Turkish military rebukes Islamic-led government Extraordinary warning urges leaders to adhere to secular democracy


ANKARA, Turkey -- Angered by what it views as efforts to impose a form of religious fundamentalism in Turkey, the military command here has issued a sharp reprimand to the Islamic-led government.

Tension between military commanders and the government has grown steadily in recent weeks, and it surfaced at a meeting Friday of the National Security Council, which is composed of senior military and civilian leaders.

As is customary, participants in the meeting made no comments as they left, and no details of the discussion were made public. But the terse communique that was released yesterday constituted an extraordinary public warning by the military to Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's government.

The communique said the National Security Council had decided that "no steps away from the contemporary values of the Turkish Republic" would be tolerated.

"It has been decided that destructive and separatist groups are seeking to weaken our democracy and legal system by blurring the distinction between the secular and the anti-secular," it said. "It has been decided that in Turkey, secularism is not only a form of government but a way of life and the guarantee of democracy and social peace."

The meetings normally last about three hours, but this one began in mid-afternoon and lasted until after midnight. Military commanders arrived carrying copies of a thick document, which, according to Turkish newspapers, was an intelligence report about what the army considers anti-secular activities sponsored or tolerated by the government.

Since Erbakan took office in June, his government has taken steps that, while mainly symbolic, have conflicted with Turkey's image as a bastion of secularism.

Erbakan and some of his leading advisers have encouraged young people to attend religious academies, sought to permit religious observances in government buildings and military bases, and advocated the construction of large mosques in areas of Istanbul and Ankara that are known as centers of secularism.

The meeting was held after several days of reports in the Turkish press quoting unnamed military officers expressing deep displeasure with the government.

Speculation that the military would carry out a coup, as it has done three times since 1960, has been intense.

But military commanders have given no sign that they want to stage a coup. Such a move would probably devastate Turkey's image in the world as well as force the military to govern the country, a task for which it has no apparent appetite.

"They're not doing this to prepare for a coup," said a foreign diplomat who maintains close ties to the military. "In fact, it's just the opposite. They're desperately hoping not to have to take power again. That's why they're demanding that civilian politicians put their house in order."

Erbakan and leaders of his Welfare Party say the army is overreacting to what are in fact only very marginal policy changes that pose no threat to secularism in Turkey. For example, they say, their proposal to allow female civil servants to wear Muslim head scarves is simply an effort to permit more freedom of choice.

But military officers, who view themselves as the principal guardians of Turkish secularism, see it quite differently.

At a reception last week, a well-connected colonel was asked, "Is it really the end of the world if civil servants begin wearing head scarves?"

After a pause, the colonel replied gravely: "Yes. It is the end of the world."

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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