ANKARA – The exposure of the plan hatched by senior military officials – called “Operation Sledgehammer” – to destabilize Turkey’s government, and the subsequent arrest of high-ranking officers, demonstrates the growing strength of Turkey’s democracy. Moreover, prosecutors’ efforts to uncover the truth are not a campaign to discredit the Turkish army, as some allege; nor has the exposure of “Sledgehammer” led to an emerging showdown between “secularists” and “Islamists.”
Turkish society and politics are too complicated to be reduced to such simplistic formulae. Nevertheless, this is a very serious moment for Turkey, because it may mark the country’s transit from decades of military tutelage of its civilian politicians – and thus complete its transition to full-fledged democracy.
“Sledgehammer” is, sad to say, yet another alleged coup plot in a series of attempts to topple the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which was first elected in 2002. According to the Turkish constitution, it is illegal for any agency, even the military, to try to overthrow a democratically elected government. Had such a coup attempt taken place, much less succeeded, it also would have put an end to Turkey’s aspirations to become a full member of the European Union.
Indeed, the EU’s progress reports on Turkey have consistently raised the issue of the military’s disproportionate power in Turkish politics, and the fact that some officers do not seem to accept that they are subject to civilian control. The three military coups Turkey endured in 1960, 1971, and 1980 brought neither prosperity nor stability to the country. The “soft coup” of 1997, whereby a democratically elected government was forced by the military to resign, left deep scars in Turkish society. Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Turks respect the army only when it stays within its barracks.