not fully address the TAF's "means of exit" from politics. The trials that dismantled the political prowess of the military are usually defended as a means to an end (further democratization), but rarely for their own sake. There remain doubts about the reliability of some of the evidence provided by the prosecutors, one of the most notorious being digital Microsoft Word files allegedly produced in 2003 but somehow written in a font Microsoft only introduced in 2007. The fact that the former chief of staff, Ilker Basbug, was condemned as the leader of a "terrorist organization," and the blanket treatment of the suspects as well as the excessively long duration of the trials also raised questions about the scope and depth of the collateral damage the process might have created.
So far, the literature has tended to ignore this dynamic and considered the TAF's exit in teleological terms, favoring interpretations that present the countercoup as a foregone conclusion. We argue that this tendency only masks the extent and nature of the puzzle: how did the once omnipotent TAF lose its political clout in such a dramatic fashion? In fact, this is a more intriguing question than usually recognized. The TAF was not only powerful in the political sphere, it was also deemed a somewhat popular, or at least "trusted," institution by the overwhelming majority of the public.20
The second challenge we pose to the existing literature involves the tendency in scholarly and public debates to take the TAF as a cohesive and near-omnipotent political actor across time. The conventional narrative employs an anachronistic vision of the role of the military in politics, interpreting the distant past with the eyes of the 1980-2002 period, during which the TAF's political might and internal cohesion were virtually unquestionable. The TAF was an important actor in Turkish politics from 1923 onward, but its rise to prominence as a unitary and near-omnipotent political actor took place in a number of stages.
We argue that the institutional evolution of the TAF is best examined in two dimensions. The first is the degree to which a decision to intervene (or interfere) in politics is centralized and exercised hierarchically. The second dimension involves how sophisticated, comprehensive and well-planned the military acts vis-à-vis managing and "engineering" politics after the coup. From such a perspective, the TAF's institutional evolution can be seen as a process during which 1) the decision to interfere in politics has become increasingly hierarchical and centralized; and 2) the army has displayed an ever-increasing sophistication in the management of post-coup politics. In the next two sections, we provide a theoretical framework and historical narrative that help put the Turkish experience into perspective.
As vast as it is, the civil-military-relations literature rarely deals with the ways in which politically powerful military forces themselves are forced out of politics. Tackling this question, we build on a framework recently offered by Burak Kadercan, who focuses on the relationship between the "bargaining powers" of military forces and the civilian arm of the state.21 For Kadercan, the bargaining powers of the armed forces follow from the interaction of two dynamics: the salience of the army's corporate identity (or, social cohesion within the military) 22 and the extent to which the armed forces play a role in leaders' political-survival calculi. Kadercan draws attention to the differences between what he calls a "volatile partner" and a "veto player." A military institution acts more like a volatile partner when its corporate identity is weak but its place in leaders' political-survival calculi is substantial. Under such circumstances, the role that the military plays in the leader's survival and succession mechanisms will empower the institution as a political actor. The lack of a robust corporate identity, however, will privilege particular officers or cabals within the military, creating incentives for them to try to exert their [or their cabal's] interests over the civilian arm, with the likely outcome a military officer establishing himself as the ruler of the state, say, along the lines of Muammar Qadhafi.
A veto player, in turn, refers to a military force that enjoys both a strong corporate identity and a central role in leaders' political survival and succession mechanisms. In such cases, the military arm of the state will likely prioritize its corporate interests at the expense of both the state's long-term security and strategic priorities and the potential personal gains of the military leadership. In cases where the military launches a direct or indirect coup, the salience of the corporate interests will push the armed forces back to the barracks but help the armed forces preserve and even further substantiate their political prowess.
The TAF, especially between 1960 and 2010, can easily be classified as a veto player. Its importance for the political survival of the civilian leadership as well as succession mechanisms was founded on both material and ideational dynamics. From a material-capabilities perspective, the Turkish state has not possessed an alternative armed establishment such as a militarily-strong internal-security service or a paramilitary force (not to mention a strong intelligence agency like the Assad regime's mukhabarat). From an ideational point of view, in turn, the Kemalist ideology bestowed upon the TAF considerable legitimacy, empowering it in political discourses at both elite and societal levels. Due to its strong sense of historical continuity and collective identity,23 the military has also traditionally been the single best-organized institution in Turkey, with a high degree of internal social cohesion. Consequently, the TAF has possessed strong bargaining powers vis-à-vis the civilian arm of the state, especially after it proved its political might with the coup of 1960.
If we can classify the TAF between 1960 and 2010 as a veto player, how can we explain its rough exit from politics? Kadercan's framework, while it does not directly deal with the "exit" of armed forces from politics, points towards a potential path for veto players: when the corporate identity of the armed forces is "diluted" due to corruption and organizational stagnation, the military may become vulnerable to countermeasures from civilian competitors.
