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Turkey: Politics and the Military
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Politics and the Military


Since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, six of the nation's nine presidents have had armed forces backgrounds. Until 1950 Atatürk and his successor and closest military associate, Inönü, ruled what was an essentially a one-party political system with a strong martial flavor. Atatürk encouraged the military to abjure politics, but the armed forces intervened on three occasions -- in 1960, 1971, and 1980. Although they did so under different circumstances in each case, their justification was their sworn duty to uphold national unity and the democratic order.

The military regime of 1980-83 was the longest lasting, and represented the armed forces' most serious effort to transform traditional political behavior. The changes the regime introduced were intended to break what had become a cycle of decennial military interventions. The constitution introduced by the coup leaders in 1982, which forbade political activism in the universities and trade unions, abolished pre-existing parties, and banned political activity by pre-1980 party leaders, was the centerpiece of the military's efforts to curtail the factionalism and polarization that had stalemated the previous civilian government.

The leader of the 1980-83 junta, General Kenan Evren, remained as president after the return of civilian government, but the generals disavowed any desire for a continuing political role for the military. The public failed to respond to Evren's appeal to vote for the party favored by the generals, the Nationalist Democracy Party (Milliyetçi Demokrasi Partisi -- MDP). A new grouping of retired officers and other leading citizens, the MDP had the same interests and goals as the military regime. Although disappointed by the party's lack of success, military leaders established good working relations with the victorious Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi -- ANAP) of Turgut Özal. By promptly relinquishing control over public life, the military preserved its reputation as the ultimate protector of Turkish democratic institutions.

On two occasions, Özal prevailed when differences arose with the armed forces. In 1987, as prime minister, he overrode the military's choice of an army commander as the new chief of the General Staff, reportedly out of dissatisfaction with the conduct of the campaign against the Kurdish insurgency. In 1990, after Özal became president, the chief of staff resigned as a result of undisclosed disagreements assumed to have sprung from Özal's activist stance against Iraq's takeover of Kuwait but did not make a public issue of his difference with Özal.

Imbued with the concept that its mission is to safeguard Atatürk's heritage, the military establishment has often shown its impatience with political bickering and compromises that appear to slight Kemalist objectives. Civilian politicians indifferent to those goals or embracing other ideologies are viewed with suspicion or even as subversive. Much of the military education system is concerned with instilling the Kemalist spirit through study of the 1919-22 War of Independence, the concept of patriotism as embodied by Atatürk, and the values and principles of Kemalism, particularly the "Six Arrows" of secularism, republicanism, populism, etatism, reformism, and nationalism, as guidance for the future of the Turkish state.

A democratic system is fully accepted as the best form of government by the professional military. However, young career officers are indoctrinated with the view that the proper working of democracy demands discipline, organization, constructiveness, unity of purpose, and rejection of self-interest. Thus, the military has little tolerance of politicians whom it perceives as putting personal ambition before the good of the state or of political parties or groups acting in ways it considers to be dictated by a struggle for power and economic advantage.

From a career point of view, it is said to be unwise for an officer to express opinions that can be construed as liberal or otherwise unorthodox. The armed forces have shown particular sensitivity to the threat of radical Islamism to military order. In 1991 the general staff disclosed that in the preceding decade 357 officers and seventy-one noncommissioned officers (NCOs) had been dismissed on charges of involvement in extreme leftist or separatist (presumably Kurdish) activities. During the same period, thirty-seven officers and 188 NCOs were discharged for involvement in extreme rightist or Islamist activities.

Data as of January 1995

Last Updated: January 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Turkey was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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