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Tarnished Brass

Author: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
August 2, 2011
Foreign Policy


Read any newspaper, magazine, or journal article about Turkey over the last few decades, and the odds are that the Turkish military establishment was described as "staunchly secular," "powerful," "autonomous," "dominant," or all of these things. At times, it seemed that observers were in awe of the Turkish commanders, armed as they seemed to be with an uncompromising ideology and a will to act to ensure the security of Turkey's republican and, importantly, secular political order. The ideals, cohesion, and strength of the armed forces stood in stark contrast with the weakness and corruption -- especially during the 1990s -- of Turkey's civilian political leaders.

The military's reputation (some of it deserved, but also clearly exaggerated) is a function of the fact that between 1960 and 1997, the officers got rid of four governments that the general staff did not like. That's what makes the Friday, July 29, resignation of the military's most senior officers, including its chief of staff, all the more surprising. In Turkey, it is usually the military that pressures the government and forces the politicians to resign, not the other way around.

In a statement, the military's just-resigned chief of staff, Gen. Isik Kosaner, explained that the officers believed they could no longer "protect their personnel" from criminal investigations and as a result could no longer carry on their duties effectively. Within hours of the resignations of Kosaner, land forces commander Gen. Erdal Ceylanoglu, navy chief Adm. Esref Ugur Yigit, and their air force colleague Gen. Hasan Aksay, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed a new chief of staff, the former Gendarmerie commander, Gen. Necdet Ozel.

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