By Halil Karaveli
September 21, 2020
Turkey’s pursuit of its geopolitical objectives in the eastern Mediterranean has historically not aligned with what used to be its paramount national security priority, to maintain a “strategic partnership” with the United States. The clash of foreign policy priorities has fuelled divisions in the Turkish military, between conservative pro-Americans and left-leaning, self-described anti-imperialists. Today though, the right-wing nationalists have embraced the anti-imperialism of the nationalist left. That is a profound change.
By Svante Cornell
June 29, 2017
The Gulf crisis over Qatar is once again catapulting Turkey into the politics of the Middle East, for which it is woefully unprepared. After a brief attempt at neutrality, Ankara threw in its lot with Doha, condemning the sanctions imposed by a Saudi-led coalition and accelerated its deployment of troops to a new base in Qatar. This decision risks upsetting President Erdoğan's tenuous rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, and reflects the continued ideological prism guiding Turkish foreign policy. But it also reflects a concern with regime security. At least in part, Erdoğan's embrace of Qatar reflects a belief that the same forces that supported the overthrow of Egypt's Muhammad Morsi welcomed the July 2016 failed coup in Turkey and now seek regime change in Doha. If so, Turkey's stance is unlikely to change, indicating a standoff may in the making.
By Svante E. Cornell
July 20, 2016
The failed military coup in Turkey provides a window into just how unstable and vulnerable Turkey has become. The coup is a unique but not isolated event, more than anything a symptom of the decay of Turkish state institutions under Erdogan. The sizable post-coup repression will make matters worse, in fact increasing rather than decreasing the risk of further violence, including a new coup. Turkey is now more a problem in its own right than an ally to help solve regional problems.
Fatih Yaşlı in Birgün writes that the alliance between the supposed “vanguard of secularism” – the military – and political Islam, which historically was motivated by a shared desire to beat the left, has a long pedigree. The military entered into a pragmatic relationship with the political representatives of religion during the Cold War. One example was when the military after the coup in 1971 asked Necmettin Erbakan to return from his exile in Switzerland to found a new Islamist party. Yet for many years, the Islamists accused – not the military as an institution, but its top echelon – of being alien to the national culture and of being westernized. But this relation has now evolved. There is now a military that the Islamists can much easier embrace; the military is no longer viewed as being alien to “national values,” and is seen as the “army of the nation.” The fight against the PKK has deepened the relationship between Islamism and the military. We have now a “militarist Islam” that has appropriated the army and which is supporting the war. And the military has also changed, and is continuing to change, which presents us with an “Islamic militarism.” It is claimed that the lower echelons of the officers’ corps is becoming dominated by religious officers. It is also claimed that there is a similar process ongoing among the higher echelons, albeit less so. The one area that symbolizes the confluence of “militarist Islam” and “Islamic militarism” is the “national defense industry.” The character of the regime and its political economy was expressed in the fact that the president’s new son-in-law hails from one of the important families of this sector, and was underlined by the fact that the chief of the general staff acted wedding witness. That was a tremendous demonstration of the zeitgeist.
Ergun Babahan in Özgür Düşünce writes that it is becoming increasingly clear that the Palace wants to have a big purge in the ranks of the military. It is equally clear that the general staff is resisting this. The pro-palace media provoked a reaction from the general staff by its recent stories claiming that “Gülenist officers in the armed forces are going to carry out a coup.” The General staff denied these allegations in a forceful language, stating that “no one can take action outside the chain of command.” This stance amounted to checking the demands for a purge. In fact, the fight is not really about the issue of the Gülenists, but about the relations to the United States and NATO. This is not an exclusive AKP operation, but a plan that is being implemented jointly with the neo-nationalists, the ulusalcı. The ulusalcı are attempting to regain the positions within the armed forces that they lost with the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases. The aim is to purge the cadres that have been on NATO duty in Brussels and Pentagon, and that are deemed to be close to the Western culture. Thus, it is not a question of purging Gülenists; what is taking place is a fight between the pro-NATO and ulusalcı cadres of the military. If the latter prevail, the command chain of the armed forces for years to come will be refashioned in accordance with the wishes of the ulusalcı. We are witnessing a fight that is going to determine Turkey’s place in the world.
The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.