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    Guidelines for beginners to understand civil-military relations in Turkey: III

    Nihat Ali Özcan, PhD25 August 2011 - Okunma Sayısı: 1151


    From the first days of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, rule onward, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan knew that some generals were not happy with the new political situation. Thanks to open sources of information and intelligence, he was also able to see that this "unhappy" group led by some four-star generals was openly challenging the government. Until September 2005, Erdoğan and Co. decided to focus on the EU process, gather more information and observe the situation.

    Shortly after September 2005, there were three important developments that caused Erdoğan to act. First of all, a group of Turkish Special Forces officers were arrested by U.S. soldiers in northern Iraq, which fostered critical debates in the media. Secondly, Gen. Hilmi Özkök, who saw the retirement of some opposition generals as an opportunity, closed down certain units inside the Office of the General Staff, downplayed the role of Psychological Operations Troops, and transferred some personnel to positions outside Ankara. Finally, the negotiations with the EU and economic progress gave more power to the government in both internal and foreign affairs.

    The government diminished the role of the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, in the political realm by utilizing the EU reform agenda. Seeing Gen. Özkök's move as an opportunity, it also reduced the responsibilities of the Gendarmerie in the field of intelligence. In the end, the TSK was forced to be content with open intelligence and the information disseminated by the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT. As the first signs of a great transformation emerged, a prosecutor accused the commander of the Land Forces of being a "gang member" during a court hearing in Van. It was becoming clear that tension was on the rise and reaching a consensus was no longer possible.

    Another source of tension was TSK's objection to the presidency of Abdullah Gül in 2007, which was followed by the closure case against AKP. After this strategic move supported by the TSK, the government and its allies decided to use all means available to isolate the TSK and control it by reducing its autonomy.

    The TSK's institutional culture based on absolute obedience to the commander made it much easier for the government to implement its strategy. This strong hierarchical structure of absolute obedience constructed by the generals and politicians between 1960 and 1980 - although it had deeper historical roots - suddenly became TSK's main weakness. Generals and officers shaped by a tradition that made it impossible to question any military order were imprisoned because of many disputable documents written in the past. "Civil prosecutors" authorized by new laws began to define the hierarchical chain of command as an "armed terrorist organization".

    It is now obvious that the government's strategy had four main aspects: 1- Generals and officers were to be controlled by their fear of punishment, which was reinforced by new laws, courts and specially appointed judges and prosecutors. 2- The private lives and personal documents of generals and officers and their families were violated by illegal surveillance techniques. 3- The TSK was cut off from sources of intelligence. 4- A strategy of suppression was pursued. The army was isolated as the public support for TSK was suppressed. Police forces were given more authority, becoming more aggressive against the army. As 50 active generals and nearly 200 officers were arrested, a long and controversial judicial process was set in motion. The final outcome of this process was the resignation of the chief of the General Staff and other commanders. Now an unanswered question remains: Is this a Pyrrhic victory?

    This commentary was published on 25.08.2011 in Hürriyet Daily News.