The World's Softest Military Coup: A la Turca
by Kemal Silay
On April 27, what made the Turkish Military interfere with the "democratic process" once again and give the strongest and clearest message to Islamism through an ultimatum released on their official website? Turkish and the world media are still wondering if this ultimatum is the harbinger of an upcoming military coup. I've got news for them: the coup has already taken place but what makes it so different this time is the nature of it. Thus is it the softest military coup of all times, a soft coup specifically designed to stop the further development of soft (some call it "moderate") Islamism in Turkey. The Turkish Armed Forces, traditionally the most trusted institution of the Turkish nation, and predominantly a defensive force, gave a very clear memorandum to the "wolves in sheep's clothing" that Turkey is a secular country and will remain as such.
Just as radical Islamists have discovered democracy as a means to gain power legitimately, and temporarily soften their otherwise unbending ideology, the Turkish Military this time has opted not to use their tanks and prisons but rather their powerful words which have indeed successfully influenced and masterfully manipulated the most powerful mechanisms of secularism, the Constitutional Court being the most significant. Following the short and clear messages of the Military, the Constitutional Court, with an almost unanimous vote, "legitimately" and "democratically" blocked the soft Islamist Abdullah Gül's path into the highest office in Turkey. Like his "reformed" Islamist comrade Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had said "democracy is a street car, we will ride on it until we reach our destination, and then get off." Mr. Gül had made many Islamist confessions in the past, including his declaration: "the end of the secular Republic of Turkey has come!"
The argument claiming that the ruling party has transformed from its radical Islamist National Vision ideology to the more moderate Islamic AKP might look believable and hopeful to many, including to our government in Washington. What we know about these Islamists through open sources is enough to make secular Turks very nervous. Take a look at the millions demonstrating against them in Turkey—the latest one took place in Samsun on May 20. What is also significant about these demonstrations is that all of them were organized and led by secular women's organizations - a symbolic message to the Islamists who have been using the "turban" (a specific form of headscarf, according to many, a counter-revolutionary Islamist icon) in challenging the very foundations of the semiotic revolution of the Republic of Turkey. One can be sure that the Turkish Military intelligence knows much more about Turkish Islamists and their operations, and nothing would stop the military from interfering with the "democratic process" when their intelligence comes to an alarming level regarding Islamist activities and infiltration. This "right to interfere" has been provided to them by their own constitution (article 35) whenever they "determine" that the secular Republic must be protected against internal or external enemies of the country.
The military's ultimatum vehemently accuses Islamists of "exploiting the people's sacred religious feelings and declaring war against the Turkish state," asserting that Islamists, "under the guise of religious freedom have been hiding their actual goal [the foundation of an Islamic Republic of Turkey]." The ultimatum especially highlights the Turkish Military's grave concern over the "exploitation of women and children" in Islamist and separatist activities.
Eighty-four years ago, an Ottoman military, cultural, and political genius named Mustafa Kemal confined religion to personal conscience. An increasing number of critics in our time interpret this vision and policy as a violation of human and religious rights. Others find in it a protection of religious beliefs and values against exploitation by ideologies. This is where the Turkish Military stands. Though I try to understand the resentments of the former group mentioned above, I tend to agree more with the latter interpretation. The fact that there are now some 120,000 mosques in Turkey (a number that couldn't have been imagined under the "Islamic" Ottoman Empire which lasted more than 600 years) attests to the protections and religious freedoms that Atatürk's policies implemented (at least as far as the Sunni majority is concerned).
In its original sense, Atatürk's vision was not based on dogmas but rather on self-questioning and progress, and it is this progressive nature of Kemalism that distinguished Turkey from other countries with a majority Muslim population. Just about every article of the Turkish Constitution could be questioned, reinterpreted or be completely rewritten according to the political needs of a given time. But there is one article that can in no way, shape or form be questioned, modified, or abolished