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date: 02 December 2020

Turkey: The Rise and Fall of the Influence of the Military in Politicslocked

  • Acar KutayAcar KutayVisiting Associate Professor at Southwest University of Political Science and Law (SWUPL), Chongqing, China

Summary

The continued influence of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) on politics characterized the political history of the Turkish Republic, until such influence was first bridled and then ultimately broken by the Justice and Development Party governments during the 2000s. When the new regime was established in 1923, the military identified itself with its founding ideology, namely Kemalism, which was built on the ideas of modernism, secularism, and nationalism. Because the TAF assumed the roles of guardian of the regime and vanguard of modernization, any threat to the foundational values and norms of the republican regime was considered by the military as a threat to the constitutional order and national security. As a self-authorized guardian of the regime and its values, the TAF characterized itself as a non-partisan institution. The military appealed to such identity to justify the superiority of the moral and epistemological foundations of their understanding of politics compared with that of the elected politicians. The military invoked such superiority not only to intervene in politics and take power (1960, 1971, 1980, 1997, and 2007). They also used such identity to monitor and control political processes by means of the National Security Council (established after the 1960 military intervention) and by more informal means such as mobilizing the public against the elected government’s policy choices. In the context of the Cold War, domestic turmoil and lasting political polarization helped legitimate the military’s control over security issues until the 1980s. After the end of the Cold War, two threats to national security drew the TAF into politics: the rising power of Islamic movements and the separatist terrorism of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which posed threats to the constitutional order.

Turkey’s EU membership bid is one of the most important aspects that bridled the influence of the TAF on politics. Whereas the democratic oversight of the military and security sector constituted a significant dimension of the EU reforms, events that took place around the nomination of the Justice and Development Party’s candidate, Abdullah Gül, for the presidency created a rupture in the role and influence of the military on politics. Two juristic cases against members of the TAF in 2008 and 2010 made a massive impact on the power of the military, before the ultimate supremacy of the political sphere was established after the coup attempt organized by the Gülenist officers who infiltrated the TAF during the 2000s.

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