We argue that, especially in the modern context, there is a second path that can expose politically strong militaries to countercoups. When armed forces internalize intervention and interference in politics as part of their "normal" functions while also over-bureaucratizing the relevant decisions and processes, they may end up too transparent (because of the long "bureaucratic tail" such measures would leave behind) and too "slow," exposing themselves to pragmatic (civilian) political agents who can outmaneuver the too-rigid military. This second path, we argue, can provide a compelling explanation both for the rise and fall of the TAF as a political actor.
RISE AND FALL, 1923-2011
The rise and fall of the TAF as a political actor is also a narrative of institutional evolution with respect to the military's approach to the "management" of politics. The first two military interventions in Turkey (1960 and 1971) were less organized (at the operational level) and unified (at the decision-making level) than the last two. In time, the armed forces reeducated themselves so that the decision to intervene could be authorized only if the highest-ranking officers agreed. The Turkish military also gained a certain degree of political sophistication and skill; its actions became better organized over time, as indicated by the "post-modern" coup of 1997.
By the 2000s, the TAF began to approach overt or covert interference in politics as part of its modus operandi. This also involved increased bureaucratization of relevant decisions, such as outlining contingency plans for potential coups (in case the JDP stepped out of line). This overly-bureaucratized approach to interference in politics had proven itself effective when political actors were divided, but the JDP controlled a majority in parliament and also was led by a pragmatic and "politically agile" leader. The counterintuitive conclusion is that what made the military increasingly powerful from the 1960s onward — its internalization of the decision to interfere in politics — eventually made it slow and inflexible (see Figure 1).
The TAF's Institutional Evolution
Hierarchy/ Centralized Decision to Intervene/Interfere
Management and "Engineering" of Politics
Haphazard, not well coordinated
More coordination, yet still working through intermediaries and technocrats
Very crude; structural transformation of society and politics directly by the military
Structural transformation, but much more sophisticated and intricate
1960: The Beginning
The Republican People's Party (RPP) reigned supreme in the two decades following modern Turkey's founding in 1923. In 1946, Ismet Inonu, Mustafa Kemal's successor, decided that it was time for Turkey to switch to a multiparty system so that a more "democratic" Turkey could cement its alliance with the Western democracies.24 In 1950, the Democratic Party (DP) led by former RPP renegades Adnan Menderes and Celal Bayar (who would act as the prime minister and president, respectively) replaced the RPP. The DP enjoyed half a decade of prosperity and popularity partially fuelled by Turkey's rapidly improving rate of growth. However, the economy started to stagnate by the second half of the 1950s. Losing some of its electoral support, the DP initiated a number of provisions that might be classified as nondemocratic. The press law was tightened dramatically. In addition, opposition parties were proscribed from using state radio, although the party in power could continue to do so.25 At the same time, the DP introduced numerous policy changes regarding religion: lifting the ban on the recital of the ezan (the call to prayer) in Arabic, permitting the broadcasting of readings from the Quran over the state radio, broadening the scope of religious education, and increasing the budget of the department of religious affairs.
The DP's rule and the changes it introduced curtailing the military's development upset some members of the TAF. Furthermore, even though Turkey experienced an economic expansion, it was also selective — holders of fixed income, such as military officers, were relatively worse off and excluded from the new consumer culture. The idea that Menderes's government held a "thinly veiled contempt" for the officer corps became widespread among the members of the TAF.26
Despite all the retrospective myth-making, however, the military intervention did not come from the TAF as a whole. A number of cabals within the army had been formed as early as the mid-1950s. The social turmoil that reached new heights by May 1960 acted as a catalyst for interventionist groups within the army. On May 27, 1960, a small cadre of middle-rank officers, mostly colonels, citing the increasingly autocratic and "Islamic" policies and discourses pushed forward by the Menderes administration, swiftly carried out a coup de grace, arresting the prime minister and President Bayar, as well as the rest of the prominent DP members. This "colonels' coup" was launched not only against the government, but also in open defiance of the chain of command. General Cemal Gursel was named as the official leader of the coup, despite the fact that he was a secondary figure.27
