Are we about to see a face-off between army and government in Turkey?
Turkish police detained dozens of people on Tuesday,
including at least two retired army generals, and prominent
ultra-nationalist figures who have been sharply critical of the
governing AK Party. The so-called “Operation Ergenekon” is a
year-long investigation into a shadowy group called Ergenekon
that the authorities believe sought to sow chaos in Turkey in
order to trigger a military coup.
The detentions, including a reported rare move by police
going into a military compound to detain a retired general, came
only a few hours before a chief prosecutor appeared before the
country’s top court in a hearing that seeks the closure of the
governing party on charges of seeking to establish an Islamic
What is going on? To many it is quite confusing, and the
latest detentions have even puzzled veteran Turkish political
commentators like Mehmet Ali Birand and Semih Idiz — both
having seen coups in the past and the rise and fall of
religious-oriented governments. “It’s a dangerous situation,”
The current political crisis seems to have as much to do
with a face-off between the secularist elite of army generals
who see themselves as guardians of modern Turkey and the AK
Party, mainly represented by a more religious-oriented society.
With Turks sharply divided about what kind of country they want
to live in – whether with a more prominent role for religion or
for the military — tensions are likely to remain.
For the secularists, what is at stake is the legacy of
Turkey’s revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the
modern republic in 1923. “I am being accused of loving Ataturk,”
Ankara Chamber of Commerce Chairman Sinan Aygun told reporters
as he was detained in the capital Ankara.
So far the fight is being played out in Ankara and may
remain focused here while society at large is more preoccupied
with summer holidays or earning a living amid rising inflation
and slowing economic growth. If tensions escalate and Turks go
onto the streets the miliary might decide to act, like they have
in the past.