May 13, 2015

Turkish military uneasy over unsubstantiated government allegations

Sources within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) expressed uneasiness over unsubstantiated allegations of connections between officers and Hizmet, the movement inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Speaking to Today's Zaman, well-placed military sources warned that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his associates in government are keen to escalate the witch-hunt pursued against members of the Gülen movement, popularly known as the Hizmet movement, in a bid to drag the military into controversial domestic disputes.

“The TSK would never tolerate the formation of any structure that is based on a sectarian or community-based ideology,” one military source told Today's Zaman on condition of anonymity.

“However, we have to act on credible evidence and authenticated documents to move against any member of the military accused of belonging to any such group,” the same source explained.

The military sources expressed frustration over Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz's remarks on Wednesday, claiming that large numbers of tips were received by the government about alleged links between officers and the Gülen movement.

“We have gotten tip-offs about more than 1,000 people. In connection with this, both administrative investigations and investigations by the General Staff's military prosecutor have begun," Yılmaz told the state-run Anadolu news agency.

“What is required will be done when these investigations are finalized,” he added.

Military sources say Yılmaz's remarks were intended to signal the launch of a new campaign by the government to shape the top brass ahead of the next biannual Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting, which is scheduled for August.

The same sources also explained that a large portion of tips received by the military have so far turned out to be false or unsubstantiated.

For example, one tip from a shopkeeper who belongs to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) indicated that a senior major is a member of the “parallel structure” -- a derogatory term used by Erdoğan to refer members of the Gülen movement -- because he was patronizing the shop of a competitor that he also claimed to be Gülen sympathizer. The military investigation simply halted the probe after learning that the tip had origins in a business rivalry.

The tips usually come in just before the YAŞ meeting by anonymous sources. The military believes these tips are designed to discredit rival officers being considered for promotion.

Military sources also state that any officer whose thinking is not in line with Erdoğan and his political Islamist associates risks being labeled a member of the “parallel structure.”

In August 2014 the chief of General Staff also said that the military has not been given any solid evidence regarding allegations that the military has been infiltrated by the “parallel structure.”

“The TSK works with documents and information,” he said, adding that military authorities have requested documents from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) but none have been provided.

“We cannot initiate a procedure [against military members] on the basis of anonymous tip-off letters. The TSK operates within the rule of law and acts accordingly,” Özel said.

In June 2014 the TSK strongly denied a news report published in the pro-government Akşam daily claiming that there are 40 senior military officers who are linked with the so-called “parallel structure.”

In its main story titled “40 parallel pashas in the General Staff,” Akşam claimed that a special team which was established after an order from then-Prime Minister Erdoğan to uncover members of the “parallel structure” in the TSK has found out that 40 senior TSK officers -- including 20 brigadier generals, five admirals, five regional commanders and one force commander -- have links with the “parallel organization.”

The daily said the investigation team, following three months of work, has found that 50 percent of TSK officers have links with the “parallel structure,” adding that the military judiciary is nearly under its complete control.

The TSK slammed Akşam's report in a statement saying that “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 that would justify an investigation of any of the claims put forward have reached the TSK from official intelligence bodies.”

The statement further said the TSK is a constitutional institution. It is under the service of the Turkish nation and the state and it acts only in compliance with laws and government directives.

The statement also declared that legal action will be taken against those who engage in defamatory news coverage of the TSK.

The Gülen movement promotes interfaith dialogue and the resolution of problems around the world through peaceful methods. However, Erdoğan's AK Party has been at odds with the movement since Dec. 17, 2013, when a major corruption investigation implicating senior members of government became public. The prime minister claims the operation was orchestrated by the Gülen movement with the motive of overthrowing his AK Party government. Erdoğan has not provided any evidence to prove his claim and the movement denies the accusation.

Published on Today's Zaman, 13 May 2015, Wednesday