Air University Review, January-February 1982
Major Maxwell O. Johnson, USMC
Involvement or intervention of the military in the political affairs of a nation-state has been a recurrent and not altogether unwelcome phenomenon throughout recorded history. Although the most recent example of this can be found in the coup detat in Turkey in 1980, from Rome through the Middle Ages, in the spread of Christianity and of Islam, to the Renaissance and the modern era since the Congress of Vienna, the historical record is replete with instances of military men taking on the mantle of political leadership.1 Yet in the contemporary period, involvement of the military in political matters often has been viewed with ambivalence, if not outright hostility. On the other hand, there have been numerous instances, particularly in the Third World or LDCs (lesser developed countries), where the military has intervened in what has been evaluated as a positive manner.
It is my contention that one cannot begin to understand or analyze the implications of the coup détat by the Turkish General Staff on 12 September 1980 unless one has a firm grounding in the historical even perhaps traditional role of the military in Turkish political affairs. Furthermore, if one is equally interested in the evolutionary process of modernization in a traditional society, and if one were to use Turkey as an example or case study, then the role of the military in this process must be thoroughly scrutinized.2
In this article I will examine the involvement of the Turkish military in political affairs within the historical perspective to answer two basic questions. First, how has the Turkish military come to be such an integral and influential actor or interest group in Turkish political affairs during the past two decades?3 Second, to what degree has the Turkish military molded, guided, and accelerated the process of modernization and the direction of politics in Turkey, since the founding of the republic but particularly during the multiparty era since 1950? An understanding of the historical underpinnings of the Turkish militarys political activities coupled with answers to the above questions should provide us with some tentative notions as to the future role that the Turkish military will play in the post-1980 coup period.
Any rigorous study of the role of the military in the modernization of the nation-state of Turkey and in the contemporary political affairs of Turkey should commence with a brief synoptic recapitulation of historical and political antecedents in the Ottoman Empire.4 One central theme emerges in this study: the modernization of the Ottoman Empire from the seventeenth century onward was interwoven inextricably with the activity of the Ottoman military. As a prime mover or catalyst or as the conduit for the new ideas (including revolutionary ones), the Turkish military for nearly three centuries has either occupied center stage or could be found waiting in the wings as the veritable deus ex machina of Turkish politics.
In 1683 the Ottoman army reached the gates of Vienna, only to be turned back after sweeping through the Balkans and most of Eastern Europe. From that date forward, the defeats which the declining Ottoman Empire suffered at the hands of the Great Powers in 1699, 1708, 1774, 1792, and 1799 were the initial (and undeniable) impetus for change.5 The reaction to the loss of integral territories of the empire, beginning with the Treaty of Carlowitz on 26 January 1694 and culminating in the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca on 21 July 1774, took the form of ambitious attempts to modernize the Ottoman military system during the reigns of Sultan Selim III (1789-1807) and Sultan Mahmud II (1808-39).6
"Actual measures to introduce something new into military training date from the work of (Comte) de Bonneval (in 1729)."7 Although Bonnevals efforts produced superficial and at best ephemeral results, these early partial reforms foreshadowed the later, more thoroughgoing measures introduced by Sultan Selim III.8
The first conflict between the modernizing reforms of Selim III and the traditional ruling elites or interest groups was evident during this period. The traditional Ottoman ruling elitesthe ulama ,the Janissaries, the older Ottoman military officers, and the âyans (autonomous feudal overlords) were collectively opposed to these modernizing reforms and actively resisted them for two reasons. First, France, as the source and model for modernization, was considered to be an infidel nation whose radical ideals and system of government could only lead to a diminution of the Islamic political underpinnings of the empire. Second, a strengthened, forward-looking class of rising young military officers would threaten their vested interests and their positions of political, social, and economic dominance in Ottoman internal and external affairs. Hence, from these earliest attempts at modernization in the Ottoman Empire, there was a fundamental divergence between the modernizing reforms and the traditional elites. This divergence was manifest in continual conflict between the military as a modernizing force and the political elites. This will be a pattern extant through 1980, as will be demonstrated below.
Under Selim III and his successor, Mahmud II, concerted attempts were made under the Nizam-i Cedid (New Order) to institute additional modernizing reforms. While Selim initiated this far-reaching plan, it remained for Mahmud to abolish or curb the influence of these traditional interest groups.9 Once again, the Ottoman rulers turned to the French; however, this time not only were military innovations and reorganization directed by the Sultan but the French were also responsible for modernizing the Ottoman bureaucracy and diplomatic corps.10 There is some evidence, in fact, that the new military classes and the new bureaucrats were exposed to the ideas of the French Revolution.11
The most serious opposition to military reforms came from the traditional privileged military class known as the Janissaries. While they may have proved to be an ineffective military force in defense against encroachments from the Great Powers, the Janissaries were nevertheless firmly entrenched as the Palace Guard in Constantinople at the close of the eighteenth century.12 However, Mahmud fully realized that he had to take positive steps to eliminate this stumbling block because
. . . no real progress towards reform would be possible until all power other than that emanating from him had been eliminated, and the Sultans will made the sole source of authority in the provinces as well as in the capital.13
By using the Janissaries to curb the âyans, Mahmud was able to weaken both interest groups. Driving a further wedge into the power of these traditional interest groups, Mahmud then brought the waqf (pious foundations) of the ulama under his control. Finally, on 17 June 1826 Mahmud ordered loyalist artillery units of his new army to open fire in the barracks housing the rebellious Janissaries, exterminating in less than five hours an institution that had held power for over four hundred years. 14
With the destruction of the Janissaries and the backing of his new army, Mahmud was able to introduce additional administrative reforms. These included the first Ottoman census in modern times and a comprehensive land survey. The immediate objectives of these two measures were". . . conscription and taxationmen for the new army and money to support it."15
These reforms of Mahmud were the first of a lasting nature in the Ottoman Empires process of modernization. Although initiated as a defensive response to the challenge of the Great Powers, these reforms set the stage for the work of his successors as well as for the activities of the Young Ottomans and the Young Turks. Yet it should be well noted that the military played a key role throughout this process.