The coup eventually led to the show trial and execution of Prime Minister Menderes along with his two ministers, an unmistakable sign of the lengths to which the military could go in tampering with politics. The army, while willing to go back to the barracks, proved reluctant to let go of its newfound pivotal position in politics.28 The post-1960 era witnessed the rise of corporate interests, both in terms of benefits to military officers and the army's political clout at the institutional level. Nordlinger asserts that "changes in the size of the defense budget are a telling indicator of the political power and prestige of the armed forces."29 While Zuk and Thompson found no evidence that military coups in general accelerate the growth rate of military expenditures,30 Turkey's first coup experience may give some credence to the view that the military, especially in 1960, used its increasing power to improve its budget, "raising [officers'] salaries, auxiliary benefits including housing, commissaries and other perquisites."31 Beyond such tangible institution-wide benefits, the TAF also took steps to institutionalize its political power and influence. Most important, the TAF introduced the National Security Council (NSC), an institution that legitimized the armed forces' penetration of the political sphere for decades.32 The General Staff was also considerably detached from the Ministry of Defense, depriving the civilian government of any meaningful political control of the TAF.33
Despite the changes, the post-coup dynamics also reflected the nonhierarchical nature of the intervention. The coup was followed by a power struggle between competing factions and a series of purges within the military. The parties that came on top mitigated their competition through measures such as forced retirement and exile disguised as diplomatic appointments. The dominant factions pushed for a new constitution in 1961 as well as mechanisms to keep the chain of command intact.34
Even after the purges, the military was still far from constituting a unitary political actor. Between February 1962 and May 1963, two coups were attempted, both initiated by Talat Aydemir, an influential colonel and the director of the military academy. Aydemir was the representative of parts of the military that were not satisfied with the changes carried out after 1960, or the results of the post-coup elections. Aydemir came close to assuming power in his first attempt in February 1962, yet decided to back down following a face-off with Prime Minister Inonu. In return for his swift retreat, Aydemir was not charged with any crimes but was forced to resign. His second attempt a year later also failed. This time, Aydemir was put on trial, found guilty and executed. Aydemir's was the last colonel-led coup attempt in Turkey, a step forward in the TAF's consolidation of an internal hierarchy and unity regarding intervention in politics.
Between 1961 and 1965, the TAF openly favored Inonu as prime minister within the context of a "silent partnership."35 The TAF's influence in politics during this period was decisive; as Tachau argues, the Inonu administration might not have survived without army support.36 The elections of 1965 marked the return of the DP, which had been banned in 1960, under a new name, the Justice Party (JP). The JP gained a majority in parliament under the leadership of Suleyman Demirel. While the TAF remained in the political arena as a silent yet ever-watchful "guardian," Turkish politics, on the surface, experienced a relative normalization in civil-military relations.
1971: A Generals' Coup
By the late 1960s, economic difficulties and rising ideological cleavages began to fuel social and political instability. The polarization that gave way to armed clashes between left- and right-wing extremists, and the increasing frequency of politically motivated assassinations, armed robberies and kidnappings compelled the government to declare martial law. By early 1971, the government appeared incapable of handling the turmoil.
On March 12, a group of senior generals, including the influential chief of the Air Force, Muhsin Batur, sent a memorandum — the so-called "coup by communiqué" — to Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, asking him to leave office.37 Faced with the choice of stepping down or inviting a military intervention, Demirel opted to resign. This time, the decision to intervene came from within the General Staff, rather than a cabal of mid-level officers. Overall, the chain of command was preserved to a greater extent than it had been in 1960. The mode of intervention was also less violent, not to mention better-organized.
However, there was still no harmony within the TAF regarding the nature and extent of its involvement in politics. The military was far from having a coherent view on intervention. Serious disagreements persisted inside the General Staff, especially between the Air Force commander and the chief of staff, who had different ideas about the scope of the intervention as well as the position to be taken afterwards. While some officers and generals supported a total takeover by the military,38 others argued that an "indirect intervention" following a harsh "warning" would be more appropriate. In fact, just before the "milder coup" of March 12, 1971, a group of officers who supported hardline intervention and a takeover of the government attempted a coup on March 9. It was thwarted immediately by the leading cadres of the chief of staff, who used the coup itself to liquidate the perpetrators. Unity within the military was far from perfect, but the hierarchical order still held, especially when compared with the coup of 1960.
The management of post-coup politics, in turn, also reflected the increasing institutionalization and bureaucratization of the army's involvement in politics.39 Turkey's constitution was amended considerably,40 increasing the TAF's autonomy in even more subtle ways.41 Although the military appeared to favor the RPP among the political parties, the relationship was a far cry from the alliance of 1960-65. On the TAF's role in politics, Dodd suggests that "with no party now in intellectual harmony with the military, the latter was better able to distance itself from politics."42 Such "distance" was only superficial, however; the TAF's involvement in politics became even more intricate. After two years of rule by military-appointed governments of technocrats, the TAF once again withdrew from the main political stage. Its influence had become institutionalized.
