Not A Nice View From Turkey

By Our Roving Correspondent in Ankara, Turkey
David Morris


Here in Turkey, a large street banner showed Israeli President Shimon Peres, bowing down to Turkey’s President Erdogan.

Meantime, 50 leading retired generals (including the ex-heads of the Navy and Air Force) were arrested and questioned in a Court in Istanbul, in connection to a reported plan to launch a military coup against President Erdogan. Today that court ordered that four admirals, an Army general and two staff colonels be jailed.

And, at a rather more mundane level, I had an interesting encounter with one of the waiters at my hotel in Ankara, when I went into the kitchen to prepare myself a kosher meal.

Turkey is in transition. Since Mustafa Kamal Ataturk’s revolutionary creation of the secular Republic of Turkey in 1923, there has probably never been such a dramatic turn of national policy as there has been here over the past few years.

In 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first Islamicist to take power in Turkey, since the exile of the Sultans. Erdogan started slowly, but since his re-election in 2007, he has grown more self confident in making strident changes in policy.

The Army has been traditionally the bastion of secularism in Turkey, and the pride of the nation. It has also taken center stage in Turkey’s political history, successfully overthrowing civilian government four times in coups since 1960. The 1960 coup resulted in the execution by hanging, of Prime Minister Andan Menderes, along with his Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Finance. So Erdogan might have cause for concern.

And the Army has every reason to consider taking over the Government; as defenders of the secular Republic. Erdogan has sidelined the Army, represented at Government level by the National Security Council, removing almost all of the Council's powers, under the 2003 "seventh reform package". This effectively has neutered the Army's political power. Which leaves the Generals few options for protecting the secularism of the Erdogan Islamist Government - except by military force.
Turkey’s friendship with Israel was important for both countries; Israel had no Moslem friends, and secular Turkey, seeking EU membership, wished to adopt Western friendly relations with the Jewish State, rather than be associated with Arab belligerency. The army in particular built strong relations with Israel’s army and with Israel’s defence industries, and considered the Israel- Turkish alliance as a strategic military asset, particularly when facing off against common enemies.

The vestiges of that relationship are still there, such as Ehud Barak’s recent visit to Ankara, ostensibly to assist in resolving issues related to delivery of the Heron Unmanned Air Vehicles from Israel Aerospace Industries to Turkey’s armed forces.

Meantime, in the kitchens at the friendly hotel I stay at in Ankara, and where I am given free rein (and have my own pots) to prepare kosher meals, I was given a customary hug by Hasan, a waiter. He then used his few words of English to tell me that “Israel bad.” He imitated shooting a machine gun. “Kill children”.

I replied “Turkish television bad”, referring to the anti-semitic TV drama series aired here, showing gruesome scenes of Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian children in cold blood. “Israel good!”.

Incidentally, the Turkish Army are similarly being attacked by Erdogan, via State television; a recent drama series caused local uproar, by showing the Turkish Army torturing prisoners.

I am not sure if the anti-Turkish Army, anti-Israeli/Semitic politicians now ruling Turkey are following the lead of the population (ie populists), or if they are simply hoisting their brand of Islamism by populist methods.

What I do know is that my erstwhile friendly waiter Hasan – suddenly has a frightening hatred in his eyes.

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