One aspect of the current situation with the recent attack on the Turkish boat attempting to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza is the role that Turkey's military plays in Turkish politics. Historically, Turkey is a secular country, often militantly so. In the past whenever governments have become 'too religious’ the military has staged a coup. As recently as February of this year, a group of Turkish Military Commanders were arrested for plotting to overthrow the government
ANKARA, Turkey: Once they were untouchable. Some were members of Turkey's elite military class known as ‘pashas’ a title of respect harking back to Ottoman times. For decades Turkey's senior officers, self-appointed guardians of the country's secular tradition, called the shots. Monday, the balance of power in this EU candidate appeared to have undergone a major shift. Turkish police detained 52 military commanders for allegedly planning to blow up mosques in order to trigger a military takeover and overthrow the Islamic-oriented government. The detentions showed that the elected government is trying to take the upper hand against the military, which has ousted four governments since 1960 and held influence since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk created the secular republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire….
…Conflict over Turkey's national identity has simmered since Ataturk, an army officer in World War I, founded the republic and abolished the Caliphate. He gave the vote to women, restricted Islamic dress and replaced the Arabic script with the Roman alphabet, but Islam remains a potent force.
Since taking power in 2002, Erdogan's Islamic-rooted party has repeatedly denied that it is trying to impose religion on politics and society. However, secularists view its attempts to permit Islamic style head scarves at universities and a past push to criminalize adultery as alarming.
The military's self-declared mission to protect the secular regime has pitted it in a bitter fight with Erdogan's government. His July 2007 re-election with 46.6 percent of the votes buoyed the pragmatic leader to investigate people accused of secret military plots, when the first of a series surfaced in 2008.
So far, prosecutors have jailed more than 400 people, including soldiers, academics, journalists and politicians. No one has yet been convicted.
In 2008, Turkey's top court narrowly voted against disbanding Erdogan's ruling party over accusations it is plotting to impose Islamic rule, but in a warning the judges cut off millions of dollars in state aid to the ruling Justice and Development Party.
Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Institute in Ankara, said that despite the arrests, military influence is not likely to disappear.
"It is not the military that makes itself important, it is the present state of the country," Ozcan told the AP. "As long there is no consolidation of democracy, the military will remain a main power in Turkey."
So despite the cancellation of two joint military training missions between Turkey and Israel (which was a decision of the government, not necessarily the military), and Turkey’s recent uranium swap agreement with Iran (which may help Iran avoid further sanctions) is the Turkish government turning away from its traditional Western, secularist stance or is this just Turkey coming into its own as a democratic nation?
And where does the Turkish military stand on this? Are they going to tolerate a greater relationship with the Arab nations including those with fundamentalist Islamic governments or will they once again overthrow a legitimately elected government?
Having just returned from Turkey a week ago, this has been much on my mind.