Heyday of Turkish military recedes

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Heyday of Turkish military recedes

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Turkish General Kenan Evren broadcast on 12 September 1980 that the army had seized power at dawn. He said this was to preserve national unity, restore the authority of the state and to prevent civil war.

It was a turbulent time, economically, socially and politically. In the decade leading up to this, Turkey had had eleven governments. Unemployment and inflation were climbing. There were strikes, and violent confrontations between extreme left and right groups.

The coup was carefully planned. The military leaders had warned the government in January that if things did not change, the army would act. They had done this in 1960 and 1971. So, the government was toppled, the parliament was dissolved and all political parties were banned.

General Evren became president in 1983, with broad public support. The following year he turned power over to a civilian government under the army’s guardianship. He remained head of state until 1989.

After 1990, the Turkish army increasingly claimed to be a bulwark against Islamism. In 1997, it forced the Islamist government of Necmettin Erbakan to resign. Then the accession of the AKP party to power diminished the army’s influence.

For more than 30 years General Evren – now aged 94 – was immune from prosecution, but in 2010 the Turkish government changed the constitution, paving the way for a case to be brought against the last president of Turkey to have been born in the days of the old Ottoman Empire.

More and more cases were brought against figures in the military, accused of belonging to Ergenekon, described by prosecutors as a terrorist organisation, and suspected of plotting to undermine the AKP.

Last week, former army chief Ilker Basbug was accused of conspiring to commit terrorism.

Many in Turkey today consider the drive to uncover plots bears the hallmarks of a witch hunt. But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government enjoys strong public support for its moves to reduce the military’s role in politics. This is also a reform demand of the European Union, a prerequisite for Turkey if ever it is to become a member of the bloc.