The end of an era in Turkish politics (Al Jazeera)

Recent resignations by Turkish military generals may mark a change in the military’s historic role in politics.

Anyone reading about the politics and history of Turkey is likely to be struck by the role played by the Turkish military. The Republic was established in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and other soldier-statesmen. Since then the military establishment has positioned itself above civilians and acted as the guardian of the newly created Turkish state.

Until the end of the 1980s, six of the first seven presidents of Turkey were generals that had allowed the military to supervise politicians and intervene in politics whenever it was “necessary”. The military had staged four coups – in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997 – imposing its rule by overthrowing elected governments and devised constitutions in order to guide politics. The Turkish military elite legitimised its privileged status in politics by basing the duty of the military on two crucial premises: Westernisation and defending the republic against external and internal “enemies”.

The military has been the staunchest supporter of Ataturk’s ideal: a modern, secular and advanced nation-state. The aim of the Kemalist Revolution was to elevate the Turkish society to the level of advanced Western civilisation, and ambitious reforms transformed traditional cultural, legal, and educational institutions. This was revolutionary in that the nation was disassociated from Islam and God as the community of believers and was anchored to the Turkish state and homeland. The military was committed to guard these top-down reforms and the secular nation-state, and any opposition attempt against them had been eliminated.

Protection against communisim

After the Second World War, establishing a democratic system became an indispensable part of this ideal since Turkey dedicated itself to enter into the “Free World” against the communist bloc. Under the pressure of the West, Turkey’s political regime was changed to a multi-party system with implementation of free and fair elections. Nevertheless, the military-bureaucratic establishment argued that European democracies cannot set the example for Ankara.

Turkey, facing the “communist threat” and “Soviet expansionism”, should be a “special democracy.” According to this rationale, the country is located in a vulnerable region surrounded by internal and external “enemies” next to the Soviet Union, and therefore the military should have a very special role defined by the Turkey’s unique geopolitics. This rationale was internalised by civilians and significantly justified the military’s authoritarian political supremacy and its refusal to reform Turkey’s “special democracy.”

In line with other Mediterranean countries in the Western bloc including Spain, Portugal, and Greece, the Cold War’s dichotomous international structure allowed Turkish generals to contain the competition over politics by restricting comprehensive democratic participation. Left-wing opposition and intellectuals, demanding a more egalitarian political and economic system, were accused of working as the fifth column of communism in Turkey and were labelled as traitors.

Towards the end of the Cold War, whereas the above-mentioned Mediterranean countries ended the military tutelage over politics and restored the liberal parliamentary democracy, the Turkish military stalled further democratisation and preserved its hegemony even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

During the 1990s political Islam and Kurdish separatism replaced the “communist danger” and were identified as the main threats for the country’s security. The military, the self-appointed “guardian of the republic”, considered the fight against the PKK and political Islam as necessary duties to defend Turkish nationalism and secularism, the two main pillars of Kemalism.

Recent times

In the past decade, the civil-military balance has changed dramatically as a result of economic and political liberalisation, reinforced by the developing relations between Turkey and the European Union, which, in 1999, opened Ankara’s long path towards full membership. The disagreement between pro-EU actors and parties, and the military elite crystallised over the adoption of international societal norms, such as cultural pluralism and linguistic rights for ethnic groups, as well as the rejection of the traditional national security state. AKP’s rise to power in 2002 started the process of de-politicisation of the military that was required for Turkey’s accession to the EU.

The recent resignations of Turkey’s Chief of General Staff, as well as the Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air force at the protest of the jailing of 250 officers on charges of conspiring against the ruling AKP, revealed the end of the privileged position of the military in Turkish politics. For the first time in Turkish history, top military commanders decided to quit their positions rather than seizing power and deposing the elected government. This unprecedented development symbolises the end of the military’s supremacy and the beginning of a new era, in which Ataturk’s famous motto written on the wall of the Turkish parliament is truly cemented 88 years after the establishment of the republic; “sovereignty belongs without reservation or condition to the nation”.

Europeanisation of the Balkans? (Al Jazeera)

The historic Europeanisation of the Balkans has resulted in the development of a renewed political landscape.

Leon Trotsky, the most prominent figure of the Russian Revolution of 1917 after Lenin, was sent to cover the Balkan War as a war correspondent by the Russian newspaper Kievskaya Misl. In the Fall of 1912, Trotsky entered the areas populated by Muslims after the retreat of the Ottoman armies and was shocked by the massacres:

“[T]he komitadjis (Bulgarian/Serbian rebels) began their work the moment the sky grew dark. They broke into Turkish and Albanian homes and did the same thing, time and again: Stole and slaughtered. Skopje has 60,000 inhabitants, half of whom are Albanians and Turks. Some of them had fled, but most of there were still there. And they were now victims to the nightly bloodbaths.”

