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Home arrow Op-Ed Columnists arrow Constructive Military Intervention: The Turkish Example!!
Constructive Military Intervention: The Turkish Example!! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Frisky Larr   
Jun 06, 2007 at 03:47 PM

“Democracy will mean different things to different Nations” is a legendary statement expressed by King Abdullah of Jordan in the wake of George W. Bush’s failed and ill-advised drive to spread democracy through the Middle East. This quote was echoed in a CNN’s program trailer for several months in the course of last year, as if it sought to sound the message clearly from a “higher father” to an erring son afflicted with a wrong obsession.

“Democracy will mean different things to different Nations” is a legendary statement expressed by King Abdullah of Jordan in the wake of George W. Bush’s failed and ill-advised drive to spread democracy through the Middle East. This quote was echoed in a CNN’s program trailer for several months in the course of last year, as if it sought to sound the message clearly from a “higher father” to an erring son afflicted with a wrong obsession.

When King Abdullah struck this note, no doubt, his main focus was the current development in global politics that hit the headlines and addressed the fears of all objective analysts at the time, wondering where the world was heading amid a super-power lunacy. Now that the dust has long settled, the time has come to take the toll of the valiant and the brave.

Brave is Turkey today for daring to show to the world that democracy within the bounds of the geographical frontiers called “Turkey” will be run the Turkish way. The single daring and defiant element in deviation from western self-styled standards is the military.

The Turkish military establishment of today is a distinctive product of desperation in the tense moment of a frantic struggle to salvage national identity. National identity that was threatened into oblivion in the face of the demise of greatness. The greatness of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire was a vast territory of combined military and civil governance that covered a huge proportional fraction of the geographic universe. The Ottoman Empire reached out across three different continents – Africa (covering Sudan, Algeria, Egypt and several other North African states), Europe (Austria, Slovenia, the Straits of Gibraltar and all through Southern Europe) and Asia (the Middle East, the Caspian sea, Persian gulf, Ukraine etc.). It was a predominantly Turkish empire managed by the Turks from the administrative headquarters of Istanbul, which at the time, was known as Constantinople. The Ottoman Empire was founded in 1299 and collapsed in 1922. In other words, the empire lasted for more than six good centuries. It is therefore, often made a symbol of reference today in teachings of political studies and public administration that political governance as part of nature, is also subject to the law of gravity. Whatever goes up will surely come down when the time is due. The collapse of an empire after 600 years was indeed unthinkable.

The trick of leadership for 600 years and at the same time cause of the ultimate collapse was decentralization. Unlike the French in the post-Ottoman era, the Turks did not seek to assimilate. The territories that they conquered in sometime, brutal wars of attrition (which earned them the highly questionable nickname “Barbarians of Europe”), were allowed to manage themselves politically, culturally, religiously and economically as long as their regular dues were remitted to Constantinople in good time at regular intervals. No national identity was tampered with. In the aftermath of the First World War however, Constantinople (now Istanbul) and the big port city of Izmir were occupied by the allied forces. A brutal war ensued. The battle of Gallipoli was fought. One regiment commander General Mustafa Kemal stood out for war excellence and battlefield strategy sophistication. In the ensuing military and warfare confusion, many vassal states began declaring independence from Istanbul. It was an unstoppable chain reaction comparable to the demise of the Soviet Union. Almost all North African countries declared Independence. Bulgaria, Romania and several countries in Southern Europe followed. Greece went its own way and took many territories with it that were characterized by Greek architecture, lifestyle and political structure. Suddenly the Turks were faced with the reality of being minorities spread over several countries. Turkish minorities in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and very many countries of the old Soviet Union became the threatening reality. Then Mustafa Kemal led the military onslaught to salvage several territories from the allied forces and from a few rebelling countries that it could manage since it could not take on so many countries at the same time. That territory that was salvaged out of the fear of, and battle against extinction is the present day Turkey – a country with a minimal section in Europe and a large part in Asia.

As a symbol of gratitude after being saved from falling into oblivion like the Palestinians of today, the Turks endowed Mustafa Kemal with the title “Ataturk” (meaning “Father of the Turks”).

The present day Turkish Republic that was then declared on September 18th, 1922 was built on the blood of the military establishment. The founder, General Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had just one legacy. The state shall maintain its predominantly Muslim identity, to forestall slow penetration of territory-hungry forces in the guise of minority religion. But governance was to be absolutely secular. Ataturk detested Imams, Mullahs and Caliphs as political leaders. He saw their duties in the mosque rather than in government house. He charged women to take off their headscarves and be proud to show their God-given beauty. He changed the Turkish alphabets from the previous Ottoman-induced Arabic letters to Latin alphabets. He held the views that religious involvement in politics is the license to backward development.

This view runs headlong in opposing direction to views largely held in the Arab world. Ataturk is therefore, not the darling of strictly Islamic Arab countries, which have through all the years, sought to infiltrate the Turkish system and make their impacts felt. By these forces, Ataturk is often referred to as ungodly and an infidel.

