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Turkish military chief flexes some political muscle 27 février 2007

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE, USA / Etats-Unis.
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The Financial Times (UK), February 27 2007

By Vincent Boland in Ankara

The head of Turkey’s armed forces used a visit to the US this month to fire a warning shot across the bows of his political masters at home.

Turkey was facing more threats to its national security than at any time in its modern history, General Yashar Buyukanit said, but its « dynamic forces » – its soldiers – would prevent any attempt to « break up the country ».

Within days, the government in Ankara dropped a tentative plan to open official lines of communication with the civilian Kurdish leadership in northern Iraq – a controversial initiative but one that many countries are urging.

The government’s acquiescence on an important foreign policy issue represents a decisive victory for military over political thinking. It also highlighted the continued influence of the military a decade after the generals ousted an Islamist government without firing a shot – an event that has become known as the « post-modern coup ».

Despite legal and constitutional changes in the past four years to reduce their visibility in public life, to give civilian leaders a bigger say in matters of national security and to make the armed forces more accountable to parliament, the Turkish general staff can still influence and change government policy in a way that would be impossible in other European countries.

Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Bahcesehir University, says Gen Buyukanit’s Washington speech was meant to send a signal to the end-of-term government and the nation at large that the military retained a pre-eminent role on national issues such as the threat of separatism. « If there was the slightest will on the part of the political leadership of Turkey to talk to the Kurdish leaders in Iraq, that will has now gone, » he says.

Turkey has a history of military interference in its political affairs It is one of the legacies that most compromises its attempt to join the European Union.

In addition to the February 1997 coup there have been three coups d’état since 1960, complete with tanks on the streets, mass arrests, new constitutions and generals in uniform assuming top political positions. These interventions were sometimes welcomed by Turks, who regard the military as the country’s most trustworthy institution.

Reforms to the status of a status-obsessed military since 2002 were accepted by the general staff because they were necessary to secure the opening of EU entry talks. Now, some observers say, Gen Buyukanit is testing the revised constitutional arrangements to see where the new border between the politicians and the military in Turkey lies.

« It’s his attempt to understand the new parameters, » says Omer Faruk Genckaya, an associate professor of political science at Bilkent University.

In particular, some observers say, the generals are worried that the constitutional changes have weakened the national security council – which was once dominated by the military and is now run by a civilian – without strengthening the political or civilian alternatives. This, they believe, has occurred at a time when Turkey’s neighbourhood – it shares a border with Iraq, Iran, Syria, Georgia and Armenia – is going through profound upheaval.

Omer Taspinar, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, says Gen Buyukanit’s prominence in recent weeks reflect the weakness of politicians as much as the new-found confidence of the military. « In the political vacuum created by inept politicians, both in power and in opposition, the general staff is once again filling a void and increasingly becoming a barometer of Turkey’s stance, » he wrote last week.

Gen Buyukanit has clashed with the government before, on issues from internal security to Cyprus. He seems certain to do so again in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections this year – as long as he feels the military is a better judge of the public mood than politicians. « Until politicians become more honest about the problems Turkey is facing, the military will always see a role for itself in society, » Prof Genckaya says.

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