- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Outgoing Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer threw his prestige behind the generals who insist on the military’s supreme role in an escalating war between secular and religious forces.

His statement defied the European Union’s opposition to military influence in Turkey and has created another problem in Turkey’s difficult process to join the union.

“The armed forces guarantee the existence of Turkey’s political regime,” Mr. Sezer said in his last parliamentary speech this week, stressing that the “reactionary [Islamist] threat is growing” and “the army has an important role to play to protect the Turkish Republic’s secular foundations.”

EU officials reportedly were concerned that the bluntness of the statement would clash with preparations of an official report on Turkey’s legal and political progress a year after the accession talks started.

The past few weeks have been marked by a series of statements by Turkey’s military leaders, some of them implying a pro-Islamist tendency in the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

According to one diplomatic assessment, “the [Turkish] generals have taken their gloves off in confrontation with Islam and the present government.”

The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has strong Islamist roots.

Mr. Sezer’s comments, as well as a series of others by Turkish military leaders, brought a quick reaction from Olli Rehn, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, who said: “I want to work to avoid a train crash in Turkish-EU relations. … There is still time to stop the train crash.”

Messages delivered by Turkish cadres, usually to military audiences and widely publicized by the press, have dealt with three key subjects: accusations of government involvement with Islamist forces, demands for stronger action against Kurdish rebels and a reminder to the EU that the army remains the official guardian of the republic.

Adm. Yener Karahanoglu recently told a naval academy: “The Turkish armed forces will never make concessions for the sake of the European Union.”

He added, “Domestic and foreign groups bent on destroying the armed forces are stepping up their efforts. … The groups will either leave Turkey or will be drowned in the sea of Anatolia.”

Turkish nationalists have accused the EU of trying to fragment Turkey under the guise of promoting the rights of minorities.

Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, newly appointed chief of the general staff, told the Istanbul War Academy that “there is a reactionary threat in Turkey” against separation of state and religion and that “every kind of measure must be taken against this threat.”

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