All of this shows that a new era is emerging in Turkey, a new era in which the military is no longer untouchable. Soldiers of all ranks can be brought to justice if they commit a crime. Not only coup attempts but also so-called “successful coups” are now being tried in the courts. In an excellent article that appeared in the spring issue of Insight Turkey (www.insightturkey.com), Associate Professor Ahmet Kuru from San Diego State University argues that this is not simply the fall of the generals but also the end of the whole system of military tutelage in Turkey. In his article titled “The Rise and Fall of Military Tutelage in Turkey: Fears of Islamism, Kurdism, and Communism,” Kuru explains how and why the generals’ power changed:
“The Turkish military’s political influence has recently declined. … The failure of the e-coup attempt [April 2007] meant the beginning of the declining military tutelage over Turkish politics. From 2007 to the present, several court cases against coup plans have resulted in the prosecution and detainment of over 300 military officers, including 60 active duty generals and admirals. Recently, the former chief of the general staff, Gen. İlker Başbuğ, was also arrested. Additionally, legal changes removed several military privileges by limiting the jurisdiction of military courts in favor of civilian courts. Moreover, the president and prime minister began to intervene in the appointments of top military commanders in an unprecedented way. These transformations coincided with severe criticism of the military in the media.
“The military’s political influence has weakened despite the continuing support of its ideological allies. These civilian allies are no longer as powerful, while a new Muslim conservative elite has become increasingly influential in the economy, media, political society, and the judiciary at the expense of the old, pro-military, and generally assertive secularist elite. Pro-Islamic conservative politicians have legitimized their rule and restricted the military’s way of justifying its interventions in politics by a) replacing the old Islamist rhetoric with a new “conservative democratic” discourse and b) successfully adapting to international conditions such as Turkey’s candidacy to the European Union (EU) and its integration in the world economy, and c) forming an alliance with the liberal intellectuals. There are still many games in [Turkey], yet democracy has begun to prevail with the decline of the military’s political power.”
Further explaining the dynamics that led to the end of military tutelage Kuru points to domestic ideological struggles in which the allies of the military tutelage have been defeated. Moreover he finds two other “complementary factors” that contributed to the eradication of the military tutelage. “The first factor is the divisions within the Turkish military and the emergence of a professional group within the military who supported the withdrawal of the military from political engagements. The second factor is the international conditions that have impacted the Turkish military’s political role, and restrained it from continuing along the old line of interventionist habits.”
Now the perpetrators of Feb. 28, the most recent “successful coup,” are being tried. There is a big lesson to draw from this. It should be understood well by military personnel that coups, completed or attempted, will not escape prosecution sooner or later. So it is better for them to remain within the professional boundaries of their duties. Coups are futile attempts to design politics and society. There is no chance of success in the long run, and besides such attempts are professionally risky for an officer seeking a career in the military. While in the “good old days” coups were a shortcut to high posts and speedy promotions, although undeserved, now they are shortcuts to prison.