All heads of Turkish General Staff resign

posted at 9:10 am on July 30, 2011 by J.E. Dyer

According to the UK Telegraph, the Turkish top brass resigned en masse on Friday to protest the Erdogan government’s plans for a military promotions board scheduled for next week.

The generals apparently want to promote officers whom the Erdogan government wants to block, based on the claim that the officers participated in the alleged “Ergenekon” conspiracy of 2003 (known as Operation “Sledgehammer”) against the civilian leadership.

The Turkish General Staff has had a history of occasionally enforcing centrist, secular government by mounting coups.  The most recent occurred in 1997, when the General Staff induced the government of Necmettin Erbakan to resign by imposing conditions on it – largely prohibitions against instituting Islamic customs.

During the Soviet era, the General Staff was concerned about internal threats from Soviet-backed as well as Islamist and Kurdish-nationalist factions.  Since the end of the Cold War, with Islamism on the rise, the Turkish military, along with the judicial and education systems, has been instrumental in enforcing the Kemalist idea of a secular republic.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected as the leader of an explicitly Islamist party in 2003, however.  Much of Erdogan’s agenda has involved weakening the independence of the military, judiciary, and education officials.  Many observers believe that the allegations about the “Sledgehammer” conspiracy, even there is a core of truth to them, are being misused to simply entrap the blameless opponents of Erdogan’s political program.  (Other observers believe the Ergenekon conspiracy theme is entirely fabricated.  See links.)

More than 40 military officers are currently being held on charges of being involved in the conspiracy.  It’s hard to pinpoint what the generals’ intentions are with their mass resignation.  They are too old and experienced to believe that they would be currying popular support by perpetrating a dramatic action.  They can’t expect their resignation to put popular pressure on Erdogan, who just won reelection with a healthy majority of the seats in Turkey’s parliament.

The alternative possibilities are that they have simply given up, and decided to spend their golden years doing something else (perhaps outside of Turkey), or that they are organizing to confront Erdogan.  Militating against the latter interpretation is the fact that Erdogan does have popular support in Turkey, and trying to control the aftermath of a coup against him – even one executed, as in 1997, by memorandum – would be a dicey proposition, with no precedent paralleling the conditions of 2011.

It’s possible that the situation looks different to them, considering the turmoil in Syria, the Arab Spring in general, and the jockeying of Iran for influence in every nation in Turkey’s immediate vicinity.  These exotic considerations have little meaning for Americans at the moment, but for Turkey, they naturally loom large.  The stakes may appear high enough that taking significant risks seems warranted.

Now – this week – isn’t the least propitious time for such a move either, given the world’s absorption in the US budget fight.

In my view, the only way the General Staff could mount a coup under the conditions of 2011 is to have the explicit (if covert) support of Erdogan’s major political opposition, and probably of an outside actor as well.  (The main possibility would be Russia.)  Are any of these things in place?  There is no immediate evidence of it.

Perhaps the mass resignation is the last whimper of Kemalist secularism.  That seems the most realistic assessment.  Only time will tell.  If that is the case, the rate at which civil life deteriorates in Turkey will accelerate more rapidly now, and a key brake on Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman aspirations will be removed.  The world will not be the same place when Americans go to the polls next November.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

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Ottoman Empire revitalized?

Naaaaah, try Caliphate and jockeying to see who leads it?

PappyD61 on July 30, 2011 at 9:18 AM

Asia Minor once was a beautiful place and the birthplace of Christian thought. It was conquered by ignorant, barbaric savages that were originally made Islamic en masse in hopes to calm them down. The Turks liked the cult of Islam and gave up their pantheon of gods since you were given divine sanction to murder and conquer with unlimited permission.

Nothing has change with the Turks, and it never will.

Hening on July 30, 2011 at 9:33 AM

I’m sure the Joint Staff is having lots of fun right about now…

Khun Joe on July 30, 2011 at 9:33 AM

Unfortunately the Young Turks are now old farts.

cartooner on July 30, 2011 at 9:42 AM

Naaaaah, try Caliphate and jockeying to see who leads it?

PappyD61 on July 30, 2011 at 9:18 AM


TexasDan on July 30, 2011 at 10:03 AM

Handbasket trip has started.

the_nile on July 30, 2011 at 10:13 AM

Ottoman Empire revitalized?

Naaaaah, try Caliphate and jockeying to see who leads it?

PappyD61 on July 30, 2011 at 9:18 AM

The Ottoman Empire was “the Caliphate,” in the centuries from the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453 to the establishment of modern Turkey under Mustapha Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s.

The sultan was known as “Allah’s Shadow on Earth.” Most of the iconography of the modern Islamist movement traces to the Ottoman caliphate.

