Four retired Turkish generals were jailed today pending an inquiry into a “coup attempt” in 1997. This is yet another calculated maneuver by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ensure that the Turkish armed forces are never again able to illegally take over the government. It was a stern reminder of who’s boss. Reuters reports:
In February 1997 the military-dominated National Security Council issued a stern warning to Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, who pioneered Islamist politics in Turkey, accusing his government of policies undermining the secular constitution.
Commentators dubbed the episode Turkey’s “post-modern coup” as the generals used pressure behind the scenes to force Erbakan to resign four months later, rather than the direct intervention employed in three outright coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980.
Analysts in the West often celebrate Turkey for its economic success and relative stability in a tumultuous region. But this success does not mean Turkey is fully free and open. Hundreds of Turkish soldiers, including dozens of high-ranking officers, have been jailed under Erdogan’s administration over the past few years. More than 300 were jailed in September for allegedly plotting to overthrow Erdogan’s Islamist government 2003. An additional 300 or so civilians are awaiting trial on related charges. Forty-nine civilian reporters languish in Turkish prisons, making Turkey the world’s worst jailer of journalists.
In the post-Arab Spring Middle East, where Islamist led governments like Egypt’s try to tame powerful militaries and establish permanent civilian governance, Turkey often serves as a model. There, the Islamists conquered the generals and now rule unchallenged. Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi can only dream of bringing the military to heel like that. But take a look at Turkey today. Is this a good model? The military can’t control its own territory and can’t put down a persistent Kurdish rebellion. Erdogan, meanwhile, chucks into jail anyone who criticizes his government a little too strongly.