1980: The Unitary Actor
The seven years following the 1973 elections were shaped by the kinds of problems that had plagued the pre-1971 period. Turkey's struggle with the social turmoil and political violence caused by extreme political polarization between radical left- and right-wing groups posed two challenges for the TAF. First, especially after the declaration of martial law in 1978, members of the Turkish military started to become victims of political violence.43 Second, the polarization of society had started to penetrate the military, posing a threat to the TAF's internal cohesion. While additional factors certainly played a role, these concerns also contributed to the TAF's decision to launch a coup in 1980.
Not only was this coup highly organized and planned; the hierarchical structure of the army also remained completely intact, even in the post-coup period. The military, under its chief commander, Kenan Evren, planned, acted and spoke as a single unit.44 Prior to the coup, the TAF sent numerous "official" warning letters to the government.45 The final catalyst came with the presidential elections. The parties in parliament failed to choose a president for six months — a pretext for intervention, from the perspective of the military leaders.46
On September 12, 1980, the TAF took over the government. Political parties were shut down and their leaders banned for life from active politics. General Evren was "elected" to preside over a government run by many appointed technocrats. Compared with previous post-coup situations, the TAF took a more hands-on approach in the management of politics. The military oversaw the creation of a new constitution in 1982, which was followed by numerous harsh measures aimed at social engineering.47 The new constitution aimed to limit individual rights and make the NSC even stronger, though it was still an advisory institution.48 Furthermore, Evren "made sure that the NSC would be the most powerful body within the armed forces and that the decisions of the Turkish General Staff would surpass those of any junior officer."49
As to the social engineering, the TAF aimed to eradicate political extremism as well as actual and potential dissent, pushing forward an apoliticization strategy50 and replacing the ideological void with its own brand of Kemalism.51 At the same time, the military rulers opted to support an "enlightened" Islam, "regarded as the best bulwark against communism and religious fanaticism."52 The military also sponsored electoral rules that introduced cut-off provisions, redistricting and mandatory voting as well as a stronger presidency that had no executive authority but enjoyed considerable veto power.53
Direct military rule lasted for three years, until the elections of 1983. The army went back to the barracks once again, but only after further ossifying and institutionalizing its presence in the political sphere. It had proven its capability as a unified manager of the political sphere, and was willing to use harsh measures to re-engineer the entire society.54
1997: The Post-Modern Coup
The 1990s witnessed the rise of political Islam in Turkish politics. In 1996, Necmettin Erbakan's Islamist Welfare Party (WP) received more than 20 percent of the votes and eventually was able to become a coalition partner in the government. During his reign as prime minister, Erbakan delivered a number of public speeches about his party's intention to liberate Bosnia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya and Jerusalem; to create an Islamic United Nations, an Islamic NATO and an Islamic Union; and to mint an Islamic currency. His rhetoric attracted harsh criticism from the TAF, which considered itself The Guardian of the secular regime.
In February 1997, the TAF, now acting as a cohesive political actor, decided to drive the WP and Erbakan from the political sphere. The decision and the method of intervention had become so ingrained within the TAF that it was able to overthrow an elected government without even needing an actual coup, in the classical sense of the term. Instead of direct overthrow, the military chose to engage in an "education" campaign, whereby prosecutors, judges, academics, journalists, businessmen and others were summoned to General Staff headquarters for briefings on the dangers of political Islam and the incumbent coalition of Prime Minister Erbakan and his partner, Tansu Ciller. This followed a meeting of the NSC on February 28, 1997, at which the government was forced to agree to a list of 18 demands designed to reduce the influence of political Islam. Consequently, Erbakan was compelled to resign, and the WP was shut down.
The persecution of Erbakan and his followers did not end there. The Virtue Party (VP), formed to replace of the WP, was also closed down due to charges of alleged unconstitutional intentions and actions. Erbakan was put on trial and sentenced to prison by late 2003. The TAF's attempts to dismantle the Islamists' newfound political prowess went even further, revealing the sophistication of the military with respect to interference in political and social life. Major businesses deemed to be associated with the WP were either targeted through defamation campaigns or hit with punitive regulatory and financial sanctions. Similarly, the TAF put considerable pressure on media outlets and journalists that it considered to be in alignment with the Islamist movements.
The military's reach also extended to the educational sphere. Most notably, the TAF pressured the civilian government to pass a series of laws that put the large number of students studying at imam hatip schools (seminaries) at a disadvantage, in two ways. First, compulsory education was increased from five to eight years, primarily to undercut the middle-school sections of imam hatips, which used to provide education for six years, including middle school and high school. Second, the TAF oversaw the passing of a regulation that discouraged the graduates of vocational schools from pursuing a college education (or discouraging students who aim to pursue college education from attending vocational schools in the first place) by slashing the additional credit that applicants bring via their high school GPAs. In practice, the TAF intended to degrade the influence of imam hatip schools through these intricate and subtle measures. This also reflected its increasing sophistication in managing not only politics, but social engineering.