When Mahmud II died in 1839, he was succeeded by his son, Abdul-Mejid II, whose first action was to proclaim the Noble Rescript of the Rose Garden (Hatt-i Sherif of Gülhane) on 3 November 1839. This edict initiated the period in Ottoman history known as the Tanzimat or Reorganization. Then, on 18 February 1856, in response to pressure from the Great Powers, the Hatt-iHümâyun or Reform Decree (Islihat Fermani) was proclaimed.16 The central theme of these edicts and of the reforms instituted during the Tanzimat period was the declaration of full equality for all subjects of the Ottoman Empire, regardless of religious belief or national origin.17 Emphasis was shifted to programs of improving the educational opportunities throughout the empire for all its citizens. It was in this area that the rise of the Young Ottomans as well as the first stirrings of Arab nationalism and Pan-Turkism received their impetus.18
In addition to basic reforms of equality in educational opportunity, with all citizens of the Ottoman Empire now considered equal subjects, the military and civil service were opened up to any individual with the requisite ability and intelligence. The provincial bureaucracy functioned effectively, and the Sultan had virtually absolute control over the entire apparatus of government. It was precisely this absolute control that caused the Young Ottomans to seek new reforms in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Because only tenuous links are discernible between the Young Ottomans and the new military class, the Tanzimat period may be quickly summarized.19 The second half of the nineteenth century was characterized by continuing internal decay within the Sublime Porte and by an underlying process of intellectual growth and ferment among the younger men who were rising through the ranks of the modernized civil service and the new military units. In the case of the Young Ottoman movement, the intellectual core was the backbone, with activist agitation against the Sultan, the modus operandi.
It was these junior officers and provincial bureaucrats, building on the activist writings and political organizing of the Young Ottomans a decade earlier, who formed the first secret revolutionary military society in 1889.20 The name of this group was "Progress and Union"; later it was changed to the "Committee of Union and Progress" or what the world has come to know as the Young Turks. The members, in order to preserve secrecy and hide their identities from the Sultans secret police, were organized into compartmentalized cells.21
Although neither of the two standard works on the Young Turks treats the ideological underpinnings of this movement, there is enough evidence to suggest that it was indeed a military movement.22 As Andrew Mango contends:
. . . the Young Turkish Revolution of 1908 can be seen as a model for military intervention in politics . . . it was a military operation which seized power, and it was followed by other military operations in 1909 and 1913 until the plentitude of power was concentrated in one junta.23
For years the military schools had been centers of intellectual activism and protest against the autocracy of the Sultan, but these activities were confined to the schools themselves. However, by 1906 military committees were organized secretly among the junior officers of the Ottoman army.24 These cells were called Vatan ve Huriyet (Fatherland and Liberty); one of the earliest members was a little-known General Staff lieutenant stationed with the Ottoman Fifth Army in Damascus, Mustafa Kemal. Kemal in turn organized other cells among the officers stationed in the Arab lands of the empire. The real source of power, however, was among the junior officers who formed the secret military committees in the Third Army Corps in Salonika.25 At the same time, the intellectual faction continued to agitate from its Paris base, having inherited the mantle of the Young Ottomans.
On the eve of the Revolution of 1908, a loose but powerful confederation of intellectuals, provincial bureaucrats, and junior military officers existed under the banner of the Committee of Union and Progress.26 They agreed that the Sultan had to be removed and that if violence were necessary to accomplish this, then violence would be employed. A series of military disturbances and outright mutinies broke out throughout the empire during the first several months of 1908, culminating in July in the Young Turk Revolution.27
At this juncture it would be useful to reiterate the underlying theme that the stimulus for modernization and political change during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also emanated from the military. While some of the modernizing reforms were imposed on the military as a response to the external threat to the empire from the Great Powers, the military was the focal point and the catalyst for the significant political changes during these two centuries that culminated in the Young Turk Revolution in 1908. In fact, the impact of the junior officers of the Ottoman army as a modernizing force, both in deposing the Sultan and informing the nucleus for the Republic of Turkey, cannot be overstated.
With the arrival of the German military mission in 1914 and the subsequent entry into World War I by the Ottoman Empire, the military arm of the Committee of Union and Progress achieved total predominance over the political affairs of the empire.28 At the same time, they presided over the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the loss of the European territories and the Arab lands of the empire. After spectacular initial successes against the British at Gallipoli in 1914-15, the Ottoman forces fell prey to inept senior leadership and to the superiority of British forces in Palestine and of the Bedouins led by Lawrence in Arabia.
The dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, blessed by various peace treaties following the cessation of hostilities, was the signal for the more nefarious of the Young Turk political leaders to flee. In the resultant struggle for political leadership, the new sultan attempted to return to the pre-Tanzimat era; he dissolved the parliament and ruled by decree. The economic and social reforms that had been instituted so painstakingly were disbanded.29 Yet at the same time grassroots support was growing for the nationalist movement that was forming in Anatolia under the aegis of Mustafa Kemal.30 This movement was the catalyst for the Turkish War for Independence.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Father of the Turkish nation, quite simply took the remnants of the Fatherland and Liberty cells and used them to form the nucleus of the Association for the Defense of the Rights of Anatolia and Rumelia. This defense association was in turn responsible for organizing, planning, and executing the revolution for Turkish independence. The national struggle was designed initially to prevent Allied dismemberment of the Turkish heartland of the Ottoman Empire, but its ultimate achievement was the proclamation of the Turkish Republic on 29 October 1923.31
Atatürk was able to revitalize and perpetuate the Tanzimat reforms of the previous century. Moreover, he initiated new, far more consequential modernizing reforms, which not only brought the Republic of Turkey into existence but gave it substance and a solid social and ideological undergirding, bringing Turkey into the twentieth century, phoenix-like out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. The six basic tenets of what has come to be called "Kemalism" are familiar to most students of modern politics and have been analyzed thoroughly elsewhere. What should be well noted here, however, is that Atatürk was able to initiate and perpetuate these reforms not solely because of his much-vaunted charisma and his shrewd political machinations but because he had the total support and loyalty of the Turkish military.
