İHSAN YILMAZ

The real electorate: young military officers

The only beneficial thing the recent series of crises have brought about is that every day more and more people are becoming aware of the true nature of our regime. It is a kind of democracy, but one of a kind.
It resembles more an archaic Greek democracy in which universal suffrage was an abhorrent anathema to the regime and only male elites had the right to vote. For the last 100 years, young military officers have been the real electorate of the country. Legitimacy also rests on them; everything else is merely details.

In 2003 and 2004 top generals intended to stage a military coup against a democratically elected government. One of the top officers, Özden Örnek, wrote down every minute detail about these coup attempts in his memoirs, which he kept on his personal office computer. Örnek initially denied that he wrote down all this and sued the journalist who published excerpts of these memoirs. But a forensic report confirmed that the memoirs do belong to the admiral. One detail in Adm. Örnek's memoirs is very important as it confirms my point above. These generals visited many cities throughout Turkey and spoke to many junior military officers about their coup intentions. Luckily, the electorate did not vote for the coup and the generals gave up, with only one of them, Şener Eruygur, remaining adamant about staging a coup, though so far without success.

Having also taken into account the 1908 coup, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's careful monitoring of the young officers and their intentions, the May 27, 1960 coup and the ones afterwards, we can conclude that without convincing the young military officers, one cannot stage a coup. The opposite is also true. If young military officers want a coup, the generals have to follow, at the end of the day, either by leading their juniors, as in the case of Gen. Kenan Evren and Sept. 12, 1980, or by obeying the juniors, as was the case with May 27, 1960. If you read -- a must for students of Turkey -- Gen. Celil Gürkan's memoirs on another coup -- the March 12, 1971 coup -- you will see how generals intending to stage a coup saw the young officers' support as vital.

We need to look at the issue from a positive perspective. Unlike the generals, our real electorate -- the young officers -- are more open to the outside world, to regular people, to ordinary low-ranking soldiers and to the grass roots. Thus they are influenced by discussions, socio-political realities and phenomena around them. They also have a long future, so the country's future is important to them. That is why they opposed a coup in 2003 and 2004 after a newly elected one-party government came to power. Additionally, every one is aware that the Feb. 28, 1997 coup cost Turkey about $40 billion. Thus, we are not writing and discussing political issues in vain. We have a very important audience that matters: young military officers. Directly or indirectly, what we or the democratic world have to say will reach the ears of our audience, and they will make their free choice.

It is better than nothing. Young officers may listen to the democratic world, our friends, democratic and liberal thinkers and intellectuals, the majority of citizens -- however second-class they are -- and may hopefully still oppose a coup. If it was left to the top echelons of the bureaucracy -- military and civilian -- İstanbul business tycoons and the old media elite, they would definitely vote for an urgent coup. I am sure I do not have to prove this point here as everything these old oligarchic elite do nowadays shows repeatedly that they do not care about the country's reputation in the democratic world, the well-being of the country's 70 million people, the prosperity of the country or the rule of law. They have only one worry: What happens if they start a coup and it is then opposed by the electorate -- young military officers -- or taken over by them?

Read Gen. Gürkan's memoirs. If any time is left, also peruse Gen. Evren's.

2008-06-15