By: Mahmoud Hedayatpanah*
The Turkish army, considering itself as the only founder of the Republic of Turkey and seeing itself as the guardian of Atatürk’s legacy, has always been trying to exert undue influence over and interfere in the politics of modern Turkey in order for them to be on right track for maintaining secularism.With the AKP (Justice and Development Party) rising to power and a process having kicked off in the 1980s, however, the influence lessened over time. The army leaders in Turkey are not that much pleased with it though. The fact that the army does not really have a great deal of room for maneuver in the political affairs originates from the growing political support for the parties.
Another reason given for the army’s reduction in power is the attempt made by Turkey so as to join the EU; as one of the key criteria for gaining admission to the EU is acceding to the parameters of Western liberal democracy, one of which is keeping the army under control by civil and political institutions, that’s to say only the political institutions have the authority, a situation which Turkey has stricken out; Chief of the General Staff of Turkey, Doğan Güreş, had also claimed in 1992 that Turkey is a military state.
Such processes and the constitution change caused a reduction in power of the military interfering in the political affairs, but its natures did not change whatever. There is evidence showing that the government had nothing to do with the recent incident or at least did not, at all, intended to act as such, but in actual fact it was an attempt by the army to discredit the ruling Justice and Development government. Firstly, Turkey is a member of NATO, so it participates in the military exercises of NATO; it is common, however, for the Russians and NATO members, to intercept planes by jet fighters especially in the Baltic Sea, a trend having been continuing ever since the Cold War. Both the Russian and NATO aircraft have repeatedly approached and even violated one another’s airspace, but they had never clashed; that’s why NATO will not support Turkey regarding this incident as a probable reaction is expected to be done against NATO in the Baltic Sea by the Russians; Barack Obama, as well, in a phone call with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested that they should think out well in order for similar incidents to be averted.
Secondly, a marked increase in trade between Turkey and Russia in 2014, which was $33 billion, was going to reach $100 billion up to 2010. So it is obvious that Russia is considered one of the most principal trading partners of Turkey, at the same time heavily dependent upon the Russian gas resources. Unprecedented, hostile act by the Turkish side may cause a breach between the two countries, and it seems very unlikely that Turkey would act with the aim of getting an important message across to Russia while Erdoğan was able to successfully tackle the economic problems and bring about a slight economic stability. That’s why he would not have intended anymore to get back to the past fragile economy.
A third point holding the attention is the Turkish statesmen backing down, such as Ahmet Davutoğlu stating that Russia is their friend and partner and they tend to keep the channels of communications open with Russia, or both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu pointing out that if they had been informed of the fact that the fighter belonged to Russian, they would not have acted as such, or the failed attempt Çavuşoğlu made in order for him to make contact with Russian Foreign Minister Segey Lavrov. If Turkey tried to get a message across to Russia, they would persist in the fact that the Russian fighter violated Turkish airspace and would be in a strong position against the Russians; but, they showed no insistence on their act in the aftermath of the incident, erroneously, for the sake of maintaining a good relationship between the two countries on Turkey’s part.
At last, it can be stated that with regards to a reduction in power of the army in having influence over internal affairs, the army tends to rely on the international scene so as to discredit the government, thereby reducing his power in Turkey and also causing the Justice and Development Party face domestic crises in order to ruin their reputation and efficiency; an opportunity of which the Turkish generals have taken definite advantage.
* Mahmoud Hedayatpanah, MA in Persian Gulf studies, is a military expert. His studies concentrate on Russian and American military capabilities. He is fluent in English, Russian and Farsi.