RETIRED GEN. KURAT ATILGAN: POLITICS IS NOT DONE IN UNIFORM
Sept 10 2008
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Adana deputy retired Gen. KurÅ~_at
AtÄ±lgan, who recalls that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk called on those eager
to engage in politics to remove their uniforms, says: "Politics is
not done with uniforms on. Those who want to get involved in politics
need to take the uniforms off first."
AtÄ±lgan, who became involved in politics after his retirement in 2006,
explains that new world orders were previously set only after total
world wars, but that this time world powers were seeking a new order
without war. Stressing that the recent Russian-Georgian war and the
ongoing tension in the Caucasus were the birth pangs associated with
the transition to a new world order, AtÄ±lgan says Georgia will lose
its arms and legs in this process.
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, AtÄ±lgan explains that Russia cannot become
a global power like the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
Newly appointed Chief of General Staff Gen. Ä°lker BaÅ~_bug made harsh
statements in his early days in his new post. Republican People’s
Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal has asserted that generals talk all
the time but take no action. How do you see these statements?
It is obvious that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is uncomfortable with
remarks implying that it interferes with domestic politics. The TSK has
taken care not to interfere with domestic politics since the 1980 coup,
and it will continue to do so. It is not right to bring the army into
discussions of domestic politics. If the army develops an interest
in domestic politics, it loses its strength and dignity. Politicians
should stay away from the idea that the army should interfere with
politics. The TSK is a unique army in the world. We can survive in
this difficult geography only with a strong army. If political actors,
failing to perform their duties, were to relegate their jobs to the
army, they would actually do damage to it.
Despite the care taken, there was the Feb. 28, 1997 process and
e-memorandums were issued. It seems that the army learned a lesson
while it changed the arguments for intervention.
It is now time for both the civilians and the army to agree on two
basic principles. First, democracy needs to be preserved and its
standards need to be elevated. Second, Parliament’s strength needs to
be protected. These two principles should never be violated. Otherwise,
we will encounter difficulties in the international arena. The
greatest favor that those who are concerned about Turkey’s future can
do is protect democracy and Parliament’s dignity and integrity. This
country will make no progress with tensions. We, as a nation that
lost an empire because of tensions, need to learn lessons from this.
Do you thing that the military feels it has to interfere because of
the void in politics?
Nature does not tolerate a void. But voids in politics need to be
filled with another form of political power. If a void appears in
politics, another political movement or actor needs to be able to
resolve the problem. To do this, we have to sustain democracy under
Could you confidently say that the military is not eager for
involvement in politics?
The military includes actors eager to interfere with politics, but
also figures not interested in political activities at all. But this is
the principle: Those who are eager to engage in politics need to take
their uniforms off. I did not set this rule; Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
did. He told his friends eager to get involved in politics to remove
their uniforms, recalling that both jobs cannot be done at the same
time. Nobody should attempt to engage in politics with their uniforms
on. If you say that you know the world balances well and are concerned
about the future of the country, you have to take your uniform off and
engage in politics. You cannot say, "I will keep my uniform and engage
in politics." An army involved in politics will lose 50 percent of
its strength. This is the reason the Turkish army lost the Balkan Wars.
Does not the fact that military coups are still discussed in Turkey
imply a flaw in our democracy?
Yes, it does. The Turkish army’s interference in politics is less
than the interference by the Greek army. What happens in our country
is the interruption of democracy. In essence, the army has full
faith and confidence in democracy; but in some periods where the
army concludes that the political mechanism is unable to resolve
the country’s problems, it interferes with politics. In other words,
they had to interfere. But it should be recalled that the army never
considered staying in power permanently. In many countries, the
military remains in power forever. This is not the case in our country.
Do you think there will be any actual interventions by the military
Turkey’s current mechanisms make a military administration
impossible. As long as you remain committed to human rights, democracy,
the parliamentary system and free market rules, you may be able to
take your country to a brighter future, wealth and the category of
modern countries. Every reasonable individual knows this. Both the
military and the civilians know this. Those who love this country
need to consider this principle constantly. You cannot take your
place in the modern world with an interrupted democracy. Considering
that democracy is reinstituted after every coup, the utmost attention
should be paid to ensure that democracy is not interrupted.
What do you think about allegations in regard to the AyÄ±Å~_Ä±gÄ± and
SarÄ±kÄ±z coup journals, which detailed coups that were apparently
planned during the period you were still on active duty?
Everybody knows what the remarks by former Chief of General Staff
Gen. Hilmi OzkÃ¶k on the coup journals, "I cannot say they are true
or false," mean. If he confirms they are true, army commanders
will be tried. If he says they are false, he will be embarrassed
when the allegations are proven. The process in regard to the coup
journals will continue. But the question is how long? Things will
happen when OzkÃ¶k confirms that the allegations are true. These
generals will have to be tried before a court. Besides, the trials
cannot be held in civilian courts because the generals have to be
heard in military courts. The indictment in regard to the generals
has to be prepared by the Office of the Military Prosecutor at the
General Staff. This implies that the former Chief of General Staff
is hesitant to explicitly admit the accuracy of the allegations. In
this case, if the military prosecutor initiates an investigation in
relation to the allegations, the truth will become evident. But an
investigation has not been opened. The general who served in that
period is implying that he would be accused of engaging in politics
if he confirmed the allegations, and of protecting his friends if he
said they were false. What the remarks from OzkÃ¶k mean is obvious. It
is wrong to expect more. Everybody should do their job.