2007-11: The Countercoup
As Meyer puts it, "The closure of [the Welfare Party was]… merely the latest round in the seventy-year battle for the nation's soul that has always been centered upon religion."55 The elections of November 2002 produced a majority government by the JDP, which many preferred to call "Muslim Democrats." The leader of the party was former Istanbul mayor Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a former protégé of Erbakan who had spent time in prison for public speeches allegedly opposing the secular state in favor of sharia. The JDP's meteoric rise to prominence immediately alarmed the TAF;56 the JDP was the electoral heir of the Erbakan legacy, now led by a dynamic and charismatic politician who had no need for coalition partners.
In the first five years of his leadership, Erdoğan pursued a rather cautious strategy vis-à-vis the military, avoiding Erbakan's controversial rhetoric. Erdoğan was able to cement numerous alliances among the conservatives as well as gain the support of the intellectuals (ranging from the so-called "liberals" to left-wing scholars and pundits) who had traditionally opposed the TAF's involvement in politics. The JDP also signaled its intention to fully commit to the EU accession process, which came with provisions about the armed forces' withdrawal from the political sphere.
The first real showdown between the JDP and the TAF took place in 2007, concerning the issue of presidential candidates. The JDP had nominated Abdullah Gul, Erdoğan's second-in-command at the time and a founding member of the party. In April 2007, disgruntled over Gul's Islamist background (not to mention that his wife wore a headscarf, an absolute no-no for a first lady), the TAF launched what has come to be known as an "e-memorandum," a statement published on the TAF's institutional website suggesting that the armed forces might not tolerate Gul's presidency.57 The attempt to "discourage" Gul's election failed, but it pointed towards the ways in which the army's involvement in politics had become sophisticated and bureaucratized. As opposed to the harsh measures employed during the 1980 coup, in particular, the TAF, in 2007, preferred to influence politics through an online post.
The JDP's response, in turn, revealed itself between 2007 and 2011. Having secured another electoral victory in July 2007 and building on his reputation as a staunch believer in democracy, Erdoğan took the risk of confronting the military, if indirectly, putting his party's weight behind two megatrials against members of the TAF: Ergenekon (2007) and Balyoz (2010).58 While their details are controversial and multifaceted, both trials were built on charges suggesting that a number of key TAF members had long been conspiring against the government and preparing coup plans, with the intention of toppling the JDP government if it stepped over a line: the armed forces' willingness to tolerate an Islamist administration. The alleged plans also included activities ranging from launching defamation campaigns from anonymous websites to establishing organized-crime cartels, as well as organizing political assassinations and terrorist attacks in order to trigger the political instability that — given Turkey's political history — could be used as a pretext for a coup.
The JDP's decision to place its bets on the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials to liquidate the TAF's overbearing shadow in politics was, to be sure, highly risky; if the trials had backfired, they might have triggered another coup. Not everyone was sold on the idea that the Turkish army was willing to blow up mosques and carry out strategic political assassinations just to create the kind of political instability that would "invite" military intervention. Nevertheless, given its decades-long involvement in politics and the excessive bureaucratization of that involvement, the JDP also had an advantage. Few, even among the TAF's supporters, doubted that the army might have devised contingency plans for the possibility that the JDP might someday slide into less secular and more autocratic territory.
Regardless, the JDP acted swiftly and decisively, putting its weight behind the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials while also galvanizing public support for its cause. In particular, the Ergenekon trials, which pointed toward the "involvement of state bureaucrats, including military personnel, and right-wing intellectuals and professionals in illicit and unconstitutional activities," in Satana's words, "created an unprecedented opportunity for the government to repair and reset, more intentionally and intensely than in the past, the lopsided balance between civil and military authorities in favor of constitutionally elected organs."59 The public outcry that followed from the trial acted as a catalyst enabling the JDP, "in a spectacular act of defiance, to pass a law in June 2009 clearing the way for the first time in the republic's history for civilian courts to try military personnel in peacetime for crimes subject to the Code of Criminal Procedure." This "virtually [ended] the military's judicial autonomy."60 Including the Balyoz trials, more than 400 TAF members were charged with committing unconstitutional acts, and about 15 percent of Turkey's generals and admirals were put in prison. The "envelopment" of the TAF in the political sphere was then completed in July 2011, when the chief of staff as well as the heads of the Army, Navy and Air Forces simultaneously resigned from office, presumably protesting the unfair treatment associated with the Balyoz trials. This was a first in the TAF's history, marking the official end of its overbearing presence in the political sphere.
