Where's the Cavalry?
by Kevin Newton on 06/12/13
Residents in Istanbul woke up to calm for the first time in days, as protesters and police forces merely starred each other down rather than clash this morning. While the tension is still there, as PM Recep Erdogan is meeting with mediators (namely, pop culture fixtures in Turkey) in an attempt to quieten the embarrassing unrest, one dominant force in Turkey has yet to make an appearance, which is very telling.
The Turkish Army, the bastion of Turkishness and home of its greatest citizen, Ataturk, remains in its barracks.
The Turkish Army is quite unlike other forces throughout the region, as it has been charged by society and by tradition as the defender of the idea of Turkishness, as well as secular democracy. The closest comparison in the Middle East is Egypt's army, is a defender against external enemies (namely Israel and the West), which has been stained by its performance in the last few years with regards to its stranglehold during the Arab Spring.
But the Turkish Army is different. And that it has remained on bases instead of on the streets is very telling, although not quite specific. The army has suffered a loss in prestige as a result of being diametrically opposed to the mildly-Islamist agenda of the Justice and Development Party, the ruling party in Turkey. It has launched coups against governments viewed as too Islamist in the past, much to the relief of the Turkish people.
Yet the army has bigger things on its mind currently. To the south, a civil war rages in Syria. Turkey has suffered collateral damage as a result of this conflict, and the army must protect not only the idea of Turkishness, but also Turkish honor. The current government has done plenty of saber-rattling in the direction of Damascus, and the chance to see NATO's second-largest army increase national prestige, if not at home then certainly abroad, against an old enemy of Ankara may be worth a little unrest in Taksim Square for the Turkish generals.