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NEWS DISPATCHES > Turkish Army Sends Warning Signals To Gov't

28 Apr 2007

“It is observed that some circles who have been carrying out endless efforts to disturb fundamental values of the Republic of Turkey, especially secularism, have escalated their efforts recently.”  “The problem that emerged in the presidential election process is focused on arguments over secularism. Turkish Armed Forces are concerned about the recent situation. It should not be forgotten that the Turkish Armed Forces are a party in those arguments, and absolute defender of secularism. Also the Turkish Armed Forces is definitely opposed to those arguments and negative comments. It will display its attitude and action openly and clearly whenever it is necessary.” ___ Turkish Army quoted by Anatolia News Agency.


The army was reacting to the ongoing election of a Turkish president in which the pro-Islamist foreign minister Abdullah Gul is poised to win. The election of the president takes place in the Turkish parliament. Gul, a member of the governing AK Party failed to secure the required two thirds majority vote by a slim margin in the first election at weekend. To win in the first or second round, a candidate needs the support of at least 367 deputies out of the 550 that make up the parliament. If the election goes beyond the second round, a candidate will only require a simple majority to win. Gul had won 357 votes in the first round and it is almost certain that he will make it to the presidency in the third round voting next week. It is the prospect that he will win that has prompted the army (guarantor of Turkish secularism) to react in this way.


Abdullah Gul is a close ideological associate of the current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was himself at the center of controversy two weeks ago when more than 300, 000 secular Turks turned out to demonstrate against his intention to run for president. Gul was presented as a compromise candidate but most critics view him the same way they view the PM. The AKP is an Islamist-rooted party and is seen as the offshoot of the banned pro-Islamic Welfare party of Turkey’s first Islamic Prime Minister, Neemettin Erbakan. He was forced from power by the Turkish army in 1997.


Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey and became its first president (1923-1938). He defined the constitutional character of the modern Turkish state removing the constitutional provision naming Islam as the state religion. He abolished the caliphate, introduced Western law codes, western dress and the Latin alphabet. Kemalism became the Turkish ideology and was defined by six principles; republicanism, nationalism, populism, statism, secularism and revolutionism. About 97% Turks are Muslims.


The Turkish Army that is made up of largely secular officers has played the role of protector of Kemalism within the Turkish society for decades. In addition to the 1997 intervention, the army has staged three coups (in 1960, 1971 and 1980) ostensibly to keep Turkey on the right path.


As politicians continue to cash on the growing religious awareness amongst Turks by manipulating religion to attain political office, the tension between the Islamists and the secular army is growing and certainly threatening Turkish democracy. The army warned in the statement that; “developments in our region give numerous examples that playing on religion and manipulating the faith into a political discourse can cause disasters.” Officials of the ruling party are already interpreting the statement from the army to mean that imminent intervention on their part is likely.

The ruling AK Party reacted through her spokesperson and Justice Minister Cemil Cicek castigating any possible army intervention as “inconceivable in a democratic state”. Adding; “The chief of general staff is answerable to the prime minister.”


Meanwhile as the war of words rages between AKP and the army, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has said it will challenge weekend’s election (which its members boycotted) in court on grounds that not enough deputies took part. The interpretation of this provision by the opposition is disputed by AKP. If the court annuls the election based on the CHP’s petition, parliament will be dissolved and a general election called within 90 days. The alternative is a likely military intervention to block the AKP candidate from becoming president.


The European Union presidency has issued a statement saying that the EU “expects that all political leaders involved in this presidential election will behave in accordance with the democratic laws of state set down by the constitution.”  Adding that, the EU urges “that the election and Constitutional Court are not influenced by external pressure”.


Turkey’s request to join the European Union has been pending for long because of her democratic credentials. At least that is the often publicly stated reason although it is no secret that some EU members are apprehensive about admitting a predominantly Muslim Turkey into the union. The next few days are critical for Turkey and her democratic credentials.


Njei Moses Timah