The resignation of the entire high command of Turkey’s armed forces is a “watershed’ in the country’s democratic evolution, analysts suggest, offering an opportunity to recast civil-military relations. But other observers view the latest events as the latest stage in Turkey’s de-democratization and desecularization, and worry about the removal of one of the few institutional checks and balances to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic behavior.
“The days of Turkey’s military calling the shots are over,” said leading journalist Cengiz Candar. “There’s a new equation in the politics of the country, and anyone depending on the military to score points on a political issue has to forget about it.”
But the episode is a source of concern to some observers that the military will no longer function as a guarantor of the constitutional “red lines” that protected the country’s largely secular democracy.
As one observer notes, “the extent to which the generals are unable to wield the veto power over government they once enjoyed may reflect the changes brought on by the slow but steady democratization of Turkey, and the transformation of its civil society towards a democratic consensus that negates the military’s self-appointed role as overseer of the nation’s leadership.”
While some observers are anxious that the military’s political emasculation removes one of the few constraints on Erdogan’s creeping authoritarianism, others believe the resignations marked a decisive victory for civil society.
“It’s not a crisis, but it is a watershed event,” Henri Barkey, a Turkey analyst at Lehigh University, told Eurasianet.org. “People will look back and say this was the moment the Turkish military was finally civilianized.”
The resignations signaled the end of a long struggle in which the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, “sought to erase a hostile parallel state” say analysts. But the downside for the party, Barkey suggests, is that “Erdogan can no longer play the underdog, blaming a shadowy and hostile state for failures, as he could in the past.”
The senior military figures finally threw in the towel after the government demanded the resignation of officers being tried on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government and arrested a further 22 officers last Friday. The move was the latest episode of the Ergenekon affair in which dozens of AKP critics, including journalists as well as police and officers, have been arrested for allegedly planning a soft coup against the government.
Some analysts view the Ergenekon affair as a creeping judicial coup against democracy itself. The “fight against anti-democratic forces in Turkey has resorted to self-defeating anti-democratic methods,” said Andrew Finkel, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.
In any case, the affair has polarized Turkish public opinion.
“Those who believe the A.K.P. is a party with a democratic agenda are now applauding it and believe we are moving abruptly toward democracy,” said Sanci University’s Ersin Kalaycioglu. “Others believe the A.K.P. is another conservative party with a conservative agenda trying to consolidate power in a new form of authoritarianism or even the dictatorship of one man.”