Neo-Ottomanism is neo-caliphatism.

J.E. Dyer on July 30, 2011 at 10:21 AM

“Perhaps the mass resignation is the last whimper of Kemalist secularism. That seems the most realistic assessment. Only time will tell. “

Looks more like a strike than a “last whimper”, something out of Atlas Shrugged — letting the Turks know that if they go Sharia, they’ll go without people like them.

elfman on July 30, 2011 at 10:47 AM

The Caliphate will be reinsituted, due to the weakness of West and it’s “post Christian” culture – it’s ripe for conquest.

The only question – who will lead in the new Caliphate: Iran, Egypt, or the former leader Turkey?

Dying Europe is a rich prize, the jackals will fight hard to be the one to pick it’s bones clean.

Rebar on July 30, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Ataturk, if he was alive today, would have had Erdogan and the AK party hanging from light standards a long time ago. Due to American leaderships absolute ignorance of history, they gave Erdogan all the tips and help he needed to undermine and weaken the militaries role as democratic watchdogs. Erdogan whispered to his American friends that Turkish democracy was in danger of military coups. He didn’t tell America that this was their prime role, to keep Turkey from falling back fully into the poison of Islamic control. America never bothered to look into the Armies role as designed by Ataturk(probably handed it off to some Muslim aid to investigate who came back and told less than the truth). So now you have the Army leadership resigning and Allah is pleased. Some interesting times to live through coming.

[email protected] on July 30, 2011 at 11:36 AM

Rebar on July 30, 2011 at 11:27 AM


Where do you think the AKP got the ‘start-up’ money they needed to become the dominant political party?

They organized the Turks in middle and eastern part of the country (the more ‘backward’ and religious portions) to out-number the more secular Turks (that live in the western parts of the state).

The Turkish military missed it’s opportunity to put Erdogan and AKP down from the get-go. These resignations will probably amount to nothing since there more than enough replacements who’ll ‘toe the party line’…and the chance for ‘greater power’.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better (if ever).

And BTW, they still want access (re-‘sale’) of F35’s.

And Erdogan is also ‘warming up’ to the PRC (and Iran) as fast as he can.

‘Party time for the EU (and us) is over.

Unless somebody kicks the keystone out of place.


Good luck with that.

CPT. Charles on July 30, 2011 at 11:51 AM

The nature of Erdogan’s Islamism is not easy to decipher. His popularity is partly based on delivering a more prosperous economy as much as the religious factor. Whatever the Islamic nature of the regime Turkey and Iran will not be natural bedfellows, especially if Erdogan pursues a neo Ottoman foreign policy.

Remember that in the long run ideological/religious similarities usually play second fiddle to national/economic interests. There has rarely been a Muslim hegemony, Catholic Spain and Catholic France were ever deadly 16th/17th century rivals, China and Russia played against each other while publicly lauding Karl Marx…..Turkey can always be a useful counter weight to Iran.

What we are seeing is, perhaps, a revival of 19th century Great game diplomacy where 6/7 powers are constantly forming and reforming temporary alliances.

callingallcomets on July 30, 2011 at 12:07 PM

The caliphate is being reborn and the only question is will the Caliph be Egyptian, Turkish or Iranian. He who takes out the ‘Little Satan’ will probably get the gold plated turban.

Annar on July 30, 2011 at 12:10 PM

I know their flotilla to break Israel’s blockade was a bust.

Dr Evil on July 30, 2011 at 12:25 PM

Obviously we should invade Turkey. It’ll be over in decades, not centuries.

Bugler on July 30, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Perhaps the mass resignation is the last whimper of Kemalist secularism. That seems the most realistic assessment.

Oh, great.

Dr. ZhivBlago on July 30, 2011 at 2:46 PM

Does anyone in the board really think that things are going to improve in Turkey or anywhere in the Middle East, please speak and make your case.

SC.Charlie on July 30, 2011 at 3:06 PM

Turk generals resigning instead of staging another coup is a loss for the West.

curved space on July 30, 2011 at 3:43 PM

Relax, it’s all part of Obama’s Smart Diplomacy™.

We’re in the very best of hands – they say so themselves.

Adjoran on July 30, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Bah, I wouldn’t bury the secularist military yet. Lots of cash is wrapped up along the Aegean and Troy’s women aren’t going to be Burka-upped easily.

Limerick on July 30, 2011 at 4:15 PM

Ottoman Spring!

profitsbeard on July 30, 2011 at 5:00 PM

It looks like the generals waited too long. Maybe the sergeants will lead the coup to preserve the Turkish Republic.

Slowburn on July 31, 2011 at 3:58 AM