What do you think about the developments in the Caucasus following
the Russian-Georgian War?
The world has previously transitioned to new orders only after total
world wars. This has always been the case. The cost of transitioning
to a new order has been grave. Millions lost their lives. Order has
been established after two world wars. The US was not on the global
stage until World War I. It returned to its domestic affairs after
the war. But it did not do the same after World War II; instead,
it became a global actor. For the first time, the world is trying
to move to a new order without wars. These are the last pangs before
birth. The pangs will be felt until 2010-2012.
What will happen in the new world order?
During the transition to the new world order, some countries, formerly
aligned with Russia, took a place in the Western world. All former
Yugoslavian republics but Serbia joined the Western bloc. Ukraine
and Georgia were given hope for NATO membership. Georgia has internal
problems. It will also take a place in the Western bloc; but it will
lose its arms and legs.
So there will be significant changes in the Caucasus.
This is inevitable. The Caucasus is a region with a complicated ethnic
structure. There are many races related to Turks. The revenge for the
split of Yugoslavia will be taken in the Caucasus. The recognition
of South Ossetia by Russia will have a domino effect. I do not know
how Russia will explain this malicious action. Russia is seeking to
create law relying on power and coercion. In the Caucasus region,
Georgia and Azerbaijan took their places in the Western bloc. Armenia
will remain aligned with Russia. Even though the Armenian diaspora
is eager to bring the country to the Western bloc, it is difficult
to integrate Armenia with the West. It will never be able to align
itself with the West.
What do you think about the Turkic republics?
With the exception of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, the Turkic republics
aligned themselves with the Shangai Five project. They have remained
as such. Turkmenistan will become the energy and finance center of
Central Asia following the Swiss model. Pakistan and India will also
stay in the Shanghai project. Despite the fact that it is one of the
key countries in the region, Iran will remain outside this project by
playing its role well. Iran is reluctant to move to a pact. It looks
for benefits from the balance formed in the presence of pacts. It
will do so again.
Will the chess game in the Caucasus change the balances in the
That the Montreux Convention was opened to discussion shows that there
are intentions to change the balance in Black Sea. Montreux considered
the security of the countries adjacent to the Black Sea while it gave
sovereignty over the straits to Turkey. The Black Sea has become a
sea of peace and stability owing to this convention. For this reason,
Turkey never held any land, aerial or naval force ready in the Black
Sea during the Cold War era because, there was no military threat. So,
Montreux needs to be kept as it is.
It seems that some actors are uncomfortable with the Montreux
The US wants to keep a greater force in Black Sea; but that does not
seem possible. There is already a balance of power that will not allow
any violation of the peace in the Black Sea. The ambition of the US
to have more military power in the Black Sea can be attributed to
its desire to be present in the Caucasus and the region hosting the
But this desire does not serve Turkey’s interests. A policy that
will agitate Russia is not in the best interests of Turkey. Russia is
an important economic partner for Turkey. We are fully dependent on
Russia in energy issues. Besides, Russia is our neighbor. A country
with poor ties with its neighbors cannot preserve its strength. For
this reason, in the decisions in regard to Black Sea, we have to
consider the sensitivities of Russia rather than the US. This does
not necessarily mean that Turkey needs to leave the Western bloc.
Will the new order in the Caucasus enable Russia to secure its
Natural borders are determined by the nation itself. Nation states
were formed after the collapse of the empires. But Russia is the
only empire that did not collapse after World War I. Russia turned
into the Soviet Union without facing a collapse with the October
Revolution. However, Russia began dissolving in 1990. Twenty nations
gained independence from that empire. But the process is not complete
yet. So others will join these 20. Now this process has been triggered
in the Caucasus. New states and mini-states will emerge in this region.
The empires collapsed in their weakest times; but Russia enjoys an
abundance of oil funds. It looks pretty strong.
Russia benefited most from the increased oil prices. The Russian
budget was assessed based on these figures. What would happen to
Russia if oil prices went down to $60 or $70? Russian people are
still suffering from poverty. Qualified consumers keep economies and
countries alive and vibrant. There are 200 million qualified consumers
in the US, which has a total population of 250 million. The number
of qualified consumers does not reach 50 million in China, with a
population of over 1 billion. The profits Russia obtained from oil
can be compared to portfolio investments. If the countries enter a
process of underdevelopment, it will not be possible to recover the
losses in two decades. Russia is underdeveloped. It cannot compensate
for this in two decades. It is not possible for Russia to become as
strong as it was during the Cold War in a short time.
Still, it defies the world.
The Euro-Atlantic alliance is the fundamental element of the new
world order. Russia was pushed aside. NATO contained it. This last
action says: "Pay attention to me; do not push me around. Otherwise,
I will hurt you." It is an aggression stemming from despair.
But they do not look so desperate.
Will the Russian Federation survive as a significantly weakened
entity or a stronger actor? We will see this shortly. Natural
borders cannot be achieved by relying on coercion to annex the former
components. Russia is acting with old habits. Like the old days, it
seeks to create a union based on invasion and coercion. In today’s
world, unions are formed through democratic means and recognition of
mutual interests. Russia is not aware of this.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress