Erdogan starts purges in preparation for war

The arrest of two Turkish generals and a colonel on Saturday, the 28th of November, for intercepting Syria-bound trucks that belonged to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), is demonstrative of the internal divisions within the Turkish establishment. The Kemalist army distances itself from Erdogan’s and Davutoglu's neo-Ottomanism, which is plagued with Islamist leadership.

The issue at hand

In January 2014, Turkish Gendarmerie Major-General Ibrahim Aydin, former Gendarmerie Brigadier-General Hamza Celepoglu, and former Gendarmerie Criminal Laboratory Head Colonel Burhanettin Cihangiroglu, ordered a halt to the columns of trucks leading to Syria. They received information that the trucks were illegally carrying weapons to militants in Syria. Then it was revealed that the trucks belonged to the Turkish Intelligence Service – MIT.

These actions by military officials provoked a wave of indignation among Turkish officials, including President Recep Teyyip Erdogan, who was Prime Minister back then, and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, then the country's foreign minister. They said the Syria-bound trucks were carrying "humanitarian aid" to Turkmens in Syria.

After the new Russian-Turkish crisis started on the 26th of November, Erdogan curbed criticisms that the trucks were filled with weapons, and declared that the cargo was destined for Free Syrian Army.

The arrest of military figures, that were accused of espionage and treason, followed the  confessions and arrests of journalists who  previously revealed Erdogan’s oil trade with ISIS.

The political position of Turkish military forces

The Turkish army is a stronghold of secular nationalism and Kemalist ideology and one of the main opponents of Erdogan’s Islamist policies. Traditionally, it has had an official right to control political life in the country, securing the secular and nationalist foundations of the Turkish state. 

When Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AKP) came into power in 2002, it started  the “war” against the army, which has now been uncovered.  After the Constitutional referendum of 2010 that was initiated by Erdogan, the role of army in the political sphere was effectively diminished. 

Before that, in 2007, the Turkish authorities initiated the 'Ergenekon' trial against the prominent military and security officers and leaders of secularist opposition. They were charged with the crime of conspiring to launch a military coup.

The leaders of this were also accused for having strong ties with Russian continantalist circles. So in his internal quarrel with the military, Erdogan showed his inclinations toward Atlanticism.


The new repression against the military started not immediately after the incident, but after the new confrontation with Putin’s Russia. Erdogan’s Turkey demonstrates its interest in Syria.  The Turkish head of state previously declared that its army can occupy northern Syria.  The Turkish army is concentrating near the Syrian-Turkish border. The tensions near the border are increasing after Turkey shelled Syrian territory. Turkey is likely to prepare a military invasion of Syria.

Turkey is preparing for war. In these circumstances, the Turkish leadership is going to concentrate power and suppress the opposition. The crucial issue is to liquidate any possible opposition within the army and security forces where many  are skeptical of the neo-Ottoman course.

It is most probable that on the eve of the war, arrests of opponents of Erdogan's political path - including the military, journalists, and politicians - will continue.  This endeavor will show Erdogan’s willingness to act aggressively.