Six hundred. The Turkish army is running at least that number of companies. Covering banking and health insurance, car production, construction, and well, you name it and probably the Turkish army is earning money from it. Earning so much money that the army’s holding company, called Oyak, is (depending on your criteria) one the top 3 or 5 biggest companies in Turkey. The army as big economic power. I knew Oyak, but that it was this huge and powerful, I had no idea.
Oyak was founded in 1961, right after the 1960 military coup, and it grew extensively in the eighties, after the 1980 military coup. The company is, among other things, a way to influence society and extend the power of the military. I heard all about it at a conference of TESEV, a think tank in Istanbul. The economical power of the army was researched by academic Ismet Akca, of Yildiz Technical University. He dug into the annual reports, files in the national archive of Turkey and many other sources to draw a picture of Oyak.
A brave research project I should say, because universities in Turkey are, by and large, part of the institutions in Turkey that are very close to the state and the old elite of the country, or, in other words, not the most likely institutions to be too critical of the army’s role in society. Akca himself didn’t take credit for this courage when I asked him about it. He said that if you are determined about what you want and find the right professor to work with, you can do any research you like. So how come his study is one of the very few, or maybe even the only one, on this topic? Akca’s insightful answer: ‘The reservation comes from within the potential researchers themselves.’ The army is so untouchable that even academics feel, consciously or unconsciously, reluctant to touch on its power.
And that power, as I now know, goes far beyond power in politics, a topic that is extensively debated in Turkey. During the conference it was pointed out that in politics, the army has actually given up some power: they no longer have seats in the higher board for education nor in the television watch dog, and they gave up considerable power in the National Security Council. But their likewise anti-democratic economic power is untouched, undebated and not questioned. Disturbing and distressing knowledge.