For the first time in the history of modern Turkey, the military leadership quit over a disagreement with the government, rather than the government being the one to go. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan grabbed the historic opportunity that fell into his lap with both hands. Now he can definitively impose civil rule over the military, destroying one of fundamental principles of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's regime. That principle gave the army the authority to defend the foundations of the constitution, and thus also to remove governments that did not comply with Ataturk's principles.
The wholesale resignation of the top military commanders will have minimal impact on military performance, but the political implications are vast. It would not be an exaggeration to describe it as a revolution in Turkey's power structure.
The timing of the resignations are tied to the annual August meeting of the country's military council to decide on appointments and dismissals in the army. Last year, Erdogan rejected the majority of the recommendations made by Chief of Staff Gen. Isik Kosaner on the grounds that some of the candidates were connected to one of the alleged conspiracies against the government.
Kosaner accepted Erdogan's position and waited a year to put forth his candidates. But in preparation for the meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Erdogan told Kosaner, "I don't want to see any surprises on the nominations list." The premier was thus implying he would not approve the appointments of any senior officers implicated in the incidents under investigation.
Erdogan, who was reelected in a landslide in June and now seeks to advance the constitutional reforms supported by the majority of Turks, is completing his transformation into today's Ataturk. Just like the father of modern Turkey, Erdogan controls a one-party regime, with no meaningful opposition.
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