Turkey: the strange silence of Ataturk's military

Some protesters call on army to defend the people

04 June, 19:55

    (by Francesco Cerri) (ANSAmed) - ANKARA, JUNE 4 - In a country in which tens of thousands of demonstrators have been taking to the streets for a week, clashing with Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan's police as they lay claim to the inheritance of the nation's secular founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the silence of the army has been deafening.

    This would be normal in a consolidated European democracy but not in Turkey, where the military has been the defender of the country's independence and its secular nature since Ataturk founded the republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.

    Since then, the Turkish military has taken power four times, while in 1997, the generals forced then-Islamic premier Nekmettin Erbakan, political guide to Erdogan, to resign.

    ''Where is the military?'' ask some anti-Erdogan demonstrators while denouncing ''ferocious'' police violence. ''Why doesn't the army intervene to defend its people'', @SimonekeNaomo tweeted today at 4:26pm. ''Forget about the bombs and stand up for the people at last'', @Freiravmpazer agreed. It has only been 10 years, but today's Turkey seems light years from 2002, when Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power and the Islamic premier and the army engaged in a struggle for power, which Erdogan won.

    With support from the EU, which posited a military well confined to its barracks as a precondition for talks, the generals gradually abdicated their role as guarantors of Ataturk's secular values. Erdogan's special tribunals, which the opposition denounced as a witch hunt and which sent hundreds of high ranking officers to prison on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, appear to have given the coup de grace.

    One in five generals of what is the second-strongest NATO army is now behind bars. Three of them were sentenced to life in prison in September, while prosecutors asked for life sentences against another 113 officers in April.

    Crushed, demoralized, stripped of their prestige and their privileges, the generals have not so far reacted. But the backbone of the Turkish military remains fundamentally secular and Ataturkian. Many of them voted AKP in the last elections, not because of religious faith but because, as one high-ranking officer explained, Erdogan ''put the economy back on track, tripled per capita income, made Turkey the 17th world economy, a regional power''.

    But the army's secular soul remains. ''If he tries to institute an Islamic republic, we will stop him'', the officer promised.

    This is exactly what the demonstrators are denouncing: the risk of a slide towards an authoritarian Islamic regime. The army has kept silent, for now. But not all the protesters are unhappy about this.

    At 4:29pm, @Fulyacandas tweets back at @SimonekeNaomo: ''We don't want the military to intervene. This is a civil protest.

    The army is no solution''. (ANSAmed).

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