There is a direct progression from the Fatherland and Liberty cells to the Association for the Defense of the Rights of Anatolia and Rumelia to the founding of the Republican Peoples Party in 1924. When the first Grand National Assembly convened on 23 April 1920, the military constituted 15 percent of the elected deputies, a total of 56 seats, by far the largest single occupational or interest group. From the Second through the Seventh Assemblies, a period of some thirty years, the military consistently held 20 percent of the seats.32 Moreover,
from the Second up to the Seventh Assembly the military group was the most favored. In most instances it was the largest occupational contingent at the top leadership level, and it was more overrepresented at that level than any comparable group.33
These former military officers, products of the modernized Ottoman military education system, had followed Ataturks rising star throughout the war and had astutely recognized that his reform program was the only hope for a resolution of the social, economic, and political chaos which the nascent Republic of Turkey faced in the 1920s.
When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk died in 1938, he was succeeded by his Prime Minister Ismet Inönü.34 Renowned for his skill as a negotiator on the Lausanne Treaty and revered as the military hero of the Revolution for Independence, Inönü was the antithesis in both leadership style and personal appearance of his mentor and closest friend, Atatürk. Yet Inönü continued to lead Turkey along the basic course that Atatürk had set, while at the same time here reflecting his more liberal Weltanschauunggradually allowing the controlled growth of opposition political parties, at which Ataturk had made only a token attempt.
Although the military remained quiescent during the Inönü years, particularly as Turkey maintained a strict policy of neutrality during World War II, this was not the result of some traditional policy of an apolitical Turkish military class. True, in the Kemalist era, the military had stayed out of politics because it was well represented in the Grand National Assembly by the Republican Peoples Party, which had a disproportionate number of retired senior officers who held the most influential leadership posts in the government.
Nevertheless, the military viewed the gradual relaxation of the one-party rule with ambivalent concern. Although this has been cited as "the probably unique case of a dictatorships voluntary self-transformation into what comes near to a democracy or at least, a more-than-one-party system,"35 there is no question that in the rise of the multiparty system, the military "lost both its large general representation and its top-level contingent."36 When the Democratic Party emerged victorious in the elections held in 1950, the pendulum swung away from the underlying military influence of the Kemalist era.37 This development would have lasting repercussions for the future political direction of Turkey.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the multiparty system instituted by Inönü would devolve into the factional polarization and bitter conflict which have characterized Turkish politics between right-and left-wing extremists during the past two decades.38 But more important was that the Democratic Party, following its victory in 1950, "began to tamper with the cherished programs supported and even, to a large extent, inaugurated by the army. . . and, in the eyes of many officers, began to sabotage some of those programs."39 Hence, there was a latent but growing feeling of betrayal among these military officers which was "gradually grouped under a commonly agreed slogan of a return to Atatürkism or Neo-Kemalism."40 Not only had the pendulum swung away from Kemalism, but the very supporters who had provided the most cohesive element in Turkish politics for thirty years were now on the fringes, a potentially powerful force, the veritable deus ex machina of Turkish politics for the next twenty years. This feeling of betrayal, coupled with President Adnan Menderess indiscriminate use of the military to enforce martial law edicts to prop up his unpopular regime, resulted in the politicization of the military in the late 1950s. The impact of this was felt on three occasions between 1960 and 1980.
Although politicization of the military officers was a direct result of the failure of the social and economic policies of the Menderes regime, there were a number of underlying factors that led to the coup on 27 May 1960 which are worthy of analysis.41
Regimes in Turkey have been challenged by a variety of leftist and rightist groups, either because (the regime) supposedly retards modernization and does not achieve social justice, or because the economic developments and social change undermine the basic values and the established order in the society.42
This factionalization and polarization led to a general breakdown in internal security within the republic. In response, Menderes pushed a series of restrictive measures aimed at curbing dissent in the urban areas and restricting active opposition by other parties and interest groups; the Grand National Assembly rubber stamped these regulations and enacted them between 1954 and 1957. Not only was strict censorship placed on the newspapers and radio stations, thus inhibiting free discussion of the political and social issues, but opposition parties were barred from access to the state radio, the only way the masses could be reached during the election campaign of 1957.43
How did these repressive measures affect the military officers? Menderes was not unmindful of the need for support from the military; in fact, he actively courted it, promoting officers freely, "but he chose officers for the top commands on the grounds not of merit but of fidelity to the prime minister."44 It did not take the remaining senior officers, loyal to their Kemalist legacy, very long to realize that the military was fast becoming a tool of the Menderes regime. Instead of the close links with the Republican Peoples Party enjoyed during the Atatürk and Inönü years, the military was called on in the spring of 1960 to suppress meetings of the political opposition and quell student protest demonstrations. In short, Menderes attempted to employ the army as a police force to destroy the opposition party.
