General Situation before The Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) of 2017
The AKP government declared state of emergency for three months right after the 15th July 2016 coup attempt that Erdogan described as “a gift from God.” According to Turkish Constitutional Law, the state of emergency could only be declared to suppress the acts of violence and establish public order and safety across the country for a limited period. The Turkish government, however, as a violation of Constitution has repeatedly extended the state of emergency throughout the last year despite the fact that it had suppressed the acts of violence on the day of July 15th in only a few hours. Erdogan and his government seem to be determined in keeping this state of emergency through the occasional decrees, which they have made and will. During the state of emergency, the Government could take some temporary measures by issuing some rules and regulations called as “Decrees having force of Law.” Yet, the Constitution confines these measures’ content and scope with suppressing the acts of violence. Also, according to the Constitution it is not allowed to establish permanent rules or changes with these measures. Moreover, constitutionally the decrees issued by the government must be approved by the Parliament within one month. Throughout last year, Erdogan and his government have violated the Constitution repeatedly and explicitly through the “Decrees having force of Law” they issued. They have not brought those decrees to the Parliament for approval and thus eliminated the Parliament’s audit mandate. Despite having no right, by abusing these decrees the Government has purged overwhelming numbers, around 150,000 public officials, forbidding them to work for any government office for the rest of their lives.
General Situation in the Turkish Armed Forces
To put it in numbers, around %80 of entire serving generals and admirals along with %90 of staff officers have been purged. Especially those who have secular and democratic worldviews and care about human rights and those who consider being in good terms with Western countries and NATO for the interest of Turkey are targeted. All purged generals and officers consist of people who were labeled as “pro-NATO” by the Government or “so-called” nationalists. Additionally, via Decrees having force of Law many permanent fundemental changes have been made on the structure of government bodies. Regulations, which must be approved only by the Parliament before going into force, have been made by the arbitrary and illegal decrees of the Government.
Without the Parliament’s approval, for instance, the structure of the Turkish Armed Forces has been permanently changed by a decree. Right after July 15, 2016, by issuing a decree having force of Law the Government attached the Commands of Army, Navy and Air Forces, which had been under the command of General Staff, to the Ministry of National Defense and thus turned the General Staff into a consultant and symbolic position. In doing so, the Government also undermined the command control in the army, disrupted the ability of planning and coordination, and paralyzed the bedrock of the Armed Forces, the hierarchy. Gendarmerie Service Command, which only consists of military personnel and had been linked to Ministry of Interior by only the safety and public order duties in the past, now has been assigned under the authority of Ministry of Interior and hastily dragged into politics.
The Structural Transformation of The Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) and Its Consequences
Beside these regulations, in an attempt to eradicate its democratic and secular base established by Ataturk, the structure and modus operandi of YAŞ also has been changed. Before July 15, 2016 the head of YAŞ had been the Prime Minister; its members had consisted of Chief of Staff, Minister of National Defense, Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Forces, and Gendarmerie and all four star generals and admirals of the Turkish Armed Forces. Deputy Chief of the General Staff was secretary-general. The Government, however, changed the structure by a decree. According to this new regulation, the new members of YAŞ include Prime Minister, Chief of General Staff, Deputy Prime Ministers, Minister of Justice, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Interior and Minister of National Defense along with the Chiefs of Army, Naval and Air Forces. The memberships of Chief of Gendarmerie, Commanders of Fleets and four-star generals and admirals have been terminated. The secretary-general position of YAŞ also have been transferred from Chief of Staff (TGS) to Ministry of National Defense.
