For decades the Turkish military has seen itself as the chief pillar of Turkish society, always ready to step in should civilian leaders stray from secular orthodoxy, as established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Now, feeling increasingly threatened legally and organizationally, generals are taking steps to remind government leaders that, as an institution, the Turkish military retains a powerful policy voice.
Modern Turkey was forged by Ataturk, who revived the Turkish military's fighting ability and, starting in 1919, succeeded in driving out foreign forces, and establishing the modern Turkish state. An awareness of the role played by the military in Turkey's founding is embedded in every present-day Turk through hours of detailed history lessons and reinforced through military visits by all school children.
Since the founding era, the army has seen its primary mission as protecting the country's territorial integrity and its secular identity. It is, therefore, with more than a modicum of suspicion that the Turkish military is observing the AKP government in Ankara as officials move forward toward lasting political settlements with two traditional arch-foes -- Armenia and the country's own ethnic Kurdish population. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
While many in Turkey desire an end to decades of hostility and bloodshed, they, along with some sectors of Turkish society, remain wary of compromise. In particular, they worry that the AKP government may give up too much in order to secure peace. Heightening these concerns, six Turkish soldiers were killed on September 8-9 in three separate clashes with Kurdish militants affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The AKP has shown in recent years that it is willing to challenge the military on policy matters. The AKP-controlled parliament adopted amendments in early 2009 that permit military personnel to be tried in civilian courts. Several high-profile military figures are now on trial for their alleged part in the so-called "deep state" Ergenekon organization, a group accused of plotting a military coup. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The military of late has been pushing back. On September 6, for example, the military put on a dazzling display of strength during the annual Victory Day holiday. The number of troops participating in the military parade in Istanbul was double the number that marched in 2008. There were also many more tanks, aircraft and helicopters on display. And a 22-vessel flotilla sailed along the Bosphorus.
Watching the military's show of might in Ankara were Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, who remained in position for almost twice as long as the previous year while the troops marched past.
Erdoğan, Gül and other AKP officials are well aware that three times during the last half of the 20th century, the military ousted governments that it did not like. Even so, the AKP government appears committed to pressing ahead with current policies. On September 11, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that the government hoped to have protocols outlining the Armenian peace process approved and signed within six weeks. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"The texts of the protocols have been made public, in this respect we are trying to learn the opinion of all political parties, nongovernmental organizations," Davutoglu was quoted as saying by the APA news agency. "Six weeks is a limited time, and we will do our best."
Jonathan Lewis is a freelance reporter and photographer based in Istanbul.