While Trotsky had expected to report the victories of the Slav armies, after seeing the brutal massacres he decided to return to Russia: “I had no strength to endure the atmosphere any longer; I couldn’t breathe. My political interest and enormous moral curiosity to see what was going on was gone, vanished. All that remained was the wish to get away as fast as possible.”

The forgotten frontier: The Balkans

The tragedy and sufferings experienced by the Muslims during the Balkan Wars was not an exception in the last two centuries. In the course of the century between the Greek War of Independence and World War I (1821-1918), 5.5 million Ottoman Muslims lost their lives and another 5 million became refugees.

Although this tragedy was Europe’s largest loss of life and emigration since the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, it has been largely disregarded by European press and intellectuals.

In European orientalist literature, the Balkans were regarded as the irrational and violent “other” under Ottoman rule, and often contrasted with the peaceful and democratic West. Orientalists invented the term Balkanisation to describe the division of a state into smaller states that are hostile towards each other.

Balkanisation is also used pejoratively as a synonym of the primitive, the backwards and the barbarian. During the last two decades, the flowing number of immigrants and the multicultural environment in European metropolises have been labeled as the ‘Balkanisation’ of Europe.

On the other hand, another process, the Europeanisation of the Balkans generated great human tragedies for Balkan societies. What happened during the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire was the replacement of the imperial paradigm that encouraged cultural heterogeneity and tolerance with the new European paradigm of the nation-state.

Indeed, the importation of European type of nationalism to the Balkans necessitated the transformation of the heterogeneous imperial space inhabited different ethnic and religious groups into a homogenous national homeland and therefore the ethnic-cleansing of “unwanted” minorities.

As a result of this Europeanisation of the Balkans, the percentage of Muslims in the region decreased from 43 per cent to 12 per cent during the past 150 years. Although some of the 8 million Muslims in the Balkans live in their independent states in Bosnia, Albania and Kosova today, Muslim minorities in Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia still face discriminatory policies and persecution.

The Balkan nation-states have considered their Muslim minorities as the ‘backward’ and ‘uncivilised’ legacies of the despised Ottoman past. Hence, ruling elites have sought to either assimilate these ‘alien’ and ‘dangerous’ elements, or to get rid of them by forcing a mass exodus to Turkey.

Muslims of Bulgaria: The other or one of us?

Muslims in Bulgaria, composed of Turks, Pomaks (Bulgarian speaking Muslims) and Muslim Romanies (Muslim Gypsies) have been subjected to an assimilation campaign in the past five decades which has been termed as a modernising “regenerative process” by the Bulgarian state. During the 1980s, the communist regime forced Muslims to abandon their religion, traditions, language, and even their names.

With the collapse of communism and the emergence of democracy, Muslims gained their cultural, political and education rights. They were represented by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), which is the third largest party in the Parliament, holding 37 seats out of 240. Especially in the 2000s, the MRF became a coalition partner in different governments and played an important role in the reconciliation of different ethnic and religious groups.

In recent years however, Bulgaria experienced the rise chauvinistic nationalism of ATAKA (‘attack’) Party, similar to such groups in Austria and France which employ offensive stances against minorities.

ATAKA’s leader Volen Siderov, who gained popularity on account of his television talk show, announced that his party’s nationalism was aimed at ‘the Turkification of Bulgaria’. Moreover, Siderov criticised the coalition governments including the MRF and emphasised that ATAKA “would not allow the Prime Minister to put fezzes (Ottoman hat) back on Bulgarian heads.”

Recently, a traffic accident in a small Bulgarian town where Bulgarians and Roma live together caused violent protests in major cities that targeted minorities. Protesters said that “we are marching against all parasite communities”, and carried banners of “Gypsy terror: How long will it take, how long we will be quiet!”

ATAKA’s leader, Siderov, who is running in the presidential elections scheduled for October 23, participated in the protests rallies and called the dismantlement of “Gypsy ghettos” and the formation of militias. The recent events revealed that the manipulation of the fragile political balance could have disastrous results for Bulgaria.

Bulgaria and the EU should not let the chauvinist parties like ATAKA free to incite ethnic and religious hatred that would be harmful for minorities.