As a country built on the blood of the military establishment however, the military is a diehard custodian of the Ataturk philosophy. The Turkish military will never meddle in politics as long as politics does not tamper with the Ataturk philosophy and the foundation of statehood. The Turkish army is today, one of the world’s most combat-ready and disciplined forces of its type, because it fears that many countries have still not accepted the territories that were ceased from them to form the present Turkish state. Greece is a notable example of such countries.

The last military coup in Turkey occurred on September 12th, 1980. It was preceded by outright anarchy between ultra-nationalists, leftwing socialists and diehard Islamists. The military intervened for a few years, drew up a new constitution and redefined the course of governance. A civilian administration took over thereafter.

Gradually however, Islamic parties started getting richer and stronger in the country and were able to reach out to the rural Turks and appeal to homegrown piety. Following corruption and chains of administrative incompetence, the folks started seeking refuge in Islamic parties. In 1995, the first Islamic party was voted into office. Prime Minister Erbakan, who led the Salvation party, became head of government. He ruled cautiously between secularism and Islamism. As his drift towards Islamism gradually became too clear to be overlooked however, the military stepped in. This time, not in a military coup. The head of the army and several other Generals sat Erbakan down in several secret briefings and warned him of the consequences of his actions. They made no secret of their intentions. They rolled military tanks through several cities to underscore their seriousness. In the end, the state prosecutor suddenly indicted Erbakan for anti-constitutional activities and the courts handed him a life ban from political activities in 1997.

There was normality once again. Perceived corruption, favoritism and ethical malpractices in politics however, continued to alienate the vast section of the masses from secular (non-religious) politicians. In 2003, the Justice and Development Party – a moderately Islamic party – was voted into office again amid fears and skepticism throughout Europe and the whole of the West. The present Prime Minister Erdogan however, succeeded in convincing European leaders that his party should be viewed as the equivalent of Christian democratic parties in European democracies. His style of leadership is largely popular amongst ordinary Turks. His majority in parliament is overwhelming. As long as his drift towards Islamism remains very cautious and covert, no one is troubled. On top of it, the Prime Minister is subject to the partially influential powers of the largely ceremonial President, who is a Kemalist and secularist.

The present problem experienced by Turkey however, is that the tenure of the President has come to an end and a new President is required. With its overwhelming majority, electing an Islamist President by the ruling party is a done deal. But having seen the cautious drift towards Islamism by a Prime Minister, whose wife never accompanies him on public functions without the headscarf much like the Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, it was easy to see the underlying risk of the ruling party’s agenda.

Having watched all these through the years since 2003, the head of the military brought the military’s frustration to a head by warning that it would take over government if a move towards Islamism were enacted. Funnily, it was the European Union that was quick to decry the military’s voice in a statement reminiscent of double standards. The fear of Islamism and Islamic radicals penetrating the European Union is one prominent reason keeping Turkey far away from EU membership anytime soon.

Be that as it may though, the Turkish folks in bigger cities, who clearly understand and enjoy the benefits of a modern lifestyle as opposed to a Saudi Arabia’s strictly islamic lifestyle have taken to the streets in their millions to defend Kemalism.

Turkey has shown to the world that there are instances where the military is simply an inevitable force and a final resort to the restoration of national identity and national unity. The Turkish military has shown to African soldiers that military intervention in politics is not a game of hide and seek nor is it a game of fame, power or authority. The Turkish army has shown to the world and African soldiers in particular that military intervention in politics is a matter of values and national existential philosophy.

This is made possible through the main reality that the Turkish state itself was founded by the military. The military takes orders from government on where and when to deploy the military. The appointment and promotion of Generals is done in close consultation with the Generals themselves. No General disobeys political orders to deploy. Like a snake driven to the wall however, the army would turn around and give the orders, no matter who is involved, if the basic foundation of the state is not respected.

The Turkish military has no fear of a junior officers’ coup. The military has no basic interest in political power. No government takes any extra safeguard to prevent a military coup. When the bounds are crossed, the military comes open and tells it as it is. The military will not comment on political decisions. It will not interfere in the usual running of government as long as the state is not threatened.

Turkey has defined for itself a distinctive and peculiar form of democracy that gives the military the ultimate independence of guarantying national unity and integrity. The automatic nature of this reality was fostered by the nature of the foundation of the state of Turkey and an extreme sense of inherent discipline. A single pronouncement sent the jitters up in Brussels and brought out millions of demonstrators in the streets of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. The sort of pronouncement that would have calmed tensions and defined a clear-cut signal in the constitutional crisis that rocked Nigeria in the Atiku-Obasanjo dispute. The African military establishments can learn a huge lesson from the Turkish military.

In like terms, politics in Africa has quite a lot to learn from Turkey in constitutional democracy. The reality that democracy doesn’t necessarily have to tow the American and British line of constitutional democracy per se is a lesson that is yet to be learned. The theoretical background of King Abdullah’s pronouncement and the practical example of Turkish peculiar democracy are both a crucial lesson combined.

Developing countries may ultimately learn that the contradictory benchmarks of Europe and America will not always serve as the basis of democratic credibility. While the European Union tacitly accepted the military annulment of a democratic election won by a radical Islamic party in Algeria out of the fear of Islamic extremism, it is vocally damning the Turkish military that simply seeks to stem an authentic political problem of uncertain outcome and dimension at the budding stage.
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