The Turkish government’s move to detain the former chief of army staff General Ismail Hakki Karadayi for his role in the so-called ‘post-modern coup’ in 1997 against the first Islamist government in Ankara led by Necmettin Erbakan becomes a stunning development.
To be sure, the decision to go for Karadayi can be attributed one hundred percent to Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. Erdogan is not only asserting the supremacy of civilian rule but is putting the fear of god into the minds of the Turkish Pashas that if ever they dared again to subvert the constitutional rule, there will be a price to pay.
A big slice of Turkey’s current history is breaking loose and drifting away. Karadayi was a four star general and a legend in his time. He had just retired from the army when I took up my diplomatic assignment as ambassador in Ankara in October 1998. Those were the halcyon days of Turkey’s Pashas.
They put Erbakan under house arrest and banned his Islamist Welfare Party — just like that. At the embassy parties in Ankara, when the Pashas strode in, a hushed silence would descend and diplomats would drop their trivial conversations and make a beeline toward them, the ‘powers that be’.
Indeed, Erdogan himself was facing a 10-month prison sentence at that time in 1998 – all for reciting a poem during a public speech in Siirt in 1997. Apparently, Erdogan (who was the Mayor of Istanbul at that time) recited, “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”
By the way, those were lines written by a well-known pan-Turkic poet and activist Ziya Gokalp who lived in the early part of last century and, ironically, was an influential figure in shaping the reforms of Kemal Attaturk. Curiously enough, Gokalp was a staunch Turkish nationalist who rejected Ottomanism and Islamism alike.
Yet, the Pashas censured Erdogan. The point is, Kemalism very often provided a mere facade behind which the Pashas pursued the corporate interests of the Turkish military — perks, privileges, immunity from parliamentary scrutiny of the military budget, vast holdings in Turkey’s economy, etc.
Unsurprisingly, Erdogan is going about ruthlessly settling scores with the military. There is a moral here for Pakistan. Imagine, if the present civilian leadership had gone for the jugular veins of Pervez Musharraf, locking him up in a prison cell and putting him on trial for high treason. Pakistan’s all-powerful corps commanders would have understood by now what could happen to them if they acted unconstitutionally by destabilizing an elected government.
Erdogan is also setting an example for the Middle East, especially for Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi. Erdogan treaded carefully during his first term as prime minister, taking care not to provoke or confront the established political order where the military always behaved as more equal than the civilian leadership.
Looking back, he was determined not to meet the fate of Erbakan. But then, Erdogan didn’t forget anything; nor was he going to forgive. He has turned out to be an entirely different political personality after winning the parliamentary election in 2011 with a magnificent mandate of 52% of votes.
With Karadayi’s detention, Erdogan has proclaimed that he has no more reason to be apologetic about his political agenda. He is asserting that Islamism is Turkey’s political reality and Kemalists have to learn to live with it.
However, Erdogan is also in the process of drafting a new constitution that will transform Turkey into a presidential form of government, and he is intending to become a candidate in the presidential election in 2014. There is no one to match his towering personality on Turkey’s political landscape and his election is all but a foregone conclusion. Now, what kind of a president Erdogan will make?
There is uneasiness among thoughtful Turks that Erdogan has an authoritarian streak in his personality. The way he has become intolerant toward dissent, his vindictive acts against journalists, etc. have certainly dented his profile as a democrat.
The paradox is that it is the Turkish military that would have worked as a check and balance on him if he ever became dictatorial. There are indeed many parallels that one can draw with the calculus of power in Egypt.
– January 3, 2013