Over the last two weeks, the Turkish police have detained and interrogated several dozen retired military officers allegedly involved in plotting an intricate coup d'etat.
The government, led by the "moderate Islamist" Justice and Development Party (AKP), has cause for concern. The Turkish military has toppled elected governments four times since 1960. The European Union has made continued civilian rule a key requirement for Turkey's admission to the EU.
Though the alleged coup was planned in 2003, the current situation is quite serious. The Turkish press reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug have held intense discussions where they have addressed the arrests and the evidence.
This domestic Turkish confrontation involves much more than a classic "military junta versus civilian rule" media template, however. Turkish law tasks the Turkish military with defending Turkey's secular state and the secular reforms of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. The spring 2010 crisis in Ankara reflects what historians have dubbed "the struggle for Turkey's soul" and a long-term battle for the terms of modernity.
Turkey's journey since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 has been remarkable. By the mid?1920s, after a bloody war with Greece (in Anatolia, Thrace and Ionia) and an extended military and political confrontation with French, British and Italian occupiers, nationalist forces led by Ataturk regained control of the Turkish heartland. The "Kemalist" Republic, using the armed forces as a source of stability, focused on internal Turkish development -- and the once "Sick Man of Europe" became the Quiet Man of Europe.
Under Ataturk, the Ottoman's Islamic superpower of four and a half centuries embarked on a mission into "modernity" -- a secular government, Latin written script, women's rights, public education and a careful program of industrial modernization. A cornerstone of the Turkish Republic was "non-recidivism": Turkey made no claims on lost territory.
As the 21st century begins, Turkey has emerged as a regional super-power of military, social, political and economic import. It maintains the second-largest army directly committed to NATO.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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