Supreme military council (YAŞ) determines appointments and retirements of high-ranking staff officers and generals in Turkish Armed Forces, as well as for removal of military personnel from the army and extension of service for some high-ranking staff officers. New structure of supreme military council along with more seats to cabinet ministers, Erdogan has given the authorization to inject his political Islamic thoughts into the military. If one examines the outcomes of two supreme military councils after July 15, 2016, it can be seen how politics infiltrate into the military as well as decision on promotions, appointments and retirements of military staff. Those are made according to their loyalties to Erdogan, president and head of AKP, and Perincek, head of ultra-nationalist. Political Vatan Party, instead of competencies. Particularly, at the Supreme Military Council held on August 2nd , 2017. Erdogan rapidly shaped position of high-ranking generals according to his own desire in a similar fashion that can only happen in countries like North Korea. In the previous month before the supreme military council was held, top army commanders and head of general staff exhibited their complete loyalty to Erdogan by going the mosque for morning prayer located inside the President’s palace which clearly demonstrated their loyalty to the President.
2016 Supreme Military Council
According to the assessments of military personnel having close relationship with military staff who retired or promoted in the last two Supreme Military Council, the scope of detrimental change in the Turkish Army can be clearly seen. Their assessments make the bigger picture clearer ??. With the new promotions and assignments of military staffs at Supreme Military Council held on July 27, 2016, Erdogan and his political party AKP handed over critical positions in the chain of command to ultra nationalist military staff by the help of the group linked to Perincek and defendants of Ergenekon and Balyoz cases. Another common characteristic of the newly assigned personnel is their cruel and brutal approach to the Kurdish issue. On the night of July 15, the personnel who were called on to the headquarters using the pretext of terror attack, exhibited the same reactions; very interestingly, some of them were detained, while the others were promoted to critical positions.
Although it was not published in the mass media, many generals and admirals were silently forced to resign before the YAS which was held 2016. The reason of forcing that number of generals to resign was to hide Erdogan’s dismissal score. Majority of them resigned while the others were either retired at YAS held at 2016 or were dismissed from Turkish Armed Forces by decrees and decision of Minister of the Department of Defense. In fact, common characteristic of these general and admirals who also did not partake in the July 15 events was the same with detained military personnel. Each one of them were the kind officers who would question the arbitrary orders of Erdogan with compatibility of secularity and compliance with the rule of law. That was the same reasoning behind the mass purge of staff officer corps. Also, they believed that government cannot violate the fundamental human rights of its citizens such as freedom of speech and freedom of thought. Moreover, the majority of staff officers had been purged due to the aforementioned reasons although they didn’t participate in the coup attempt in any way. Nearly all of them were educated and enlightened enough that none of them can be converted as a supporter of political Islam and according to Erdoğan, it was not possible for them to straighten out.Same reasoning played an important role in the process of shutting down military schools.
2017 Supreme Military Council
In general, the 2017 Military Council was not different either. When we look at the number of personnel who were promoted or retired to Major, Lieutenant, Four Star/Admiral Generals, an oddness is seen at first glance Despite the already vacant positions in the high level of generals, only 6 generals and admirals have been promoted to higher ranks, while 14 Generals and Admirals in the ranks of Major, Lieutenant, and Four Star/Admiral General have been retired from the command echelon which is crippling the command and control even more. (However, in the Supreme Military Council of 2015, the number of promoted generals/admirals was 29.) In fact, this strangeness can be explained by the fact that these positions were kept for the supporters of Erdogan and Perinçek in the Armed Forces, who are in lower ranks and are not on the promotion line yet. By retirees and limited number of promotions, possible future rivals of pro-Erdogan and pro-Perincek were eliminated. After July 15, 2016, mostly pro-Western generals and admirals, who were not jailed and remained in the Army without being discharged, have been purged with the last Council. The common feature of these generals and admirals, also known as pro-Western, was not to be involved either in the Ergenekon structure and pro-Perincek establishment in the army. This -assessment is validated with the statements of retired military personnel Ahmet Zeki Üçok, Atilla Kezek and Soner Polat, who are pro-Perincek and who do not hide their enthusiasm when interpreting the results of the Supreme Military Council.
