The arrests last week in Turkey of 51 past and present military chiefs must be understood in the context of the divide between the ruling (moderately Islamist) Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the traditionally politically powerful and staunchly secular military establishment.
Since 2007, the AKP government has been conducting a series of investigations into a variety of illegal activities by current and former military officials – including plots to overthrow the government.
On the surface, last week’s arrests appear to be an escalation of Turkey’s historical conflict between the religiously oriented government and the secular establishment. However, there is another possibility.
That is that recent events present an historical opportunity for the government to use the arrests as leverage to reach a broad accommodation with the military that would allow the government to move forward with difficult reforms. The government’s decision on Thursday to release two of the most senior officials it arrested earlier in the week offered evidence to support this sanguine interpretation.
STRATFOR Founder George Friedman expresses this optimistic view in the clip above. Friedman notes that Turkish President Abdullah Gul (who is part of the religious AKP party) convened a meeting yesterday of his AKP counterpart Turkey Prime Minister Erdogan and Turkey Army Chief of Staff General Ilker Basbug.
I tend to agree with World Politics Review Editor Judah Grunstien, who observes that the arrests are “something of a Rorschach test for analysts and observers.”
Friedman is on the record as very bullish on Turkey – and he underscores his perspective in the clip above when he notes that Turkey’s rising economic strength and diplomatic clout may make it strong enough to prosper without membership in the European Union.
While I am also optimistic about Turkey’s long-term prospects, I think that Friedman may be under-emphasizing both Turkey’s deeply rooted internal problems and the European Union’s capacity to alleviate those problems and solidify its liberal reforms.
— Ben Katcher