Socialist Worker

Turkey: coup plotters forced out into open

by Ron Margulies
Issue No. 2110

There is an almighty struggle going on in Turkey. It is not a struggle easily recognisable as being between workers and bosses. There are no general strikes, no pickets, no scabs. In fact, the industrial struggle is at a low ebb.

This struggle has involved bombings, court cases, declarations by the military, assassinations, plots against the government, the arrest of retired generals, the discovery of secret arms dumps and more.

It is hard to say who is on which side and who wants what. It started in earnest in 1997, when the military forced a coalition government led by the Islamic Welfare Party (WP) to resign.

The WP had been elected on a document called A Fair Order, which had nothing to say about religion, but much to say on unemployment, poverty and privatisation.

Its overthrow was followed by years of instability and weak coalition governments.

In 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a breakaway from WP, won a general election to form the first coherent majority government for 20 years.

The AKP is a conservative, staunchly neoliberal party with a very slight Islamic tint. In its six years in power, it has not passed any legislation that could be interpreted as “Islamic”.

It has implemented everything dictated to it by the IMF and Turkey’s bosses.

Yet it has also been more like a radical opposition party than a government. It has been under constant attack from the state machinery through legitimate and clandestine means.


It emerged last month that the military has prepared an “action plan” consisting of steps against the government “responsible for religious/reactionary movements”.

These plans were hatched by the military chiefs of staff in 2004 and 2005 for a takeover. They were only prevented because the chief of staff was against it.

Last year, a memorandum published on the chiefs of staff website attempted to stop the foreign minister, a leading AKP member, from being elected president of the republic. This was dubbed the “virtual coup”.

It forced an early general election. As so often when they are given the chance, the people did the exact opposite of what the military wanted. The AKP had polled 34 percent of the vote in 2002 and they were re-elected with 47 percent.

These attempts by parts of the state to cripple and overthrow the government have been accompanied by the clandestine activities of what is known in Turkey as the “deep state”.

This is the murky world of semi-amateur plotters of coups, fascist youth organisations and hit squads. They have all been brought together by retired generals.

They parade as patriotic associations out to “defend the republic”. Where the “deep” state ends and the “visible” state begins is often hard to tell.

The fight going on is now very visible. The government has started rounding up the plotters. Prominent names have been arrested, although these do not go all the way to the top.


A case is also making its way through the Constitutional Court, in which the AKP has been accused of being “the focus of anti-secular activities”.

There is no doubt that AKP will be closed down next month. This will plunge the country into political instability.

People are asking why the state mechanism is trying to overthrow a government that is a docile servant of big business and enjoys its support?

Because the AKP comes from a different tradition to the Turkish nationalists, who have run the state under the ideology of Kemalism – named after the founder of modern Turkey Kemal Ataturk – it can take steps which no other party can.

It has been willing to tackle such issues as a peaceful solution with Kurdish rebels and open discussion on the Armenian question – relating to accusations of genocide in the early 20th century.

It is also trying to resolve the ethnic division of Cyprus, challenge the role of the military in politics and liberalise a great deal of legislation.

These are all challenges to the sacred cows of Kemalism.

The AKP does this not because it is democratic or progressive. It does it because big business wants Turkey to join the European Union and these issues are a block to that.

The AKP wants to reform and liberalise the state machine and exclude the military from politics, but it cannot afford to weaken them.

It’s not in the business of abolishing the state. It just wants to bring it in line with current ruling class interests.

This vicious struggle at the top opens up great possibilities for revolutionaries. Alas, much of the left is taken in by the rhetoric of “defending the secular republic”.

The leader of the Communist Party even wrote an article titled “I am not against all coups.”

Some on the left are. And it brings us together with a large number of people who we can work with, first to defend democracy and then more.

Ron Margulies is a Turkish socialist activist

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Article information

Wed 16 Jul 2008, 18:58 BST
Issue No. 2110
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