When the last two Military Councils which resulted in promoting colonels to Brigadier General/Commodore are examined, we can see that they try to reach the same aim using a different tactic. With the last Council, it seems that Erdogan keeps looking after his ‘Gang Allies’ whichever might be. The only criteria for promotion is either being linked to one of the gang allies (SADAT, nationalist gangs in the line of Sedat Peker, Sledgehammer-Ergenekon Structure, ultra-nationalist, pro-Russian Perincek Structure/Gang) or being totally unqualified or unskilled. The smallest tendency towards democratic values or NATO, the US, the EU camp is a criterion of inadmissibility in promotion.
Influence Battles In The Turkish Armed Forces
When the promoted colonels are examined, it can be seen that they are comprised of; the opportunists who support Erdogan`s practices against secularism, democracy and rule of law in the last year; the ones close to the radical political Islamic group in the army; who are enough ultra-nationalists to violate any democratic values; pro-Perinceks in the army; and the ones involved in the Ergenekon Structure. It is crystal clear that the promoted pro-Erdogan opportunists, ultra-nationalists and political Islamists will be easily controlled by the ultra-nationalist wing generals because, they were chosen from the unqualified weak candidates among their peers and for the upcoming promotions they will not be qualified to be rivals to the ultra-nationalists. So, even though, for now, supporting messages are sent to the opportunists, nationalists and radical Islamists, it seems that a deeper underlying goal is present for the ultimate ultra-nationalist design of the future armed forces and by this way two birds are killed with one stone.
In any case, the common characteristics of the newly promoted group is their being detached from NATO, the US and the EU, and even blaming them as the reason for every negative development in the country. As a matter of fact, in the past, generals like Tahir Bekiroğlu and Serdar Dülger who represented Turkey at the highest level in NATO, worked as the Turkish National Representative (TMR) at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, and who gave full support to Erdogan on the 15 July events were also among the ones that will be retired. There is no doubt that the majority of new general staff, who are known as the staunch ultra-nationalist, now view NATO, the US, the EU and the West, as the biggest threat to Turkey.
So, why does the crypto structure in the AKP that seems to support the predominantly secessionist-jihadist thinking on the one hand and the pro-Iranian extension consultants and bureaucrats plus the partisan media on the other hand remain silent to these events or even support it? They support the development of the promoting ultra-nationalists, apart from their religious references, because they believe that ultra-nationalists would prefer the Russia-China-Iran bloc over NATO, the US and the EU. From the outside, although the first group seems to oppose AKP and support the pro-Ergenekon-Sledgehammer-Perincek, they generally agree with the other group about the hostility towards the West and transformation of the democratic regime in Turkey into a dictatorship. The fact that the Ergenekon-Sledgehammer-Perinçek structure did not react to the political Islamist-Iranian line also supports this view.
The highest priority for the political Islamist-Iranian structure is to massively push personnel in the lower ranks of the army thanks to AKP support despite their lack of personnel in the upper echelons. This group is influential particularly in recent military student recruitments and direct active personnel recruitments. They are doing everything they can towards the goal of making the Turkish Armed Forces dominated by officers of the political Islamist-Iranian line.
The comment of “Ergenekon and Sledgehammer have returned more powerful than before by changing the horse” summarizes the promotions in general terms. It should not be surprising that Perinçek soon will speak out and say ‘’We are in our golden era in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK)’’. After July 15, Erdogan succeeded in bringing Ataturk’s army to its knees with the help of his new allies. Erdogan now has a lesser ranked, a more ignorant and more loyal army. Ak trolls (trolls controlled/ directed by AKP) and the partisan media are trying to put this in the foreground with pride with the emphasis of the Civic Council.
It is clear that with this new Council, democracy, the rule of law and the secularity vector, which draw Turkey towards the West, have become completely neutralized. It is not easy to predict to which wall -either in the east, north, or south direction- that this new vector, which is under Erdogan and Perincek’s command, would crash. It depends on how much Erdogan actually needs his new allies who are clustered around Perinçek; the number of generals and admirals like Metin Temel, Cihat Yaycı who can directly reach Erdogan and whisper to him the tendencies within the Army; or how long his new allies can endure Erdogan.