Turkish democracy mature enough to defuse any tension with military’



The government’s calling the generals’ bluff over mass resignations, and its quick-fix solution to a brewing crisis on Friday night has shown the level of democratic maturity Turkey has gained in restoring civilian supremacy over the armed forces in the EU-candidate country, experts have said.
The democratic institutions and the government in Turkey have shown a strong backbone with regard to the threats leveled by the top brass who offered resignations en masse to blackmail Turkish courts into releasing suspected generals and officers who were being tried for planning to topple the civilian government. But the scheme that the generals hoped would create a deep crisis in Turkey was foiled immediately when the government moved quickly to appoint the former Gendarmerie commander as Land Forces Commander; he will also be acting Chief of General Staff.
Mehmet Atan, columnist with the Star daily, told Today’s Zaman that military resistance to civilian orders during the last Supreme Military Council (YA?) meeting lasted for a month. “This time it lasted only four hours before the government announced a replacement. Last Friday an important step was taken for the normalization of Turkey and the assertion of civilian rule over military affairs.” Altan warned however that structural changes are needed to prevent a future brawl between the military and civilian governments.

In the meantime, Turkey’s political leaders denied the incident amounted to a crisis, stressing that it’s business as usual, and everything is normal. President Abdullah Gül, who proceeded to ?stanbul as scheduled, played down the significance of the resignations on Saturday. “Nobody should view this as any sort of crisis or continuing problem in Turkey,” Gül told reporters, adding everything is on course in Turkey.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an did not even mention the resignations in a pre-recorded speech broadcast on Saturday, saying his priority was to press ahead with plans for a new constitution that he said would boost democracy. “I believe our biggest duty is to prepare a new constitution, democratic and liberal and without shortcomings, which meets the needs of today,” Erdo?an said in the address to the nation.

Chief of General Staff General I??k Ko?aner stepped down on Friday along with the commanders of the army, navy and air force in protest of the detention of 250 officers on charges of conspiring against the government. Almost a tenth of Turkey’s senior commanders, 41 active duty generals, are now under arrest. Journalist Celal Kazda?l? is also among those who did not see the resignations as a crisis in Turkey.

“It was unusual to see them resigning en masse. Three force commanders were about to retire next month anyway. Only Ko?aner made an early departure. This is a normalization of Turkey along the standards of modern democracies. In many countries, appointments and promotions of generals are routine procedures. It was not logical for the top brass to resist a government that collected one in every two votes cast in elections” he explained.

In a surprisingly strong show, the AK Party won a third consecutive term, taking 50 percent of the vote in a parliamentary election in June. The strong mandate given by the electorate strengthened the government’s hand in reigning in the excessive political power of the Turkish military, which has staged four coups since 1960. Turkey has curbed the military’s role through a series of reforms aimed at advancing Turkey’s chances of joining the European Union.

The military’s reputation was dealt a blow by ongoing trials, revealing illegal activities nourished in the midst of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to topple or weaken the democratically-elected government in Turkey. The coup plans include shooting down a Turkish fighter jet over the Aegean to blame the Greeks and embarrass the government, killing non-Muslim minority leaders, blowing up a mosque in ?stanbul and provoking sectarian or ethnic violence among Turks, Kurds, Alevis and Sunnis.

A court on Friday accepted an indictment in another alleged military plot, known as the “Internet Memorandum” case, in which anti-government propaganda websites were established by generals in the military. Prosecutors demanded the arrest of 22 people, including the Aegean army commander and six other serving generals and admirals.

“They tried to create the impression that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) was a criminal organization and … the biased media encouraged this with all kinds of false stories, smears and allegations,” Ko?aner lashed out in his farewell statement. The government challenged that, saying the independent courts are investigating allegations, and the government cannot interfere with the judicial process.

The TSK also suffered in public opinion when conscripted soldiers were killed by outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists. Many questioned the competency of the generals, and some accused the TSK of covering up officers’ mistakes. A public prosecutor in Van launched an investigation last year into four deadly attacks carried out by PKK terrorists in the Da?l?ca, Aktütün, Gediktepe and Hantepe neighborhoods of Hakkari. The Turkish media accused the TSK of gross negligence with regard to the attacks in Da?l?ca, Yüksekova, which took place on Oct. 21, 2007; in Aktütün, ?emdinli, which took place on Oct. 3, 2008; in Gediktepe, ?emdinli, which took place on June 19, 2010; and in Hantepe, Çukurca, which took place on July 20, 2010.

The last incident where 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in the PKK terrorist attack in Silvan on July 14 put the Turkish military further on the defensive. The General Staff acknowledged security flaws in the attack and said they need to be investigated by the judiciary, a first in Turkey, where the responsibility of commanders in fatal attacks is rarely investigated. The Interior Ministry has also drafted a report on the attack after launching a separate probe.

“I do not see any reason to be alarmed over resignations. From a technical point of view, there is no reason for concern anyway. Democratic credentials are taking over the inflated sense of loyalty and belonging in the TSK. Turkey is undergoing a normalization and democratization process,” Mesut Üker, a retired colonel told Today’s Zaman. He also emphasized that the younger breed of officers are much more able to adapt to changes in Turkey, and their morale is quite high. “The problem is in the older generation. Some are having difficulty in grasping the new dynamics of the country and of the world,” Ülker noted.

The two leading opposition parties however differed on their view of the government, labeling the resignations as a crisis and blaming it on the government. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said the army should stay out of politics, but warned against the AK Party exploiting its power. “It is not right to draw soldiers into politics, but there is no benefit in vilifying, smearing or undermining their dignity day and night,” senior CHP deputy Emine Tarhan told a news conference. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli said it is very obvious that this extraordinary development is leading to a serious crisis for the state.

In the light of the current tension, Atan stressed that Turkey should stick to the reforms on the EU path. “Whether or not we become a member, we should pursue these reforms, which ultimately benefit Turkey more than anybody else,” he said.

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