In a real sense, then, the military was virtually forced to overthrow Menderes. His politicization of the military in this martial law role undermined two of the traditional heroes of the military: the Republican Peoples Party, the party of Atatürk to which the military owed special and long-standing allegiance, and Ismet Inönü, who actively and passionately opposed the Menderes regime and whom Menderes ordered silenced, barred from public political activity. It was almost a classic political confrontation, with the Republican Peoples Party backed by the military on the one side, and the Democratic Party of Menderes on the other. With no "democratic alternative (means) to gain power or even to air their views, . . . violent upheaval seemed the only immediately available option for sweeping change."45
The actual coup was most probably the inevitable historical and political consequence of the continued internal deterioration in Turkey. While the details are relatively unimportant, it should be noted that the group which seized power in a bloodless coup was known as the Committee of National Unity. It was led by General Cemal Gürsel and consisted of thirty-eight officers, ranging in rank from general to captain and in age from 65 to 27.46 Its stated purpose was to return the Turkish Republic to the democratic reforms of Atatürk. The immediate or proximate casus belli was an order from Menderes to the military to arrest Ismet Inönü. But in fact this revolution
. . . was organized and planned by students and faculty of the War College and the Faculty of Political Science . . . as many of the same social forces that had achieved the Young Turk Revolution of a half-century earlier.47
Shortly after the National Unity Committee assumed power, it declared that the revolution "was not against any individual or any group . . . Every citizen regardless of his identity and party affiliation shall be treated in accordance with principles of justice."48 Of the original 38 members of the National Unity Committee, 14 differed in their interpretation of these principles of justice from the majority of the officers. These 14 believed that the military should continue to hold power indefinitely to protect the nation from the leftist extremists.49 General Gürsel exiled these fourteen officers to distant embassies as military attachés on 13 November 1960. Among them was Colonel Alparslan Türkes, about whom we shall hear more later.
One of the first acts of the National Unity Committee, ruling through its executive agent, the civilian Council of Ministers, was to abrogate the Constitution of 1924 and commission a special task force to write a new constitution. This task force would be made up of civilian bureaucrats, leading members of academia, and a token number of military officers; it was charged with producing a constitution that reflected the contemporary social, political, and economic realities of Turkey but which was also grounded in the spirit, if not the letter, of Kemalism. At the same time, the National Unity Committee instituted a wide range of social reforms that reflected a definite military flavor. A perusal of these programs and regulations leaves one with the feeling that the military leaders not only sought a return to Kemalism but believed that the means to the end lay in tighter state control over social, economic, and educational institutions.
On 9 July 1961 the new constitution was the subject of a national referendum and was ratified by a 61 percent plurality. National elections were held on 15 October 1961 and were carried out with no civilian or military interference, signaling that the democratic experiment in Turkey was still alive, not in spite of militarys intervention but, in my view, because of it. Turkey now entered a new phase of its political life, the era of coalition government. No party had won an absolute majority of the seats in the Grand National Assembly, and the National Unity Committee was very much concerned that without one party firmly in control, a return to the pre-1960 social and political chaos might happen. However, when Ismet Inönü agreed to serve as Prime Minister and General Gürsel retired and was elected by the Grand National Assembly as President of the Republic, the military willingly handed over the reigns of government.
One result of the 1960 experience was that a new major political party was formed. The Justice Party, led by retired Army General and former Chief of the General Staff Ragip Gümüspala, became the party of the center. At the same time, several minor political parties, often little more than splinter groups, were formed on the polarized fringes. In the coming years these parties would contribute to (and at times cause) the internal chaos and terrorism rampant in Turkey in the late 1970s.50
The intervention of the military in Turkish politics in 1960 was, in retrospect, imperative if Turkey were to survive the paralysis and chaos found under the Menderes-led Democratic Party government. Based on private conversations with several Turkish officers, it appears that the military sincerely believed that this action was their only alternative. Yet they never gave any indication that their action was anything more than a temporary measure. On the other hand, while they willingly returned control to the civilian leaders, they also served notice that they would never again allow the situation to deteriorate to that point. Hence, while there may be genuine historical and ideological similarities between the Young Turks Committee of Union and Progress and the 1960 Committee of National Unity, the real political linkage of the militarys intervention in politics had its watershed in the Menderes Coup in 1960.
The major reason for the seemingly quick return to normalcy was that the military was supported by the bureaucratic and intellectual elites, all of whom desired a return to the center, or at least slightly to the right of center, following the disastrous flirtation with the leftists politics of Menderess Democratic Party.51 In summation, then, of this first instance in contemporary times of the militarys involvement in Turkish politics, it should be evident that there was not a tradition of nonintervention in politics. The military would continue to remain in the wings, again acting as the deus ex machina when called on.
One cannot overstate the fact that the original leaders of the National Unity Committee considered themselves merely temporary custodians of authority in 1960-61. However, as events in Turkey during the late 1960s were to prove, "the subsequent record of politics (and social chaos) in Turkey emphasizes that the military have by no means been able to extricate themselves completely."52 In a large measure this was due to the increasing activism of the splinter political parties on the polarized fringes and the inability of any one major party to rule in a majority fashion. Politics by coalition soon degenerated into politics by deadlock, which in the case of Turkey, in its still nascent democratic experience, could only result in internal chaos. Having served notice in 1961 that it would not tolerate a similar situation in the future, the military was once again forced to intervene to prevent further deterioration.
