ANKARA (Combined Sources)–Abdullah Gul made his first official appearance as President Wednesday at a ceremony among the very people who are wary about his background in political Islam: the country’s armed forces. Turkey’s military sees itself as the guardian of the country’s secular status, and on the eve of Gul’s election the forces’ chief of staff warned that ‘centres of evil’ were trying to undermine it.
The President’s first task has been to approve the cabinet of his close ally, the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan – a strongly reformist administration, aimed at joining the EU. Turks will undoubtedly watch closely the military’s reaction to Gul.
The top brass stayed away from his swearing-in ceremony. They fear his leadership will lead to a creeping subversion of the secular order, despite Gul’s assurances that he has no religious agenda. One woman’said: "It’s a shame he has become president. I can’t say anymore. Will his wife ever take off the Islamic headscarf? No she won’t. We are finished. It’s the end of the world." But another man disagreed: "Everybody’s happy Abdullah Gul is president. It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for. It should have happened sooner."
Gul is the first politician with Islamist roots to become president in the constitutionally secular Turkey despite the army’s opposition. In the past 60 years the military has thrown out four governmen’s whom it thought were too religious, including one in 1997 that included Abdullah Gul as a minister.
Meanwhile Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey needs unity “more than ever” in a conciliatory message to the Turkish military following the election of a former Islamist as president.
“I would like to once again emphasize that we need more than ever to set our differences aside and unite around the values of our nations, the tenets of the Republic and our common targets,” Erdogan said in a message to mark a prominent army day on August 30.
“Bearing these feeling, I congratulate our heroes from the Turkish Armed Forces and the whole nation,” he said.
August 30, or Victory Day, marks a major military victory against invading Greek troops in 1922 that paved the way for the establishment of modern Turkey.
The chief of the army, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, issued his own message for the occasion August 27, in which he warned that “centers of evil are trying to systematically erode the country’s secular structure.”
The warning came on the eve of a parliamentary vote August 28 in which Erdogan’s right-hand man, Abdullah Gul, was elected president despite harsh objections by army-backed secularists over his Islamist past.
Sending a strong signal that it is unhappy with Gul’s presidency, the army top brass snubbed his oath-taking ceremony in an unprecedented gesture defying tradition.
The Turkish military has unseated four governmen’s in as many decades, the last time in 1997, when it forced the resignation of the country’s first Islamist-led government of which Gul was a member.