Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Turkey: Did I miss something or did CFR?

Several weeks back all of Turkey's military leaders resigned at once.  The resignations has been tied to the continuing prosecution of military leaders unhappy with the AKP government.  I subscribe to the Council on Foreign Relations google reader so I waited.  Surely they would provide some analysis on this monumental event, and yet as of today, nothing.  Nothing has come across their google reader about Turkey, so I went to their website and search for articles on Turkey and none of the hits are about the mass resignation of Turkey's military leadership.  In fact, this article from Time published on Monday speaks at length on Turkey's strategic role and even its military capacity but doesn't even mention the resignation that occurred at the end of July.  And so I'm left with a question: did I miss something or did CFR?

For those that don't follow Turkey the obvious question is: why is this a big deal?  It's a big deal because the military has been the preeminent institution in Turkey since modern Turkey's founding in the 1920s.  When the Turkish republic was founded the military leader that had led Turkey to freedom, Mustafa Kemal Pasha (you may know him as Attaturk) pushed through major changes to society and dragged Turkey somewhat reluctantly into staunch secularism.  No where did this secularism take hold more then in the military.  Throughout the 20th century the Turkish military was a check on any government it deemed inappropriate and there were three separate coups perpetrated by the Turkish military between 1960 and 1980.

Then in 2002, Recip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), came to power.  They were vaguely Islamist, but trod lightly initially.  However over the past decade or so the party has strengthened its grip and while it has not been Islamist in the kind of boogeyman ways a jingoist American commentator might fear, it has been more then what Turkey's military had accepted in the past.  There was even a scandal of sorts when the military boycotted events with AKP leaders and their wives because their wives worse the hijab (headscarf).

The hijab issue made many wonder if the Turkish military would again step in and overturn the AKP government during the latter part of the 2000s.  But a coup never came to pass, no doubt in part because the AKP held and still holds a great deal of popular support.  In fact, little had been mentioned of the past row until the mass resignation last month.  Prime Minster Ergodan used the opportunity to install military leaders more accommodating to the AKP then the previous leadership, effectively wresting civilian control of a military that had been fiercely independent in the past.

And yet, this major realignment didn't illicit anything from CFR.  Perhaps this is the natural transition of a blossoming democracy that a military falls under civilian control.  Perhaps the military had long been neutered as the defenders of Attaturk's secular legacy and the resignations just made it official.  Perhaps the big story was the coup that didn't happen in the latter 2000s, and this is just the closing act.  Perhaps Greg Gause is right and Middle East experts just aren't paying attention to Arab militaries anymore, course Mr. Gause's article did appear in the journal published by CFR.  But I remain surprised that CFR didn't have anything on this given Turkey's prominence in NATO, its status as a friend but not devotee of the United States, and its strategic significance in light of the Arab Spring.

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