Throughout this countercoup, the TAF proved to be unprepared, isolated and overmatched, arguably due to the side-effects of over-bureaucratizing the decision to interfere in politics. This is not to say that institutional factors involving greater Turkish politics, cultural change — especially in the context of the rise of anti-militarism — and EU accession did not play important roles in the outcome. However, a fuller explanation of the TAF's defeat at power politics, a game in which it had excelled for decades, we argue, requires that we recognize the long-term impact of its institutional evolution. As counterintuitive as it may seem, what made the army the most formidable force in politics eventually rendered it vulnerable, exposing it to a "countercoup" launched by a pragmatic and risk-accepting political actor.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
The arguments presented above have two implications. The first involves countercoups, which remain underexplored in the literature on civil-military relations. Most analysts tend to approach the withdrawal of the armed forces from the political sphere in terms of democratic consolidation, hardly paying attention to the potential power struggle between the military and its competitors. While we agree that "Western models of democratization need to include civil-military relations in democratizing countries,"61 with this article, we aim to contribute to the broader literature in two ways: to cast the withdrawal of the armed forces from politics as a power struggle and to offer a theoretical framework to help us understand how politically entrenched militaries can be "defeated" by their civilian competitors.
Second, if the arguments presented in this paper have merit, one of three fates awaits the TAF: (1) It can evolve into Samuel Huntington's ideal "professional army," arguably the best outcome for both the military and Turkish democracy.62 (2) The damage the institution suffered throughout the course of the countercoup might eventually cripple the operational and strategic effectiveness of the TAF as a fighting force. (3) There is the risk of a coup initiated by junior/middle-level officers, a risk that has not existed at least since 1980, when the TAF centralized the decision to intervene in politics. This may become more of a possibility in the aftermath of the recent countercoup. The JDP made sure to dismantle the very institutional and bureaucratic mechanisms the army had developed over decades in order to stay involved in politics. This is good news for Turkish democracy. However, the "rough" dismantling of the military's top-down institutionalized involvement also created a residual risk, especially in the context of the long-running social tensions that revealed themselves during the Gezi Park protests of 2013. Just as a 1990s-style military intervention has become practically impossible, a 1960-style colonels' coup is more likely now than it was a decade ago, for the decision to intervene in politics is, once again, decentralized.
While such a coup attempt may appear unlikely as this paper is finalized for submission,63 it is far from improbable. The generals behind the post-modern coup of 1997 proudly declared that they had initiated a process that would last for a thousand years. This overstatement should serve as a warning to students of Turkish politics, especially in the context of the political crisis and rising ethnic tensions that shook the country throughout 2015. The Turkish political landscape is a shifting terrain that compels the informed commentator to retreat to a cliché: never say never.
1 Samuel Huntington, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (Vintage Books, 1957), 70-74. Also, Peter D. Feaver, Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations (Harvard University Press, 2003).
2 For a recent attempt, see Nil S. Satana, "Civil-Military Relations in Europe, the Middle East and Turkey," Turkish Studies 12, no. 2 (2011): 279-92.
3 Quoted in Amos Perlmutter, The Military and Politics in Modern Times (Yale University Press, 1977), 89.
4 E. A. Nordlinger, Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Governments (Prentice-Hall, 1977), 3.
5 Ibid., 21-8.
6 Perlmutter, Military and Politics, 107-14. See also, M. Kamrava, "Military Professionalization and Civil-Military Relations in the Middle East," Political Science Quarterly 115, no. 1 (2000): 73.
7 See Samuel Huntington, "Changing Patterns of Military Politics," in Patterns of Violence in World Politics, ed. Samuel Huntington (Free Press, 1962), 23-4.
8 Raymond Tanter and Manus Midlarsky, "A Theory of Revolution," Journal of Conflict Resolution 11, no. 3 (1967): 266.
9 For a critical approach on Kemalism-modernization interaction, see F. Keyman, Turkiye ve Radikal Demokrasi (Ankara: Baglam Yayinlari, 1999), 171-208.
10 Ergun Ozbudun, Social Change and Political Participation in Turkey (Princeton University Press, 1977), 43.
11 Dankwart A. Rustow, "Political Parties in Turkey: An Overview," in Political Parties and Democracy in Turkey, eds. Metin Heper and Jacob M. Landau (I.B. Tauris, 1991), 12.
12 Henri J. Barkey, "The Struggles of a 'Strong' State," Journal of International Affairs 54, no. 1 (2000): 87-105.
13 Umit Cizre Sakallioglu, "Parameters and Strategies of Islam-State Interaction in Republican Turkey," International Journal of Middle East Studies 28, no. 2 (1996): 234.