A quick synopsis of events is necessary to serve as the backdrop for this intervention. As had been feared by the National Unity Committee, even Ismet Inönü was forced to rule through three successive coalitions (1961-64). During this period several of the small splinter factions on the left and right fringes banded together under respective larger, umbrella-type groups. One of these, an ultraconservative, pro-Kemalist coalition, was the Republican Peasant National Party, headed by retired Colonel Alparslan Türkes. This coalition became increasingly activist and radicalized and picked up support throughout the rural areas of the country during the late 1960s.53 There were other parties and coalitions active as well, but what is important here is that an atmosphere was fostered (or at least tolerated) in which all of these various parties and interest groups "became more and more adamant in criticizing the government. . . manifesting their opposition in street demonstrations and even more violent activity."54
As was the case with the counterculture oppositions violent activism in the United States during the Vietnam era, the largest percentage of rank and file in these groups were youths and college students who tended to support the leftist parties, "each looking to its own admired prophetMarx, Lenin, Mao, Marcusand (adopting) a platform composed of the teachings of two or more of these thinkers."55 Not only did these groups adopt Marxian ideologies but they also used Stalinist tactics, participating in a wave of violence and guerrilla warfare with which Suleyman Demirel, the Justice Party Prime Minister, was unable to cope. Of course, the continued refusal of the Republican Peoples Party to participate in a coalition government and its vitriolic criticism of the Justice Partys failures further encouraged the extremist groups to increase their terror tactics.
It should be noted that many of these polarized fringe radical elements attempted to penetrate the military with their revolutionary propaganda; some cells were organized among junior officers. This hardly pleased the senior military officers, especially when these groups made blatant moves aimed at "recruitment of Kurdish youths and talk about a Kurdish people, which smacked of inciting the Kurds in Eastern Turkey to secede."56
The actual "coup by communiqué" is a rather curious affair. It was evident that the military high commandthe Chief of Staff and the heads of the Army, Navy, and Air Forcewas becoming increasingly apprehensive about internal security and disenchanted with the Demirel governments seeming inability to maintain some semblance of order in the cities and in the countryside. Corrective action was not only imperative but was most probably inevitable.
On 12 March 1971 the military chiefs issued "a stern warning which threatened military intervention if a strong and credible government capable of passing reform measures could not deal with the severe domestic instability and strife."57 Specific demands were made for bipartisan leadership and cooperation, coupled with a crackdown on urban terrorists. This memorandum or coup by communiqué was delivered to Demirel by the President, Cevdat Sunay, and resulted in the ouster of the Justice Party. Hence, it might justifiably be argued that this memorandum was more of an ultimatum than an advisory communiqué because by this time the militarys fund of patience with Demirel and his Justice Party had been exhausted.
A new coalition government was appointed under Professor Nihat Erim, and martial law was declared in Ankara and Istanbul and in the 11 major provinces of the country.58 Remaining in effect for 31 months, this period of martial law, in retrospect, did little to change the long-term trend of violence because it attacked only one part of the problem, and then only the symptoms and not the roots. Over 40,000 leftists were arrested and tried by military courts.59 However, according to Article 138 of the Turkish Constitution of 1961, civilians can be tried only for strictly military offenses even in periods of martial law.60 According to an official government white paper issued during April of 1972, only 687 people were tried by military courts during the first year of martial law.61 What is likely is that many of the leftists were arrested and detained without trial. At the same time there were clear links between the extreme leftists and radical elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The new Minister of the Interior, Ismail Aren, declared that there were several areas of danger but that the extreme leftists were the most critical and would receive highest priority.62 The key point is that the rightist groups appear to have been left relatively untouched. While this may be a reflection of the right wing coalitions that ruled Turkey during the early 1970s, it is also a portent for the undoing of what little order martial law was able to bring.
Free elections were held in October of 1973, and martial law was lifted. Nye contends that
. . . the 1973 election demonstrates that the military would attempt to influence the election if true danger to the system were perceived, but by doing nothing, by not forcibly intervening, the military enhanced the viability of the system and increased civilian respect for itself.63
When the election results failed to bring in a majority vote for any party, the military was forced to pressure the Republican Peoples Party into a coalition rule with the National Salvation Party.64
Turkey throughout the rest of the 1970s was a boiling cauldron of internal violence in both urban and rural areas, a country beset with economic woes, which were exacerbated by total dependency on OPEC for oil. In an allegorical sense, Turkey resembled a runaway express train careening toward an unfathomable abyss without an experienced engineer at the helm. The only chance at stopping the train, at averting national disaster, would seem to be renewed intervention by the military.
It is increasingly apparent from 1961 onward that, as internal social, economic, and political stability became more and more elusive, the armed forces have had to exercise closer vigilance over political developments in what seems to be an expansion or redefinition of their perceived role as guardians of the nation of Turkey. On the other hand, although martial law brought some respite in the violent terrorism, it might also be argued that martial law increased the strident militancy and determination of the extremist factions, many of which had gone underground because the pressure of military rule gave them no other alternative. Once conditions returned to normal, the widespread violence resumed, only this time on a much more intensive scale. Rightists and leftists and splinter groups in between took to the streets and countryside and engaged in a bloodletting unparalleled in the history of modern Turkey. "How perilous the situation had become is reflected in the proclamation of martial law in the last days of 1978 . . . Prime Minister Bülent Ecevits argument was that... the army might step in (otherwise)."65
Not long before his death, Ismet Inönü attempted to justify or at least to explain the special role of the military in Turkish politics when he wrote on 28 February 1973 that
. . . the military sincerely respects the political parties as increasing elements of our democratic life, and all our political parties comprehend the responsibility which the military carries in our countrys life. The strength and vigor of our democracy arises from the existence of such a balance.66
If there is one factor or term that most clearly describes Turkish politics between 1960 and 1980, it is disequilibrium. The one agent of stability and continuity throughout this period has, in fact, been the military. For this reason the most recent instance of intervention can only be regarded as a continuum of its role as well as predictable reaction to the chaos in the country. As one author stated
The ambiguous Kemalist legacy and the 1960 precedent, in short, together with contemporary conditions of economic underdevelopment, political stalemate, extremism and military alertness, are the kind of combination which makes direct intervention anywhere by the armed forces highly probable and in Turkey a distinct possibility.67
It should be well noted that the jury is still out on the outcome of this specific instance of direct military intervention in Turkish politics. There is no question but that the military was motivated to take strong action by many of the same social, economic, and political conditions that have gnawed away at the Kemalist foundations since the late 1950s. What is perhaps somewhat different this time, however, is the significant influence of the rightists, the ultraconservatives, particularly the Grey Wolves, the terrorist arm of the Nationalist Action Party (formerly the Republican Peasants National Party), led by retired Colonel Alparslan Türkes. No longer was the Turkish government able to focus on the leftists. Violence had become endemic, with terrorist groups of every political persuasion engaged in total violence throughout the country. The estimates vary, but something between several thousand and 15,000 people were killed in the last year before the September coup.
