Position of the military
The military has long been regarded as a stabilizer and guarantor of order, security and compliance with the state’s principle of secularism. It was socially recognized, especially in times of political instability, changing governments and party political disputes, in the eyes of the population it was considered an institution of trust.
The close connection between the military and the state apparatus was created on the one hand by Ataturk, who himself came from the military elite. But also the founding myth of the state, the military liberation from foreign powers, made the undisputed position in the state possible. In the Ottoman Empire, the military was the engine of modernization and reform.
In the past 90 years, the military has proven itself to be the guardian of the constitution several times, staged three coups and then returned power. Even in 1997 it was still so strong that a “memorandum” on the company’s own website relating to the religious-fundamental governing party, Fazilet-Partisi, was seen as a threat of a coup and was subsequently subjected to a ban procedure.
Reputation and influence have declined since 2005, also evident in the unsuccessful attempt to prevent Abdullah Gül from being elected president in 2007 and to deliver the ruling party to a ban procedure (2008). When the General Staff threatened to resign in September 2008 in protest at the arrest of a large number of military leaders in the course of the Ergenekon proceedings, Erdogan accepted the offer and re-appointed the body within a week.
How the declining influence of the military is to be assessed depends on the perspective. For the national forces (CHP, MHP) it is further evidence that Erdogan and his AKP want to increase religious influence at the expense of secularism. They see in this an attack and a weakening of the state nation and one of its supporting pillars. For the others, the military’s lack of democratic legitimation is reason enough to reduce its power. The reforms should also be seen in close connection with the standards set by the EU, according to which the military should have limited and controlled influence on state action and should therefore be seen as a positive sign of democratization.
A new chapter in the difficult relationship between politics and the military was written in July 2016 when news of a 4th military coup aimed at overthrowing the AKP government broke. More than 250 people lost their lives as members of the armed forces occupied strategic positions in the country and broadcast their message of the military takeover on television. However, the experiment was ended that same night. The putschists are supposed to go to Gülen-Camp are close, which is said to have infiltrated all institutions for 40 years and oppose Erdogan and the AKP. In the course of the events there were mass arrests and dismissals within the armed forces and other state institutions such as the education sector. Fethullah Gülen, the movement’s founder, denies the connection between his organization HIZMET and the coup. Coup rumors were already circulating beforehand.
According to estatelearning, military service plays a major role in societal identification with the state and is seen as a socialization authority. National ideas are conveyed in the barracks, the soldiers are affectionately called “Mehmetcik”. The army was never involved in major international crises. The enemy is seen more from within: separatist aspirations in the Kurdish areas of the southeast. The completion of military service is, depending on the class and region, an initiation rite and maturity instrument, a prerequisite for marriage or a professional start. Refusals are met with little understanding. There is no legal basis for circumventing the service of the weapon, free purchases are possible under certain circumstances.
Religion versus laicism
By virtue of its constitution, Turkey is a secular state. Politics, the military, the judiciary, the administration and the secular educated elite upheld the pillars of the Turkish nation. The fact that 99% of Turks were religious and wanted to practice religion remained outside the political discussion for a long time.
In the 1970’s there was the first attempt at a synthesis between Islam and national consciousness (Türk-Islam-Sentezi), initiated against the background of the bloody disputes between left and right groups. At the end of the 1980’s, this perspective lost its popularity, but remained in line with the ideas of ultra-nationalist groups.
With Necmettin Erbakan, political Islam also entered the public stage in the 1970’s. With the establishment of the Milli Görus movement (national view), the attempt began to establish religion as a world order. The parties he founded (Milli Nizam Partisi, Milli Selamet Partisi, Refah Partisi, Fazilet Partisi) found themselves exposed to a ban on several occasions because they contradicted official state doctrine. He himself was involved in government coalitions several times and was even prime minister from 1996-1997. In 2001 the Saadet Partisi (Party of Happiness) was founded as the successor of the Fazilet Partisi. The current ruling AKP emerged from a reform wing and has split off ideologically from the mother party Saadet Partisi. She advocates a conservative religious policy, not an Islamist. This makes it the opponent of the CHP, which sees itself as the guardian of the republic and its principles.
The formation of religious and secular camps is currently dividing state and society. Political action seems to be aimed at harming the political opponent, increasing power and influence, and drawing the public to your side. The press plays a reinforcing role here. She too belongs to one or the other political group and bases her reporting on it. At the same time, however, she is also exposed to the risk of being handed over to legal proceedings if reporting is unpleasant.
The division of society into two parts has reached an unprecedented level: sticking to the rigid positions has a lot to do with the founding myth, which sees religion as a private matter in the sense that the state decides when and to what extent religion publicly becomes. In the understanding of the determining secularism, individual religious practice is permitted, but religion must not be visible as a collective or as an individual as a representative (freedom from religion).
The AKP, however, takes the position of passive secularism (freedom of religion), which states that the state must maintain neutrality towards any form of religious practice as long as this is not aimed at shaping public order. Thus, the state is secular, not the individual – the resulting demand demands the right to full individual and public religious freedom without questioning the secular character of the state.
In addition to power, status and ideology, there are also fears of a creeping Islamization of Turkey. Secular elites and urban intellectuals ensure that just because of the conservative traditionalism of the masses, everyday religious practice can assume a dominant role and deviant behavior is increasingly stigmatized without changing the constitutional principle.