Agreement of convenience

The Sandhurst-trained and hardline secularist Ilker Basbug, the new head of Turkey’s armed forces, is known in military circles as the «ice warrior.» Basbug, rumor has it, is a pragmatist who does not crack under pressure. The commander of the Turkish armed forces is a key figure. He is the head of a powerful institution which is considered to be the guardian of Kemal’s secular legacy. However, Basbug’s appointment takes on even greater significance in the light of the ongoing clash between the secular establishment and Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-leaning ruling party. The past 10 days have been tense as Turkey suffered deadly twin bomb blasts in Istanbul. The attacks came ahead of the Constitutional Court’s decision to stop short of a ban but to impose financial sanctions on the Justice and Development Party. Many observers had anticipated that the court would seize the opportunity and outlaw Erdogan’s party. But the premier managed to outwit and outmaneuver his opponents. He strengthened his alliances outside the country – which is all the more impressive given the growing skepticism toward Turkey. At home, the prime minister cultivated his ties with the state apparatus to a degree that enabled him to unveil the activity of the secret Ergenekon group, a revelation that allowed him to put pressure on the secular establishment. Sources say that the court decision was the product of a deal struck between Erdogan and the generals during a nighttime meeting of the premier and the new army boss. If true, Basbug will now have to monitor the deal. It’s too early to say whether the court ruling marks the end of a crisis or simply a lull. Greece has every reason to be satisfied with the easing of tension. But Athens and Nicosia must remain on the alert because the impending round of Cyprus peace talks will show what the two sides in Turkey have agreed regarding Greek-Turkish ties.