14 James Brown, "The Politics of Disengagement in Turkey: The Kemalist Tradition," in The Decline of Military Regimes: The Civilian Influence, ed. Constantine P. Danopoulous (Westview Press, 1988), 133.
15 Barkey, "The Struggles."
16 Perlmutter, Military and Politics, 163.
17 See, for example, C. Arcayurek, Cankaya Muhalefeti (Istanbul: Bilgi Yayinevi, 2002), 148-155; and Frank Tachau, Turkey: The Politics of Authority, Democracy, and Development (Praeger, 1984), 77.
18 See, for example, Genelkurmay Baskanligi [General Staff], Turk Tarihi, Silahli Kuvvetleri ve Ataturkculuk (Ankara: Turkish Armed Forces), 1973.
19 On this categorization, see Ramazan Kilinç, "Critical Junctures, Catalysts, and Democratic Consolidation in Turkey," Political Science Quarterly 129, no. 2 (2014): 294-5. Also see Y. Gursoy, "Türkiye'de Sivil-Asker İlişkilerinin Dönüşümünün Sebepleri," International Relations/Uluslararasi Iliskiler 11, no. 43 (2014). Kilinç also makes the case that we should be concerned with "historical timing." For an institutional explanation focusing on principal-agent relationship, see Zeki Sarigil, "The Turkish Military: Principal or Agent?" Armed Forces & Society (2012). On external dynamics, also see Yaprak Gürsoy, "The Changing Role of the Military in Turkish Politics: Democratization through Coup Plots?" Democratization 19, no. 4 (2012): 742-8. On external pressures for reforms in civil-military relations emanating from NATO membership, Umit Cizre, "Problems of Democratic Governance of Civil-Military Relations in Turkey and the European Union Enlargement Zone," European Journal of Political Research 43, no. 1 (2004): 107-25.
20 Building on a dataset from 2011, Sarigul suggests that the TAF was deemed completely trustable by two-thirds of the population, with only 14.6 percent distrusting it. Zeki Sarigil, "Public Opinion and Attitude toward the Military and Democratic Consolidation in Turkey," Armed Forces & Society 41, no. 2 (2015): 282-306.
21 Burak Kadercan, "Strong Armies, Slow Adaptation: Civil-Military Relations and Diffusion of Military Power," International Security 38, no. 3 (2014): 117-52.
22 On the importance of social cohesion within the armed forces, see Morris Janowitz, The Military in the Political Development of New Nations: An Essay in Comparative Analysis (University of Chicago Press, 1964), 27-9; Perlmutter, Military and Politics, 100; and Eric Carlton, The State Against the State: The Theory and Practice of the Coup d'Etat (Scolar Press, 1997), 5.
23 Metin Heper, The State Tradition in Turkey (Eothen Press, 1985).
24 For more on the early multiparty experiences, see Walter F. Weiker, Political Tutelage and Democracy in Turkey (E. J. Brill, 1973).
25 Ali Yasar Saribay, "The Democratic Party, 1946-1960," in Political Parties and Democracy in Turkey, eds. Metin Heper and Jacob M. Landau (I.B. Tauris, 1991), 126.
26 Kenneth Fidel, "Military Organization and Conspiracy in Turkey," Studies in Comparative International Development 6, no. 2 (1970): 27-8.
27 For the 1945-1960 period, see M. A. Birand, Can Dundar, and B. Capli, Demirkirat: Bir Demokrasinin Dogusu (Istanbul: Dogan Kitap, 2001).
28 Barkey, "The Struggles." Also, see John B. Londregan and Keith T. Poole, "Poverty, the Coup Trap, and the Seizure of Executive Power," World Politics 42, no. 2 (1990): 152.
29 Nordlinger, Soldiers, 69.
30 Gary Zuk and William R. Thompson, "The Post-Coup Military Spending Question: A Pooled Cross-Sectional Time Series Analyses," American Political Science Review 76, no. 1 (1982): 71-2.
31 Walter F. Weiker, The Modernization of Turkey: From Ataturk to the Present Day (Holmes & Meier, 1981), 103-4.
32 For the place of the NSC in the 1961 constitution, see T. Akguner, 1961 Anayasasina Gore Milli Guvenlik Kavrami ve Milli Guvenlik Kurulu (Istanbul: Guray Matbaasi, 1983).
33 Satana, "Civil Military Relations in Europe," 283.
34 On the latter, see Metin Heper, "The Justice and Development Party Government and the Military in Turkey," Turkish Studies 6, no. 2 (2005): 216.
35 Brown, "The Politics of Disengagement," 135.
36 Frank Tachau, "The Republican People's Party," in Political Parties and Democracy in Turkey, eds. Metin Heper and Jacob M. Landau (I.B. Tauris, 1991), 107.
