ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s parliament has amended an internal armed forces’ regulation long relied on by the country’s once-powerful generals as grounds for intervening in politics, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported Saturday, in a move that further strips the military of its political influence.
The military has wielded huge political power in the country, overthrowing four governments between 1960 and 1997 and issuing a warning against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government as recently as 2007.
The generals have in the past pointed to an internal military regulation that stipulated the army’s duty as watching over and protecting the Turkish republic, to justify army takeovers or stepping in whenever they felt uneasy over civilian leaders’ policies.
In a midnight vote Friday, legislators voted to redefine the military’s duty as: “defending the Turkish homeland against external threats and dangers, and maintaining and strengthening military powers to ensure deterrence.”
They also emphasized the Turkish army’s role in international peacekeeping missions, saying its tasks also included taking up any overseas duty assigned by parliament and helping secure international peace.
Erdogan’s party proposed the amendment to strip the military of any legal basis for intervention in domestic affairs following a spate of anti-government protests in June, which the prime minister has blamed on a conspiracy against his democratically-elected government. The protesters were airing discontent with what opponents have said is Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style of governing and moves to impose his conservative and religious views on society.
The vote also comes at a time when Turkey has spoken out against the Egyptian military’s overthrow of the country’s Islamist leader, Mohammed Morsi, with whom Erdogan had formed an alliance.
“This is an important legal reform that ends any legal justification for staging coups,” Lale Kemal, an expert on military affairs and columnist for Today’s Zaman newspaper, said of the amendment.
However, further reforms were needed to assert full civilian control over the military, including placing the armed forces under the defense ministry’s subordination and opening up military spending to greater civilian scrutiny, Kemal said.
Since coming to power in 2003, Erdogan has reduced the general’s powers through reforms driven by Turkey’s ambition to join the European Union, including for example, reducing the influence of a national security council where the generals usually imposed their will on the government. A series of trials against hundreds of military officers, including top army commanders, accused of alleged anti-government plots, have furthered impeded the military’s ability to intervene.
The opposition Republican People’s Party, long associated with Turkey’s pro-military secular guard, also voted in favor of amending the regulation in a show of support to democracy.
“As of now, I hope Turkey will no longer speak of coups and will develop its democracy,” said Republican party legislator Sezgin Tanrikulu, who branded the military regulation as a “dirty and bloody” excuse for military intervention.
The two surviving leaders of the country’s 1980 military coup, Kenan Evren and Tahsin Sahinkaya, are currently on trial for overthrowing a government and have cited the internal military regulation in their defense. The 1980 takeover stopped deadly fighting between political extremists, but also led to a wave of executions and torture.
“Our country has a tradition of coups,” Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz told parliament, speaking in favor of the amendment. “And the true victim of the coups has always been the people.”
The military has long regarded itself as the protector of Turkey’s secular traditions, imposed by the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was a former army officer.
As the second-largest army in NATO, the Turkish military is involved in the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan, though it is not directly involved in combat. It has also fought Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey until earlier this year, when the Turkey and the rebels started talks in a bid to end a nearly 30-year old conflict.