Dialogue with ’Opportunists’
Only ten votes prevented Islamists in Turkey from achieving their dream of winning the presidential elections. The only candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, is still hoping for a run-off. However, Anatolia has returned to the army”s caldron, and the gatherings of secularists, who, yesterday in Istanbul, raised their voice against the country”s “Islamization”, were another message to the Justice and Development Party: the army is not alone in its confrontation with the party”s dream of controlling the presidential palace.
This is also another message to those who erroneously simplified Turkey”s battle of auto-reconciliation and reduced the intensity of the army”s doctrine only because the party”s leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, succeeded in causing a shock by suddenly nominating Gül as candidate for the presidential elections. Behind the flags raised by demonstrators in Ankara and then Istanbul, pictures of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and shouts criticizing the recalling of the Muslim Brotherhood”s experiences, the Turks have recovered from history the coups carried out by the army in 1960, 1971 and 1980. This is happening in the light of a heated confrontation between the army and the Islamists, something that the theorists of a complete reconciliation between Turkey”s nationalism and Islamic roots thought had become a thing of the past.
The dilemma was, and still is, the following: is the Turkish army now ready to revolt against Atatürk”s doctrine, which it believes has entrusted it with “defending the defenders of secularism”, that is to say, working to keep State institutions, including the presidency, away from religion? The incidents over the past three days, since the first parliamentary round to elect the 11th Head of State – which did not give Erdoğan and his partner the chance to complete the surprise – have clearly demonstrated that the military institution will not withdraw from policy very simply, and bow its head to a sovereign government to whom the army, by virtue of the Constitution, is expected to be subject.
The equation that could simplify the essence of the renewed conflict in Turkey over the backdrop of presidential elections is the violent “dialogue” between the “Islamic democratic” government and the secular Republican People”s Party backed by the army, which announced its attendance to confront “conservatism” at the appropriate moment. If Erdoğan does not find any effective means to ward off the danger of the army”s intervention other than his campaign against “arriviste opportunists”, his warning about a catastrophe for Turkey”s political unity and social structure will not be able, alone, to convince the army to change its skin and let the presidential election complete its course in the run-off.
The military institution is obviously betting on a verdict by the Supreme Constitutional Court that will annul the first round. Although the contrary is unlikely to happen, the standstill will turn into a long crisis, even if the Turks go to the polls in early parliamentary elections. In fact, no one can exclude that the Justice and Development Party will return to Parliament even stronger. Therefore, the army”s apprehension will remain how to “convince” the party to give up its dream of reaching the presidential palace, and to field a candidate in agreement with secularists.
Moving away from the violent “dialogue” between Erdoğan and the army – the former promised not to remain silent, the latter is waiting for the “appropriate moment” – Europe and the US do not seem to be neutral, although Washington claimed the opposite. This gives the confrontation international dimensions. There is no need to interpret Europe”s request to the Turkish army to pass the test of respect of democratic secularism and its “values”, as long as Ankara is subject to tests that will define the future of Turkey”s reservation for a seat in the EU. The Europeans did not ask Erdoğan to abide by these values; therefore, they have again come closer to condemning the military institution, which is believed to have interpreted Washington”s call to stick to the articles of the Constitution as a bias toward the army itself.
Between an army “defending the advocates of secularism” and an Islamic government committed to European democracy, securing Europe”s support will not be enough for Erdoğan and Gül to obtain the army and its generals” obedience to the government”s orders and authority. In the same way as the question is continuously being asked about an overlap between secularism and a democracy that does not prohibit the election of an Islamist as president, so does the crisis remain between Turkey”s so-called Islamization and the domestication of an army always looking for its role under the slogan of warning about dangers threatening Atatürk”s republic.
On the eve of the Constitutional Court”s decision over the appeal against the legality of the first round of the presidential elections, Erdoğan will have to choose between forgetting the palace and facing the destiny of Erbakan”s government, since Turkey”s people are still divided over Islamization. The most dangerous aspect of the military”s offensive against the presidential elections is that their statement-admonition was a reminder of the recent killing of three Christians and of Islamists” activities in schools at the same time.