37 For the official text of the memo, see M. Batur, Anilar ve Gorusler (Istanbul: Milliyet Yayinlari, 1983), 300-2.
38 On the internal crises within the military, see the accounts offered by Muhsin Batur, who practically led the coup, in his memoirs (Anılar ve Görüşler: Üç Dönemin Perde Arkası. Istanbul" Milliyet Yayınları, 1985), especially the documents he presents in pp. 215-46. For another account by one of the leading generals of the 1971 coup, see Celil Gurkan's memoirs, 12 Mart'a 5 Kala (Istanbul: Tekin Yayinevi, 1986). Indeed, Gurkan was one of the four generals to sign the memo of March 12, 1971.
39 Ben Lombardi, "Turkey — The Return of the Reluctant Generals?" Political Science Quarterly 112, no. 2 (1997): 206.
40 Brown, "The Politics of Disengagement," 136-45.
41 G. S. Harris, "The Role of the Military in Turkey in the 1980s," in State, Democracy and the Military: Turkey in the 1980s, eds. Metin Heper and Ahmet Evin (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1988), 188.
42 C. H. Dodd, "The Development of Turkish Democracy," British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 19, no. 1 (1992): 22.
43 See N Bolugiray, Sokaktaki Asker: Bir Sikiyonetim Komutaninin 12 Eylul Oncesi Anilari (Istanbul: Milliyet Yayinlari, 1989).
44 On how Evren and his cadres decided, planned, and carried out the coup (step-by-step), see K. Evren, Kenan Evren'in Anilari (Istanbul: Milliyet Yayinlari, 1990), 195-545.
45 See Mehmet Ali Birand, The Generals' Coup In Turkey: An Inside Story of 12 September 1980 (Wheaton and Co., 1987), 100-2.
46 See M. A. Birand, H. Bila and R. Akar, 12 Eylul: Turkiye'nin Miladi (Istanbul: Dogan Kitapcilik, 2001).
47 On the 1982 constitution, see E. Ozbudun, "Democratization of the Constitutional and Legal Framework," in Politics in the Third Turkish Republic, eds. Metin Heper and Ahmet Evin (Westview Press, 1994), 41-8; and B. Toprak, "The State, Politics, and Religion in Turkey" in State, Democracy, and the Military, 126-9.
48 For a critical study of the 1982 Constitution, see T. Parla, Turkiye'nin Siyasal Rejimi: 1980-1989 (Istanbul: Onur Yayinlari, 1986).
49 Linda Michaud Emin, "The Restructuring of the Military High Command in the Seventh Harmonization Package and Its Ramifications for Civil-Military Relations in Turkey," Turkish Studies 8, no. 1 (2007): 38.
50 A politicization campaign focused on the control of media as well as restructuring the education system. The relevant campaign was also accompanied by attempts to instill a "pro-military" culture.
51 Barkey, "The Struggles."
52 Sakallioglu, "Parameters and Strategies of Islam-State Interaction in Republican Turkey," 239; Lombardi, "Turkey – The Return," 196.
53 I. Turan, "Evolution of the Electoral Process," in Politics in the Third Turkish Republic, eds. Metin Heper and Ahmet Evin (Westview Press, 1994), 49-59. For an analysis of the presidential system after 1980, see Metin Heper and Menderes Cinar, "Parliamentary Government with a Strong President: The Post-1989 Turkish Experience," Political Science Quarterly 111, no. 3 (1996): 483-503.
54 Also see Michaud-Emin, "The Restructuring of the Military," 153.
55 James H. Meyer, "Politics As Usual: Ciller, Refah and Susurluk: Turkey's Troubled Democracy," East European Quarterly 32, no. 4 (1998): 489-502.
56 For an early opposition to this interpretation, see Heper, "The Justice and Development Party," 227.
57 At the time, the presidents were elected by the Parliament.
58 Erdoğan publicly stated that he was in fact a [or, the] "prosecutor" in the Ergenekon trials, a statement that aroused much controversy over the boundaries between the executive and judiciary branches.
59 Umit Cizre, "Disentangling the Threads of Civil-Military Relations in Turkey: Promises and Perils," Mediterranean Quarterly 22, no. 2 (2011): 66.
61 Nil S. Satana, "Transformation of the Turkish Military and the Path to Democracy," Armed Forces & Society 44, no. 3 (2007): 358.
62 Huntington, The Soldier.
63 This version was drafted in November 2015 and submitted to Middle East Policy in April 2016. In the face of the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, we decided to preserve the article "as-submitted" to remain true to our original argument and prevent the paper from being contaminated with the post-attempt fallout and "noise."