by editor | 30th August 2011 8:02 am
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an (R) and then Chief of Staff Gen. Ya?ar Büyükan?t in front of a painting of modern Turtkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Parliament in Ankara, in this April 23, 2007 file photo. Büyükan?t admitted in 2009 to having penned the e-memorandum released on April 27, 2007.
In what could be seen as yet another positive step towards change in civilian-military ties in Turkey, the General Staff has removed a highly controversial military memorandum released on April 27, 2007 from its website.
Published online at www.tsk.tr close to midnight, the April 27 statement is more commonly referred to as the “e-memorandum” because it was an attempt by the Turkish military to openly interfere in politics. The statement had said that it was following the debate over the secular system in the presidential election with “concern” and would “openly display its position and attitude when it becomes necessary.”
The memorandum has long been a target of criticism for Turkish intellectuals, who pointed out that the statement was still on the website of the General Staff. This year in April, Abdurrahim Çelik, the head of the Gaziantep branch of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER), held a press conference calling on the General Staff to remove the e-memorandum from the web archives of the armed forces. He had said that it was unacceptable for the General Staff to keep the statement, which drew harsh reactions from various segments of society, in its archives.
The General Staff announced on Monday that the website has been updated and that former statements were removed. According to the announcement, only statements posted in the past seven days will remain on the website while older ones will be removed automatically.
With this decision by the General Staff, which was made in the first month after the appointment of Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, the controversial April 27 statement has also been removed from the website. The newly appointed military chief is known for his pro-democracy credentials.
Mesut Ülker, a national security analyst, evaluates the move by the General Staff positively. “We see that Turkey is in the process of normalization,” he said, pointing to developments in the country with regard to democratic development.
“With regard to civilian-military relations, work on a new constitution carries a lot of importance,” he said, explaining that there is a long history of military interference in Turkey and that a change of constitution is needed to change the old course.
Celebrating his landslide election victory on June 12 this year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an called for compromise in making a new constitution to replace the current one, made by the military after the 1980 coup.
But Ülker also stressed that even though there have been some moves in regards to removing the military’s tutelage on Turkey, some important steps — like the civilianization of the Ministry of Defense and its authorization to oversee Turkey’s defense and security sector — are needed to ensure that the military retreats from politics.
Professor Ümit Cizre of ?stanbul ?ehir University, who specializes in civil-military relations and the problems of democracy in Turkey, is of the same opinion.
“The recent moves of the high command you are referring to do not indicate that the old guard’s spirit of resistance against a government they very much dislike is extinguished, or that the military is politically downsizing on its own volition. Nor do they indicate the establishment of full democratic civilian control of the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] by the government as yet,” she said in reply to our questions.
She added that civilians have not yet made the constitutional and legal changes to fully depart from Turkey’s undemocratic past in which military involvement in the political process has been the norm.
“The government has the key advantage of being given a new lease on life by the electorate and fresh confidence by a smooth transition following the resignations of the chief of General Staff and the commanders of the army, air force and navy in the eventful Supreme Military Council (YA?) meeting of 2011. The meeting did not result in a radical showdown between the military and the government, as some had feared, nor did it end in a mass wave of resignations from the TSK,” she said.
In August, during a YA? meeting where, contrary to earlier seating arrangements in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an sat beside the armed forces chief, the prime minister sat alone at the head of the table, which was interpreted as a symbol of civilian authority over the armed forces.
In mid-August, the seating order at the National Security Council (MGK) — civilians on one side and soldiers on the other side of the table — was also changed. Members of the MGK took their seats in accordance with state protocol during the meeting on Aug. 18.
Then there was a decision by President Abdullah Gül to receive greetings and congratulatory messages during official ceremonies on Aug. 30, Victory Day, contrary to previous occasions in which the chief of the military received the greetings. In previous years, the chief of General Staff used to accept congratulations at General Staff headquarters every Victory Day. Gül greeting well-wishers will be another step in Turkey’s ongoing efforts towards civilianization and further signals the end of the military’s influence on civilian authority.
Furthermore, in a voice recording posted online last week, former military chief Gen. I??k Ko?aner confirmed the authenticity of the Sledgehammer coup plot, dealing a severe blow to arguments made by critics who claim that the coup plan was fabricated and that the records of a 2003 military seminar were manipulated to discredit the TSK.
“What the recent moves show is an important break from the military’s past tradition of being vocal, assertive and arrogant in dealing with elected civilians. The reasons lie in the dead-end situation they find themselves in,” Cizre said. “The combination of EU reforms, disclosure of their own blunders, mistakes and failure to fulfill their duties, encouraged by their lack of accountability and the arrest of active duty and retired officers, have gotten the military into deep trouble in maintaining its ideological and organizational unity, reputation, credibility and capacity to counteract civilian behavior they feel averse to.”
In regards to the emergence of Ko?aner’s tape recordings admitting to unprofessional behavior both in the battlefield and politics, Cizre added that the public is left with no doubt that the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer plots are real. “They are genuine and we have not yet seen the end of them,” he said.
The April 27 statement came amid a political crisis over the election of the country’s president in 2007 as the Republican People’s Party (CHP) threatened to walk out of Parliament if the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) presidential nominee’s spouse wore the Islamic headscarf.
In late April in 2007, the AK Party announced that then Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, whose wife wears a headscarf, was its presidential nominee. Shortly after that a former prosecutor put forward an idea based on his interpretation of the Constitution, claiming that the parliamentary quorum for a presidential election was 367. The AK Party had 361 seats in Parliament and Gül received 361 votes from his party’s deputies in the first round of voting.
The CHP appealed the decision in the Constitutional Court, which canceled the first round of the vote. But on April 27 at 11:17 p.m., before the court had even announced its decision, the e-memorandum was published on the General Staff’s website. Then Chief of General Staff Gen. Ya?ar Büyükan?t in 2009 admitted to having written the statement.
“It should not be forgotten that the Turkish Armed Forces is a side in this debate and a staunch defender of secularism,” the statement said. “The Turkish Armed Forces is against those debates … and will display its position and attitudes when it becomes necessary. No one should doubt that.”
The General Staff’s statement cited as examples a series of events, such as a failed attempt in Ankara to hold a Quran reading competition on April 23, National Sovereignty and Children’s Day. Undeterred, the AK Party government gave an equally harsh response to the statement. In its response, the government stressed that the TSK was an institution at the command of the government. “It is regrettable that there were utterly wrong expressions about the relationship of the government and the General Staff. All the institutions of our state should be more sensitive and careful,” the government said.
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