June 30, 2014

Playing with the military as a tool for political gains

Lale Kemal

The Turkish government's massive ongoing purge within state institutions knows no boundaries as it has allegedly spread to the military.

Since the disclosure of a high profile corruption and bribery investigation on Dec. 17 last year, the Turkish government has continued unabated in its massive institutional reshuffles -- mainly within the police and the judiciary -- in what is widely believed to be an attempt to cover up the graft scandal. Since the judiciary was brought under the government's control as part of a specific policy to bury the graft scandal, an indictment over the graft allegations has yet to be prepared.

The purge within state institutions has targeted bureaucrats and police officials accused of being either members or sympathizers of the Hizmet movement. The movement, headed by Islamic Scholar Fethullah Gülen -- a one time ally of the government – has been blamed for orchestrating the graft probe. Those being purged have mostly been reassigned to other posts or demoted.

Still, the government has not produced any evidence at all supporting its claim that acts of corruption and bribery did not take place and that such acts were fabricated by the Hizmet movement.

The purge within the state institutions has also given an excuse to those seniors within the concerned institutions to get rid of the staff that they are not happy with, regardless of their high performance in their professions.

A pro-government daily's recent report has given fuel to long-time speculations that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) might initiate purges of military officers alleged to have links with the Hizmet movement.

The Akşam daily reported last week that 40 generals and one service commander have links with the Hizmet movement. The daily also reported that a special team was allegedly established within the prime minister's office for their expected purge ahead of a four-day biannual meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) to be held between Aug. 1 and 4.

In its August meeting, YAŞ -- headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and staffed by senior generals – will decide on the promotion and retirement of generals in the armed forces.

Soon after the Akşam report was published, Turkish President Abdullah Gül, commander of the TSK during times of peace, described the report as an example of extreme irresponsibility, in a statement posted on the presidential website. This was followed by a TSK statement denying the speculation that the military will experience a purge.

The TSK slammed Akşam's report in its statement from June 28, saying: “Claims and comments aimed to create a negative perception about the institutional identity of the TSK and its members do not have any legal, humanitarian or moral basis... No concrete legal information or documents have reached the TSK from official intelligence bodies so far in order to investigate the claims put forward and make the necessary administrative and judicial investigations,” Today's Zaman reported on June 29.

Another statement of denial of Akşam's report came from the Prime Ministry on June 28, though long after the daily's report came out. According to the statement, the claims in Akşam's report do not reflect facts.

Despite denials, however, Mehmet Ocaktan, editor in chief of the Akşam daily and a former deputy in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), told local Habertürk news channel on June 29 that the story was correct.

I tend to believe in Ocaktan's statement that the story was correct as I was earlier told through different reliable sources that the government and the TSK allegedly have plans to sack or reassign military officers thought to have links with the Hizmet movement. If those speculations are true, such an act may also give the TSK a pretext to get rid of anyone considered a nuisance to the military in one way or another.

It is then not a coincidence that reports claiming that there will be a purge of alleged Hizmet supporters within the TSK have been circulated for some time now by pro-government newspapers.

In addition, a number of the suspects in the Sledgehammer (Balyoz) case -- who were recently released pending trial over charges of making coup plans to unseat the current government -- have made several public statements claiming that there are pro-Hizmet officers within the TSK. Such remarks have also fuelled speculation that there might be a purge within the military.

In addition, the TSK used to perceive Fethullah Gülen as an internal threat to the country's secular character during the years when it put its stamp on Turkey's National Security Policy Document (MGSB), which acts as a guideline for the military in situations of domestic conflict.

Based on MGSB documents from that time, there had been a widespread purge of officers alleged to have been supporters of the Gülen movement during the years leading up to the Feb. 28, 1997 post-modern coup, which forced the coalition government headed by late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to resign.

Since the Dec. 17 corruption scandal, the military and the government appear to have forged a de facto alliance against the Hizmet movement, the one time ally of the latter. The alliance crystallized when Yalçın Akdoğan, a deputy from the AK Party and senior advisor to Erdoğan, claimed in late December last year that Hizmet had framed hundreds of military officers who were convicted of plotting to unseat his party from power. In other words, Akdoğan blames the Hizmet movement for being behind a plot that paved the way for the military officers to be convicted.

Hence, we are now witnessing a situation where “my enemy's enemy is my friend.” This is to say that the TSK -- which also perceived the Islam-based, conservative AK Party as a threat to Turkey's secular order -- have reportedly forged an alliance with the government that it once considered an adversary against their new mutual enemy: the Hizmet movement.

The government's earlier reforms have curbed the military's influence in politics, a step that has made it possible for the government to control the TSK to a certain extent. However, since the government later halted reforms necessary to bring the military under civilian democratic control, the relationship between the military and the government has turned rather mutually beneficial. For instance, the government has been making the military happy by spending billions of dollars on unchecked arms purchases while the TSK have been keeping quiet on several policy issues such as the AK Party's progress in the Kurdish peace process to end the 30-year-old terrorism problem.

At the end of the day, the Akşam daily's report that 40 generals will be sacked or retired over their alleged links with the Hizmet movement has preempted any military plan, if there is one, to purge officers even if it wanted to do so.

The government has, however, been dangerously dragging the military into politics, a military whose power it had ironically attempted to curb.

Published on Today's Zaman, 30 June 2014, Monday

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