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Why the Turkish military obeys Erdogan?

Turkey Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar
Turkey Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar

For more than six years, Erdogan has been wreaking havoc in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In this, Turkey has been using Islamist terrorist organizations and non-state actors, which Turkey and Qatar co-sponsor, to threaten the well-being of the national states in the region, with the purpose to build an Islamic Caliphate system and recapture the legacies of the historical Ottoman occupation of MENA. The mercenaries positioned by Erdogan on the ground in Syria, Iraq, and Libya are commanded by the Turkish military.

Why the international community is turning a deaf ear to Erdogan’s atrocities in the Middle East and North Africa is not the interesting question, any more. The real question is why the secular Turkish military is obeying the Islamist Erdogan in his quest for establishing an Islamic Caliphate over the ruins of secular national states in the region. One of the ideologies, dearly embraced by the Turkish military, is being “guardians of secularism” and “defenders of Kemalism.” The former Turkish President, Süleyman Demirel, once said: “in Turkey, God first created the military. Then he realized his mistake, and created the Turkish people as an afterthought.” Why did the Turkish military lose its status and pride to a president from the Muslim Brotherhood?

The Turkish military is sacrificing its best soldiers and equipment to accomplish Erdogan’s Islamist agenda, not only abroad, but also inside Turkey. In early July, the Turkish Minister of Defense visited Al-Watiya city in Libya and ordered the building of an airbase there. A few days later, airstrikes by the Libyan National Army (and, allegedly, its regional allies) targeted the Turkish airbase, leaving three radars completely destroyed and six Turkish military personnel killed, including a reputable field commander. Other two Turkish officers were also killed, in February, during a previous assault on Libya.

Some observers argue that the failed coup attempt against Erdogan, in 2016, and the consequent purging of top military leaders has weakened the military joints and disintegrated its structure, and thus the mighty Turkish military crumbled under Erdogan’s wings. This argument was enhanced by a report, released in 2017, by European Union’s Intelligence and Situation Center (INTCEN). The report finds that Erdogan had planned the purge of Kemalist and secular military officers, long before the 2016 coup attempt. The report argues that the coup attempt was meant to pre-empt the pre-planned purge. In other words, the purge was not a vengeful act by Erdogan against the plotters of the failed coup, but the purge was the real reason why the military leaders attempted a coup, at that time.

Yet, the glorious history and the comprehensive belief system of the Turkish military tells us that the current submission and obedience the military is showing towards the Islamist regime of Erdogan is voluntary and will not last for long. The ongoing bleeding of military personnel and equipment in quest for Erdogan’s illegal ambitions in MENA has already exhausted the military and stirred resentment among officers and commanders of all ranks. In January 2020, RAND Corporation, an American think tank, published a report titled “Turkey’s National Course: Implications for the US-Turkish Strategic Partnership and the US Army.” The report notes that there is a strong discontent against Erdogan inside the Turkish military that may lead to another coup attempt in the future.

Nevertheless, the strong grip imposed by Erdogan over state institutions, including the military, after the failed coup in 2016, is not the only reason why the Turkish military is not willing to challenge Erdogan or launch a coup d’état. In fact, this can hardly be considered as a logical reason to justify military’s obedience to Erdogan's Islamist agenda. If the military commanders are willing to challenge or plan a coup against Erdogan, now is the perfect time to do so. The military would not have tolerated Erdogan's dominance over decision-making in their powerful institution, unless for a strategic goal. The Turkish military is not forced to obey Erdogan; the military commanders are voluntarily following Erdogan’s orders to maintain their own legitimacy inside Turkey and preserve their image in the eyes of the international community.

On the domestic level, the Turkish people have strong negative feelings towards military coups, because of their constant occurrence in the past. That is why the secular political opposition may not endorse the military to launch another coup against Erdogan, to get rid of his authoritarian regime. It is not possible; due to the way the collective conscious of the citizens perceive the role of the military within the state. Should the military launch a coup that succeeds in overthrowing Erdogan, the political and economic aftermath will be too overwhelming for the military to handle. In addition, such a move will expose Turkey to unbearable security threats, given its lengthy incubation of Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists inside Turkey and in northern Syria. By willingly obeying Erdogan, the Turkish military leaders are strategically doing what they believe is in the best interest of the Turkish people; that is preserving the well-being of the state and deterring terrorist threats.

Another dimension has to do with the international position and the foreign relationships enjoyed by the Turkish military. The current Minister of Defense, Hulusi Akar, despite being an Erdogan loyalist, is highly respected and widely admired by both military and political leaders in the United States and Europe. He is often contacted by world leaders to discuss issues related to Turkey's foreign policy in the Middle East; even more than they contact Erdogan. The Turkish military is the second largest standing military force in NATO, after the United States. The civilian control of armed forces is a doctrine highly respected and strictly applied by NATO member states. Out of commitment to this principle, the secular Turkish military is voluntarily obeying the Muslim Brotherhood’s Erdogan in pursuing his Islamist agenda, even if they disagree with it.

It is pretty unlikely that the Turkish military is going to orchestrate another coup attempt against Erdogan or stop commanding his mercenaries while committing illegal destructive assaults on MENA countries. However, the collapsing economy and the long record of political failures of Erdogan and his AKP, over the past few years, portends that his end in power is approaching. If a popular revolution against Erdogan does not erupt in the next months, the Turkish people will vote him out in 2023 elections. Erdogan’s end is much closer than we think and it does not need a coup d’état to happen.


Hulusi Akar - Erdogan - Turkey - Turkish military - Libya - Syria - Mercenaries -NATO - Dalia Ziada -