Is Turkey's Erdogan Becoming the Modern Ataturk?

With the resignation of Turkey's top four military chiefs, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is making the most of the opportunity to increase state control over the military.

Erdogan is not losing any time. A historic opportunity has fallen into his hands, and he is grabbing hold of it with both of them. He has managed to impose the civil government authority over the army, and to smash one of the founding principles of Kemal Ataturk's regime. That is, that the army had the authority to safeguard Turkey's founding constitution, consequently giving it the legitimacy to remove governments that did not uphold the principles of Ataturk.

On Friday, Erdogan received the resignation of Turkey's top four military chiefs, including his Chief of Staff, General Isik Kosaner and the commanders of the ground, naval and air forces. On the same day, he appointed the head of the military police, General Necdet Ozel, as the new commander of Turkey's ground forces, and immediately afterwards appointed him as the new Chief of Staff.

Erdogan - AP - 21072011

In a speech to officers on Friday, Kosaner explained that he had decided to resign (to "go into retirement" according to the official version), because he found that he was unable to protect his subordinates from harassment on the part of civil institutions.

"14 generals and 38 colonels lost their rights for promotion because of accusations that they did not abide by the law," Kosaner explained. The resigning Chief of Staff, who was appointed a year ago, and whose appointment signaled the end of the era of military influence over politics, finds himself, according to his claims, a victim of the same politics instituted by Erdogan.

The battle going on between the military and Erdogan is centered on two incidents: Ergenekon and "Macbeth," both of which apparently to started in 2003. According to the allegations and charges, a group of officers, intellectuals, former politicians and journalists tried to instigate a revolution against Erdogan's government, which the "conspirators" saw as a danger to Turkey's existence as a state that upholds Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's legacy and principles, particularly as a threat to the principle of secularism.

According to documents presented by the prosecution, the "conspirators" planned on damaging mosques and other religious sites in order spark provocation that would lead to the army seizing power. In the three years since the incident, hundreds of suspects have been detained on suspicion of involvement in the incidents. Today, 173 officer recruits and 77 retired officers are in pre-trial detention.

Every August, Turkey's military council reviews and decided on a series of appointments and dismissals. Last year, the Chief of Staff requested a number of appointments, but Erdogan rejected the majority of them, claiming that some of the candidates were connected to, or were being investigated in connection with, the Ergenekon incident. The Chief of Staff accepted Erdogan's position at that time, and waited another year in order to present his candidates.

This year, however, in the lead up to Monday's meeting to decide on this year's appointments and dismissals, Erdogan told the Chief of Staff, "I don't want to see any surprises in the nominations list." Saying this, Erdogan implied that he will not approve the appointment of senior officers who are in any way involved in the incidents under investigation.

Kosaner could no longer agree to this level of involvement from Erdogan in the military appointment and dismissals procedure. Consequently he decided, along with his colleagues, to tender his resignation. The only one of the military chiefs that did not resign is the head of the military police, Necdet Ozel, who is considered a close ally of Erdogan, and who Erdogan already tried two years ago to advance along the route to an eventual appointment as army Chief of Staff.

Erdogan, who won Turkey's last general elections with a sweeping majority, and who intends to advance the reforms supported by the majority of the Turkish public in a referendum carried out before that, is also completing his control over the army. In this way he is transforming himself into a modern "Ataturk." Just like that historic leader, he is ruling through a one-party regime, with no meaningful opposition.