On the morning of 12 September 1980, General Kenan Evren, the Chief of the Turkish General Staff, led a coup détat against the government of Suleyman Demirel. On 20 September General Evren announced that retired Admiral Bülent Ulusu, Turkish Ambassador to Italy, would serve as interim Prime Minister.68 It appears from the media accounts of these events that the military leaders want to return power to a tough civilian government that would bring the economic chaos and endemic violence of the terrorists to an end. To achieve this goal, in the first four months since the coup, 32,537 terrorists were detained, and authorities confiscated more than 168,000 firearms, including 757 automatic weapons, over 900,000 rounds of ammunition, 951 sticks of dynamite, 2100 kilos of gunpowder, and 632 explosive devices.69 At the same time, the Turkish Ambassador to the United Nations, Coskun Kirca, called for a constitutional amendment that would scrap the present system of proportionate representation in the Grand National Assembly, substituting instead a "winner take all seats" system. Furthermore, only two parties would be allowed, and the president would be granted special powers in times of national peril.70
In any event, it is clear that new, more radical solutions are needed if the Turkish political system is to survive. The military simply cannot rule for only a brief period as it has in the past, turning over control to the civilians only to have the system deteriorate into chaos again. One is reminded of the ancient saying that "three times is a charm." This is the third time that the military has intervened in Turkish politics since 1960, and while they "might be viewed as a cohesive, progressive political force upholding the tenets of Kemalism,"71 there is a traditional superstition in Turkey about the evil eye. If the Turkish military is, in its role as the deus ex machina of Turkish politics, the veritable talisman against the evil eye of political chaos, then long-term, enduring measures must be instituted.
In a real sense, the Turkish military is uniquely well qualified for the task at hand, both as planners and executors. The Kemalist model, after all, is a rather sound paradigm for reform and stability. A precedent for martial administration has been established. It appears that a tough but scrupulously evenhanded administration by a benevolent yet totalitarian regime will be required. Some of its features could include total censorship of the media, at least partial suspension of civil and political rights, and detention without warrants for a minimum period of ninety days. Such measures are indeed repugnant to a Western liberal democrat, but the situation in Turkey is so grave that it appears that only dictatorial methods will ameliorate it. It will be a difficult time for the people of Turkey. There will be innocents who suffer, but if the country is to survive, then there seems to be no other course of action. To use a popular aphorism, the ball is now in their (the militarys) court. It is up to them to set the goals, determine the strategy, and guide the new course for Turkey. . . and then use whatever force is necessary to achieve it.
By now it should be clear that not only was the Turkish military active in politics during the Ottoman era, but since Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey, there has been this continuum of military activism or influence which has guided Turkish politics for the past sixty years. While I have used the analogy of the classical dramatic device of the deus ex machina, another more familiar analogy might be that of the 11th Cavalry coming to the rescue. Yet it is my contention that there is a finite limit to the efficacy of these last-minute measures on two counts. First, the Turkish military is justifiably (and understandably) tired of acting in this role; equally justifiably, the military will be less willing to hand over the reins of government to a new civilian regime, its placating statements notwithstanding. Second, the system itself has been so beset with interminable chaos under a series of ineffective, deadlocked coalition governments that the military may not be able to cause the pendulum to swing back. In other words, without a total and open-ended commitment to enduring reforms, regardless of the severity of the measures to be invoked, there is a good chance that military intervention will do little more than exacerbate the internal strife.
There is one vital area that has not been covered here because it is somewhat tangential and is generally ignored by most authors as a factor in this analysis of military intervention in politics. Throughout the modern period, 1960-80, Turkey has been engaged in a serious conflict with Greece over the future of Cyprus.72 This bitter dispute erupted into open warfare during July 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus. This was triggered because the Greek juntas coup against Makarios had established de facto enosis (union) of the island with Greece. There are direct linkages between the Turkish militarys desire to achieve a final solution to the Cyprus issue and the civilian politicians inability or unwillingness to reach a political or diplomatic solution. Hence any final and complete analysis of the role of the Turkish military as a politicized element must take the Cyprus problem into account, for it is the sine qua non of Turkish politics.
At the outset of this article two basic questions were asked. First, how has the Turkish military come to be such an integral and influential actor or interest group in Turkish political affairs during the past two decades? Second, to what degree has the Turkish military molded, guided, and accelerated the process of modernization and the direction of politics in Turkey, since the founding of the republic but particularly during the multiparty era since 1950? By this point it should be quite clear that the answers to these two questions are virtually inseparable and are grounded in the historical and political events that took place in Turkey during this period. The military since Ottoman times has served alternately as an agent of stability and as an agent of change. Yet it has been a constant factor in Turkish politics and could always be counted on to save the republic from internal politicide. In a large measure, without the political intervention by the military, one could expect the Turkish political system to degenerate into total anarchy. At best it might resemble the contemporary state of affairs in Italy; at worst it could lead to a revolution instigated by a coalition of ultraconservatives and Islamic fundamentalists, perhaps somewhat similar to the Iranian experience of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Hence, in my view, the military must continue to play an active role in Turkish politics. However, it must transcend its traditional role of simple guardians of the republic. Instead, it must commit itself to a new and stable Turkey and to the long-term stern measures that will be necessary to achieve this goal. The price will be high, but there are no easy options if Turkey is to survive.
