- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus Turkish generals have warned the Ankara government that the country's secular system could be in danger as a result of today's parliamentary elections, diplomatic sources said.
The sources said the warning was delivered to the government by Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, chief of the general staff, last week in a letter that also said the military leaders were about to report their views on Turkey's role in the event of war in Iraq.
Turkish President Ahmet Neodet Sezer said he would have the final say on the matter, without giving details.
The military's concern was caused by the rising popularity of the Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Erdogan himself has been banned from standing for parliament and thus cannot become prime minister even in the event of his party's victory.
Government prosecutors have sought to ban the party and block Mr. Erdogan from being its head.
Mr. Erdogan has been excluded from the election because of a previous conviction for Islamist sedition, and the powerful military, which pushed out an Islamist-led government in 1997, remains suspicious of his party.
The AKP, leading most opinion polls in advance of today's election, denies it is Islamist and says it espouses a pro-Western, conservative program.
On Friday, Turkey's top court said it would give Mr. Erdogan 15 days to prepare a defense against a case to block him from being party leader. This decision effectively puts off any ban on the party until well after the parliamentary vote.
The European Union, which Turkey has been preparing to join, has criticized both the ban on Mr. Erdogan's candidacy and moves to ban other parties, including one that promotes Kurdish rights.
As politicians campaigned for the last time yesterday, polls predicted AKP will win the most seats followed by the staunchly secular Republican People's Party. They may be the only ones to win the 10 percent required to enter parliament.
The Turkish army is the traditional guardian of the republican system established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. It has intervened three times in the past 40 years when it considered the politicians to be acting against "the spirit of Kemalism."
In one of his past campaign speeches, Ismail Cem, a former foreign minister who now heads the New Turkey Party, said "A war is about to erupt right next to us. We must be careful about this war. We have no youths to lose or to send to adventures in a war based on oil interests."
Although Turkey initially promised to support U.S. plans for intervention in Iraq, more recently the government has bowed to rising and unanimous opposition to any form of military action.
According to the latest formal statement by Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, "We know that the United States cannot carry out this operation without us. That is why we are advising Washington to abandon the idea."
Economic crisis was the main issue in the campaign, although Turks also worry about the possible impact of any war in Iraq on its Kurdish minority.
The Kurds, a nation-tribe of 15 million of whom half live in Turkey, hope that an attack on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would dismember Iraq and bring them long-coveted statehood. To the Turks, it would also mean an inevitable fracturing of their country, which they like to consider a monolith.
According to a study by Civilitas, an independent research group based in Cyprus, despite its opposition to war in Iraq, "Turkey will not actively oppose any action by Washington, nor will it prevent the United States from using military facilities in Turkey."

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