ISTANBUL – Does Ilker Basbug, the top general of the Turkish armed forces, want to modernize the army, or is he a hawk who would do anything to keep the institution as powerful as it is? Both, so it seems. He supports the investigation into military personnel supposedly linked to coup plans, but also believes that civilian judges shouldn’t try military personnel.
Basbug’s career started at the beginning of the nineteen sixties, also a time when the first of a series of coups was committed: the army took power in 1960, 1971 and 1980, and committed a so-called ‘post modern coup’ in 1997, in which the Islamic government of Prime Minister Erbakan had to step down after intense pressure from the army. Making a career in the army and at the same time speaking out against military coups was not possible in those decades.
It shaped Basbug, says Sedat Laciner, academician and director of USAK, a think tank in Ankara. ‘He sees the army as the most important institution in the country, and one which should remain free from civilian interference. That makes him incapable of modernising the army. Basbug wants democracy, but without paying any price for it.’
Basbug was in part educated abroad: he followed complementary courses at a military academy in England and at NATO. In the nineteen seventies and eighties he served two periods attached to NATO forces and was stationed in Belgium. Since August 2008 he has been the country’s top general, and will retire in August this year.