Post-Kemal Turkey has a history of military's interference in civil matters whenever there was even the slightest symptom that the government was showing sympathy towards religion. They even hanged one of the elected prime ministers (Adnan Menderes).

But, Ergodan seemed to have good control over the military from the beginning, even before the failed coup as he came to power in 2003 as a PM and coup was staged in 2016. That is a long time given that he was an Islamist from the beginning.

How did he make that happen?

  • Divide and conquer using bribe, do it covertly. This is nothing new under the history of humanity.
    – mootmoot
    May 8, 2018 at 13:53
  • @mootmoot, if you have a theory, why don't elaborate in an answer?
    – user17569
    May 8, 2018 at 15:38
  • A simple example, make a few promotion within the military to move some out of the faction that loyal to them; favourism for some faction, etc. Just read the history of how every empire/imperialism enact tactics to break up the opposing faction, you will get the idea.
    – mootmoot
    May 8, 2018 at 17:34
  • @mootmoot, that is not an answer, but a comment.
    – user17569
    May 9, 2018 at 7:57
  • Recent political events rarely provide solid evident as answer. I will rather keep this as comment and ask anyone interested to investigate how various historical empire/kingdom deal with their military generals.
    – mootmoot
    May 9, 2018 at 8:38

2 Answers 2


The military attempted a coup - that's hardly good control over the military from the beginning. So the real question, IMO, ought to be how he pulled off resisting the coup and taking back control.

The Turkish military have a history of staging lots of coups. But they didn't do so for every president at every opportunity - only in situations when they deemed things out of control. Recollect that when Erdogan first got elected the military signaled that they wouldn't interfere with the democratic process (presumably to signal to Europe that Turkey actually is a democracy worthy of EU membership). Also, he was a "moderate" if you will - compared to the likes of the Taliban anyway.

During the coup, something happened that until now had not been seen in Turkey (or anywhere else insofar as I'm aware). The military proceeded with their usual modus operandi as they conducted their coup, and took control of institutions and the media. In the past that might have been enough to buy enough time to oust the government and put the country before a fait accompli by sunrise. But Erdogan fought back and leveraged social media to keep communicating with his base, with the latter (including elements in the military) ultimately protesting and successfully resisting the coup.

Since then there have been huge purges across all sectors of the Turkish administration.

  • 8
    Some elements in the military attempted (not staged or conducted, since it didn't succeed) a coup. The coup was put down with help from other elements in the military. While that's not comprehensive control of the military, it was good enough to prevent Erdogan from being removed from office.
    – Brythan
    May 6, 2018 at 18:40
  • I voted you down because the coup was so ineffective, it's not a good example of the military working against Erdogan. Estimated 10,000 soldiers arrested in a military of over 600,000. That's not a military coup. It was more of a generic uprising, that failed badly, which he called a military coup. Some people think Erdogan was behind it. I don't believe that but I do believe he had knowledge of it and allowed it to happen. Movements that large are easy to get spies inside. I'd bet money that he know about it before it happened and used it to his advantage.
    – userLTK
    May 9, 2018 at 16:54

I think the answer starts further back.

Some background: The modern Turkish state was founded by Kemal Ataturk out of the collapse of the Ottoman empire at the end of the First World War. His vision was that the country needed to have a strong Turkish identity distinct from its Islamic identity to create a sense of Turkish nationalism that differentiated it from its Muslim neighbours. So the Turkish state was founded as a secular state, and one of the roles of the military in that state was, as well as defending against external enemies, to defend the secular constitution. To that end, the military was considerably more autonomous than in many other countries and had a fair degree of independence from the government, precisely because part of its role was to defend the secular constitution from government encroachment, and to make sure that religion remained a matter of individual observence rather than state policy. (And the military intervened to remove governments they perceived as problematic several times in the 20th century).

Skip ahead to around 2000, and Turkey was making some reforms to try and support its bid to join the EU. The EU wants to be a club of democratic countries, and saw the repeated military 'coups' in Turkey to be a problem (rather than the military defending the secular democractic constitution). The EU demanded reforms to bring the miliary more under civilian control. The Turkish military went along with this because they supported the goal of Turkey joining the EU.

This gave the government increased control over the military in terms of finances and greated ability to remove officers for various reasons, with the net effect of increasing the proportion of officers with greater loyalty to the current government.

Some excepts from The Turkish “model” of civil–military relations by Ozan O. Varol serve to underline this.

[T]he European Union officially designated Turkey as a candidate country in 1999. Among the accession requirements to the European Union was effect­ive civilian control of the military, a major obstacle to Turkey’s integration into the EU. To advance Turkey’s candidacy to the EU, the Parliament adopted a number of constitutional amendments in 2001 that curbed the military’s role in the National Security Council. Among other things, the amendments increased the number of civilians on the Council, emphasized the Council’s advisory role, deprived the Council of its executive powers (e.g., the authority to request reports from government agencies), and replaced the Council’s military Secretary- General with a civilian leader. Pursuant to the amendments, the government would no longer give priority consideration to the Council’s views and would merely assess its recommendations. In addition, the military judges serving on the state security courts (Devlet Guvenlik Mahkemeleri)—which had jurisdiction over cases involving crimes against state security—were removed and the courts became entirely civilianized. The armed forces were also brought under the jurisdiction of the Turkish Court of Accounts (Sayistay), which is authorized to audit state departments. Turkey’s desire to become a member of the EU thus provided a major impetus for the subordination of the military to civilian leaders.

[I]n stark contrast to the weak coalition governments of the past, effect­ ive governments took ahold of power beginning in 1999. The coalition government of Bulent Ecevit, Devlet Bahceli, and Mesut Yilmaz in 1999 successfully adopted structural economic reforms and initiated a liberalization process with the goal of full membership in the European Union. But the major shift came with the ascension to power in 2002 of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi) (AKP)


Armed with a fairly strong popular mandate, AKP sought to rein in the influence of the military in Turkish politics. In addition to implementing additional measures intended to bring the military within civilian control as part of the EU accession criteria, under AKP’s reign, the military also became a target of criminal investigations and charges. Under the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer prosecutions—which allege a conspiracy to overthrow the AKP government by a coup d’état—scores of gener- als serving in the Turkish military have been imprisoned. Hundreds of retired military officers, including those that led the coups in 1980 and 1997, have also been detained. The clash between the AKP government and the military culminated in the mass resignation of Turkey’s military high command in late July 2011.

So in summary, Turkey made reforms with the implicit consent of the military that brought the military under greater civilian control and reduced its influence, with the aim of joining the European Union. This increased civilian control put in place measures that Erodgan used to gain even greater control over the military.

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