1. S. E. Finer, The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics (New York, 1962) is probably the seminal work in this field in the modern era.
2. Kemal H. Karpat, Social Change and Politics in Turkey (Leiden, 1973), p. 824. Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (New York, 1968) is the classical case study of modern Turkey.
3. Gabriel A. Almond, "Introduction: A Functional Approach to Comparative Politics," in G. A. Almond and J. S. Coleman, editors, The Politics of the Developing Areas (Princeton University Press, 1960), PP. 33-38. Cf., Gabriel A. Almond, "A Comparative Study of Interest Groups and the Political Process," American
Political Science Review, March 1958, pp. 270-82.
4. Stanford J. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Volume I: Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808 (hereafter VolumeI) (Cambridge University Press, 1976) and Stanford J. Shaw and Ezel Kural Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Volume II: Reform, Revolution and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey, 1808-1975 (hereafter Volume II) (Cambridge University Press, 1977) are the basic source works for the study of the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey and are invaluable aids in research of any type in this field.
5. Stanford J. Shaw, Between Old and New: The Ottoman Empire under Sultan Selim III, 1789-1807 (Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 4-8.
6. For the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarcas text, see M. S. Anderson, editor, The Great Powers and the Near East, 1774-1923 (London, 1970), pp. 9-14; and J. C. Hurewitz, editor, Diplomacy in the Near and Middle East, 1535-1914 (Princeton, New Jersey, 1956), pp. 54-61.
7. Niyazi Berkes, The Development of Secularism in Turkey (McGill University Press, 1964), p. 47; Harold Bowen, "Ahmad Pasha Bonneval," Encyclopaedia of Islam, second edition, pp. 291-92.
8. Roderic Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 1856-1876 (Princeton University Press, 1963), p. 21.
9. Kemal H. Karpat, "The Transformation of the Ottoman State, 1789-1908," International Journal of Middle East Studies, July 1972, pp. 251-52.
10. Carter Findlay, "The Foundations of the Ottoman Foreign Ministry: The Beginnings of Bureaucratic Reform under Selim III and Mahmud II," International Journal of Middle East Studies, October 1972, pp. 395-98. Cf., Thomas Naff, "Reform and the Conduct of Ottoman Diplomacy," Journal of the American Oriental Society, 83 (1963), p. 303.
11. Bernard Lewis, "The Impact of the French Revolution on Turkey: Some Notes on the Transmission of Ideas," Cahiers dHistorie Mondiale, January 1953, pp. 116-35. Recently, new light has been shed on Frances financial ties to the empire during this period. See Michelle Raccagni, "The French Economic Interests in the Ottoman Empire," International Journal of Middle East Studies, May 1980, pp. 339-76.
12. Howard A. Reed, "The Destruction of the Janissaries by Mahmud II in June 1926," (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 1951); Shaw and Shaw, Volume II, pp. 15-28.
13. Lewis, Emergence of Modern Turkey, p. 78; Avigdor Levy, "The Military Policy of Sultan Mahmud II, 1808-1839," (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1968).
14. Reed, "Destruction of the Janissaries," pp. 193-251 provides a fascinating narrative of these events; Avigdor Levy, "The Officer Corps in Sultan Mahmud IIs New Ottoman Army, 1826-1839," International Journal of Middle East Studies, January 1971, Pp. 21-39.
15. Lewis, Emergence of Modern Turkey, p. 90; cf., Stanford J. Shaw, "The Ottoman Census System and Population, 1839-1914," International Journal of Middle East Studies, August 1978, pp. 325-38, which uses the original census documents from the Ottoman Archives.
16. Hurewitz, Diplomacy in the Near and Middle East, pp. 113-16 and 149-53, contains translations of these edicts.
17. Haluk N. Göze, "Modernism and Traditionalism in the Ottoman Empire, 1790-1922," (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, American University, 1964), p. 98. For a discussion of the conflict between traditional Islamic jurisprudence and the reforms of this edict, see Joseph Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Oxford, 1964), pp. 92-93.
18. Zeine N. Zeine, The Emergence of Arab Nationalism (New York, 1973), pp. 39-45; Roderic Davison, "Westernized Education in Ottoman Turkey," Middle East Journal, Summer 1961, p. 294, and George Antonius, The Arab Awakening (London, 1938). This last work has come under attack by revisionist Arab historians, but it remains the basic source book for the study of the early stirrings of Arab nationalism.
19. Serif Mardin, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought (Princeton University Press, 1962) is the sole work on this rather anomalous group of intellectuals, activists, and radicalized journalists, all of whom had been forcibly exiled to Paris. In a real sense, they typify the less desirable result of the Westernized (and here, especially, the French-inspired) educational reforms.
20. Ernest E. Ramsaur, Jr., The Young TurksPrelude to the Revolution of 1908 (Princeton University Press, 1956), p. 14.
21. Ahmad Bedevi Kuran, Inkilap Tarihimiz ve Jön Türkler (Our History of the Revolution and the Young Turks) (Istanbul, 1945), p. 47. This is a semiofficial account by one of the younger members of the Committee of Union and Progress, written in retrospect.
22. Ramsaur, The Young Turks, and Feroz Ahmad, The Young Turks: The Committee of Union and Progress in Turkish Politics, 1908-1914 (Oxford, 1969).
23. Andrew Mango, "The Young Turks," Middle Eastern Studies, January 1972, p. 116, refutes Ahmads contention on p. 163 that the Young Turk Revolution became a military operation only after 1909, when the civilian leaders failed to stabilize the internal disorder.
24. Kerim Key, "Ottoman Intellectuals and the Young Turk Revolution of 1908," (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, American University), p. 128.
