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Gatestone Institute: Turkey: What Really Happened Here?

Did Turkey's military establishment cave to the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his circle, or given the context of the events surrounding the military appointments, did the military see that it was now able to stand up against them because the military had both the support of the people for doing so, and because the people are now demonstrating that they are more and more fed up with the Erdoğan government?

A few days ago, an interesting news item in the Turkish news, the gist of which was that the Turkish civilian government won its confrontation with the military over the new appointments to the Turkish General Staff.

Given the nature of Turkish culture, what actually took place was, in fact, a defeat for Turkey's Islamic-fundamentalist government and a victory for the forces of moderation who want Turkey to continue to be part of the Western world. What really happened here?

Historically, the Turkish military decided who would be promoted to what positions and who would be forced to retire within its own ranks; most often, the the government rubber-stamped the decisions of its military leaders. But this time, the government tried to block the appointments of certain generals, and instead appointed people within the military who would not strongly oppose Erdoğan and his circle. The military had failed.

Turkish politics, however, is like a Kabuki dance in which what the audience sees is almost never what is really going on: When Erdoğan et al rejected the decisions of the military, the military balked. The leaders the government had hoped to appoint tendered their resignations. The government then asked the current Chief of Staff to stay on, but he too tendered his resignation. This resulted in a standoff between the military and Erdoğan.

As best we can determine, each general the government wanted to appoint tendered his resignation. This put the government in an impossible situation: if it continued to try to force its will on the military, the Turkish people would perceive this as weakening the country -- which could easily have resulted in chaos, which Turks, and many other people, loathe.

The Turkish people genuinely love their military, even if they do not want it to interfere in civilian affairs. The Turkish people , however, are also increasingly fed up with their Islamic fundamentalist government, which they see as bumbling from crisis to crisis, endangering Turkey's standing in the world, and potentially undermining Turkish domestic tranquility.

To be sure, Turks might be upset with America, Europe, and Israel, but in no way do they want hostility with these friends and allies. And to them, this is exactly what the government has caused.

Turks are now publicly asking whether the Ergenekon "plot" – in which the AKP authorities are accusing senior military officials, government bureaucrats, and simple citizens of plotting to overthrow the government – is a pure fabrication. Before the Flotilla crisis, Turks lived in fear of being accused of -- and then arrested for -- being part of this "plot," so they refused to talk about it at all. Since this crisis, more and more people are speaking out about this issue.

A few days into the beginning of the standoff mentioned above between the military and the government, the Ergenekon "plot" prosecutor issued a ruling that arrests in the military were to stop. This is exactly what the military was looking for in order to resume talks with the government regarding the Turkish General Staff appointments.

Most importantly, the government acquiesced to the appointment of a new Land Forces commander, who on February 28, 1997, had sent tanks into the streets in Ankara as a warning to the civilian authorities not to re-Islamify the Turkish polity. Obviously, Erdoğan and his allies must have wanted to prevent this appointment almost at all costs.

The Turkish people also are angry at the ruling AKP party for its outreach to Turkey's PKK Kurdish terrorists. When the ruling AKP party took over in 2002, the terrorist problem was largely, though not totally, a thing of the past. But since the AKP's Kurdish outreach program, PKK terrorism has increased. In classic Middle Eastern fashion, this outreach showed government weakness; and when Middle Easterners smell weakness, they attack -- which is largely why PKK terrorism increased. Negotiations take place only after victory; and then the victor imposes his conditions on the vanquished. Many Turks, therefore, blame the AKP for reigniting Turkey's Kurdish terrorism problem.

Given the nature of Turkish culture, we might be witnessing the beginning of the end of the Erdoğan government. How long this could take is anyone's guess, but those who oppose it clearly now feel more empowered and much more prepared to do what is necessary to ensure that Turkey remains a part of the West and that it not proceed down the Islamist path its present Islamist government is pursuing.

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