THE military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pressured Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, a Muslim mentor of Erdogan who was disliked by Turkey’s secular establishment, out of power in 1997.
In 2007, the military threatened to intervene in a presidential election and warned the government to curb Islamic influences, but the action backfired and Abdullah Gul, the candidate favoured by a government with Islamic leanings, took office.
The Turkish military has traditionally seen itself as the guardian of Turkey’s old secular establishment, a legacy of national founder and former army officer Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, as well as an enforcer of order in times of civil unrest and weak civilian leadership.
Turkey is a Nato member and a key partner in US-led efforts to defeat the militant Islamic State group, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq, and has allowed American fighter jets to use its Incirlik air base to fly missions against the extremists.
Turks have a conflicted relationship with their military, an institution that is cloaked in the lore of sacrifice, but also tarnished as a past symbol of repression.
Past military coup leaders have been seen as saviours from chaos and corruption, but also ruthless.
In the 1960 military takeover, President Celal Bayar, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and other officials were arrested and tried for treason. Menderes and his key minister were executed. General Cemal Gursel, who led the coup, took over as president and prime minister following the coup.
In 1971, the military again ousted the Turkish government. The coup followed months of violence and unrest in the country. This coup was considered the “coup by memorandum” as General Memduh Tagmac gave an ultimatum to Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, forcing him out of office. Admiral Bulent Ulusu took over Demirel’s post as prime minister.
Torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings were rampant in a 1980 coup.
While the Turkey’s military was forced to lower its political profile under Erdogan’s government, it has been buffeted by a renewed conflict with Kurdish separatist rebels and bombings by suspected Islamic extremists, including an attack on Istanbul’s main airport last month that killed dozens.
The latest coup attempt surprised observers because Erdogan’s government had taken steps to bring the military to heel, including dismissals and prosecutions of high-ranking active and former officers for alleged coup plots.
Erdogan’s government appeared to be working effectively with the military, coordinating on national security issues and confronting a perceived anti-government faction said to have infiltrated the police and other institutions.
Despite that past, the military retains respect and vast economic resources.
Service is a rite of passage for almost all men, who serve as conscripts. Soldiers who die in fighting with Kurdish rebels are hailed as martyrs.—AP
Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2016