25. Lewis, Emergence of Modern Turkey, p. 205. Shaw and Shaw, Volume II, p. 265, point out that Salonika, the capital of Macedonia, is a traditional center for revolutionary activity because it was far removed from the capital of Constantinople.
26. This coalition was the direct result of the upward mobility that created the forward thinking, modernized classes of civil servants and military officers. Ibid., p. 265.
27. Ramsaur, The Young Turks, p. 132. The best eyewitness account of these events in English is by an eminent British author who arrived in Turkey on the eve of the revolution, Sir William M. Ramsay, The Revolution in Constantinople and Turkey (London, 1919).
28. General Liman von Sanders, Five Years in Turkey, translated by Carl Reichmann (Annapolis, 1927) is a self-serving but nevertheless valuable account of the Turkish Armys performance during the war.
29. Shaw and Shaw, Volume II, pp. 332-33.
30. Lord Kinross, Atatürk: A Biography of Mustafa Kemal (New York, 1965) is the standard biography on Ataturk, but because it includes some unfavorable "facts," the book is banned in Turkey.
31. Eleanor Bisbee, The New Turks: Pioneers of the Republic, 1920-1950 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1951), p. 211; Shaw and Shaw, Volume II, pp. 340-50.
32. Frederick W. Frey, The Turkish Political Elite (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1965), p. 181, provides the exact percentage breakdown of military deputies for each assembly period.
33. Ibid., p. 261.
34. Shaw and Shaw, Volume II, pp. 396-405, account for the Inönü presidency, but no biography of Inönü exists in English.
35. John H. Herz, "The Problem of Succession in Dictatorial Regimes: A Study in Comparative Law and Constitutions, "Journal of Politics, 14 (1952), p. 23.
36. Frey, p. 261.
37. Kemal H. Karpat, Turkeys Politics: The Transition to a MultiParty System (Princeton University Press, 1959) is the best work on this subject.
38. Roger P. Nye, "Civil-Military Confrontation in Turkey: The 1973 Presidential Election," International Journal of Middle East Studies, April 1977, pp. 209-12.
39. Frey, p. 261.
40. Jacob M. Landau, Radical Parties in Modern Turkey (Leiden, 1974), p. 7.
41. Walter Weiker, The Turkish Revolution, 1960-61: Aspects of Military Politics (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1963) is the most complete study of this event.
42. Kemal H. Karpat, "Political Developments in Turkey, 1950-70," Middle Eastern Studies, October 1972, p. 349.
43. Kemal H. Karpat, "The Turkish Elections of 1957," The Western Political Quarterly, June 1961, pp. 43-59; Shaw and Shaw, Volume II, p. 411.
44. Hurewitz, Middle East Politics, pp. 214-15.
45. Landau, p. 4.
46. Weiker, pp. 118-27, provides a thumbnail biography of the National Unity Committee (NUC) and its members.
47. Shaw and Shaw, Volume II, p. 414.
48. Weiker, pp. 20-21, quotes a 27 May 1960 broadcast from the NUC.
49. Ibid., pp. 126-27.
50. Ergun Özbuüdün, Social Change and Political Participation in Turkey (Princeton University Press, 1976), pp. 56- 59. Cf., Landau, Radical Politics, pp. 14-44.
51. Serif Mardin, "Center-Periphery Relations: A Key to Turkish Politics?" Daedalus, Winter 1973, pp. 169-90; Özbuüdün, Social Change, pp. 52-53.
52. Aaron S. Klieman, "Confined to Barracks: Emergencies and the Military in Developing Societies," Comparative Politics, January 1980, p. 147.
53. Frank Tachau, "The Anatomy of Political and Social Change: Turkish Parties, Parliaments, and Elections," Comparative Politics, July 1973, pp. 557-73; Özbuüdün, Social Change, p. 125.
54. Shaw and Shaw, Volume II, p. 416.
55. Landau, p. 36.
56. Ibid., p. 44.
57. Nye, p. 213.
58. Klieman, p. 148.
60. Shaw and Shaw, Volume II, p. 418 contains these articles.
61. Landau, p. 45.
62. Robert W. Olson, "Al-Fatah in Turkey: Its Influence in the March 12 Coup," Middle Eastern Studies, May 1973, pp. 197-205.
63. Nye, p. 228.
64. Shaw and Shaw, Volume II, p. 419. Cf., Jacob M. Landau, "National Salvation Party in Turkey," Asian and African Studies, 3 (1976), pp. 1-51 for a detailed analysis of the influence of this splinter party in recent Turkish politics.
65. Klieman, p. 149.
66. Quoted in Nye, p. 209.
67. Klieman, p. 149.
68. "Retired Admiral Named Interim Premier in Turkey," New York Times, September 21, 1980, p. 12.
69. "32,537 Terrorists detained in Turkey," Milliyet, 7 January 1981, p. 1.
70. "Retired Admiral Named Interim Premier in Turkey," New York Times, September 21, 1980, p. 13.
71. John Kifner, "The Turks Have a Word for ItKemalism," New York Times, September 21, 1980, p. 4-E.
72. Thomas Ehrlich, Cyprus, 1958-1967 (London: Oxford University Press, 1974International Crises and the Role of Law) is the best study on Cyprus but needs updating in view of the 1974 invasion by Turkey.
Major Maxwell Orme Johnson, USMC (B.A., University of Santa Clara; MA., American University of Beirut), is Marine officer instructor and Associate Professor of Naval Science, NROTC Unit, University of Virginia. He has served at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; and in Okinawa, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. He has published articles in the Marine Corps Gazette, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, and Armor. Major Johnson is a graduate of the Defense Language Institute Turkish and Arabic language courses and has studied German at the University of Vienna.
DisclaimerThe conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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