Turkey's Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, will begin its annual four-day meetings Monday with many question marks after the unprecedented resignations of its military brass Friday put the shape of the new command structure in serious doubt.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and acting Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, will co-chair the meetings, which will meet in the absence of the land, air, naval and gendarmerie force commanders for the first time in history. YAŞ member and Commander of War Academies Gen. Bilgin Balanlı will also be absent from the meeting after he was arrested in May on charges of trying to topple the government; this means the council will convene with only 11 of the required 16 members.
Balanlı, however, is still expected to introduce his opinions about the appointments through a written statement, as the law permits him to do.
Aegean Forces Commander Gen. Nusret Taşdeler will join the meeting, if a court ignores a prosecutor's arrest warrant against him. According to the prosecutor's indictment, 22 high ranking officers, including Taşdeler, were involved in a smear campaign against the government via a network of websites.
The resignations of former top commander Gen. Işık Koşaner, Land Forces Commander Gen. Erdal Ceylanoğlu, Naval Forces Commander Adm. Eşref Uğur Yiğit and Air Forces Commander Gen. Hasan Aksay caused a short-term crisis late Friday, but the government prevented further chaos by swiftly appointing Özel as the new Land Forces commander -- before promoting him to acting chief of General Staff.
Immediately following Özel's promotion to acting chief of General Staff, it was posted on the Prime Ministry's website.
Özel's rapid promotion will enable him to sit at the YAŞ meeting as the military's top commander and he will decide on the identities of the new forces commanders.
"YAŞ will convene without any problem. Our chief of General Staff will meet our prime minister Monday morning at military headquarters," Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz told reporters Saturday. Yılmaz will also participate in the meetings.
This year's YAŞ will sketch out a new military command and try to shape the future military structure. Özel's formal appointment as chief of General Staff will likely be announced Thursday after the promotions are approved by President Abdullah Gül. Özel, who will serve as the top commander until 2015.
New Commanders to be Decided by Erdoğan
The main challenges will emerge in the appointments of force commanders. While generally appointed upon the chief of General Staff's requests as per military customs, this will not be the case at this year's YAŞ, according to Hüseyin Çelik, deputy leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
The chief of General Staff can propose some names, but the final say belongs to the prime minister, he told the Daily Milliyet on Sunday. Gül made a similar, if stronger, statement Friday, hours before the resignations.
"I will not sign any decree with my eyes closed," Gül said.
It, therefore, appears extremely likely that the selection of the new force commanders will be made according to the wishes of Gül and Erdoğan, especially in terms of the new Land Forces commander.
According to unconfirmed reports, Fleet Cmdr. Adm. Murat Bilgel will become the new Naval Forces commander, while Lt. Gen. Mehmet Erten has the chance of being appointed as the new Air Forces commander, as he is the only four-star general eligible for the post. Balanlı had been expected to take this post, but his arrest in May has ruled him out for top posts. Erten, meanwhile, is expected to be promoted to the status of full general before assuming his post as the force commander.
Kıvrıkoğlu or Kalyoncu to Land Forces
Following Özel's promotion as the chief of General Staff, YAŞ will have to select two full generals for the positions of Land Forces and Gendarmerie Forces commander. For the ground forces, there are four likely choices. Gen. Saldıray Berk, commander of the EDOK, a key military educational and doctrinal unit; Vice Chief of General Staff Gen. Aslan Güner; 1st Army Commander Gen. Hayri Kıvrıkoğlu; and the chief of staff at the Land Forces, Cmdr. Gen. Bekir Kalyoncu, could become the new Land Forces commander.
The government, however, will likely try to force Berk to retire due to an ongoing case against him. As for Güner, it is speculated that the presidency is against his appointment to the position. He could be posted to another position, but a lower-ranking officer's appointment to the position of Land Forces commander would likely convince him to resign from the military.
Kıvrıkoğlu's situation is also complicated. He is the nephew of former chief of General Staff, Hüseyin Kıvrıkoğlu, who fought against political Islamist movements in Turkey; Hayri Kıvrıkoğlu also hit headlines when he did not attend a welcoming ceremony for Gül when he was serving in northern Cyprus.
For the Gendarmerie Forces, Servet Yörük and Yalçın Ataman are the two strongest candidates. Both were promoted to the rank of full general last year.
No Luncheons Due to Ramadan
According to customs, the chief of General Staff hosts YAŞ members at a luncheon on the first day of the YAŞ meetings right after visiting Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. As it is the first day of Ramadan, however, no luncheons are planned.
This program was finalized before Koşaner resigned from his post.
YAŞ Creating Crises Since 2002
The yearly Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, meetings, which convene to decide army promotions, have caused tension between the military and the government since late 2002, when the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power.
The first crisis erupted in December 2002, when YAŞ met to discuss the winter promotions and expulsions from the military. President Abdullah Gül, who attended the meeting as prime minister, and former Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül, objected to the expulsions, as those who were being forced out of office had no right to take the decisions to court. The government continued to express reservations about expulsions until 2010, when a constitutional amendment allowed military personnel expelled from the military to go to court to annul the decision.
And a major crisis erupted during last year's YAŞ meeting when former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ's request to appoint Gen. Hasan Iğsız as Land Forces commander was rejected by the government because of the latter's alleged links with a group accused of attempting to topple the government. The YAŞ meetings, which usually last four days, were finally completed after eight days when the government emerged victorious.
The continued detention of 173 senior military officers on coup-plot charges – 72 of whom would have been on the list for appointments this year – will have a significant effect on promotions not only this year, but in years to come as well.
The military believes the government is aiming to shape a military command that is fully beholden to civilian authority and the law, although the claims are only based on vague evidence.
Turkish Government Calls Resignations 'Normalization', Opposition Disagrees
The resignations of Turkey's four highest-ranking commanders will not precipitate a state crisis and are instead evidence of the normalization of civil-military ties, Turkey's president and government members have suggested, even as the opposition blamed the government for developments.
"No one should see this as a crisis in Turkey," President Abdullah Gül told reporters on Saturday before his departure for Istanbul. "The developments [Friday] were extraordinary within its scope, but as you see, everything is continuing on its own course. There is no [power] vacuum."
Gül said it was Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner who asked for retirement, even though he and the prime minister were in favor of his continuation in his position.
"We respected his decision when he decided in this way. The others [Land Forces Commander Gen. Erdal Ceylanoğlu, Air Force Commander Gen. Hasan Aksay and Navy Commander Gen. Uğur Yiğit] had already reached the retirement age," Gül said, adding that the four generals' departures would enable the formation of a new command structure during the YAŞ meetings.
Gül also said Turkey's independent judiciary was overseeing the court process regarding the arrests of accused military officers in an alleged anti-government plot and that the government was playing no role in the cases. The arrests have long irked the military brass.
Meanwhile, a much-anticipated YAŞ meeting that will decide on promotions in the Armed Forces will go ahead as scheduled on Monday, Gül said.
The Prime Ministry released a statement late Friday thanking all retired military personnel for their decades-old service to the Armed Forces and Turkish people.
Speaking in Kosovo on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said the developments were the "positive pains" in Turkey's democratization and normalization process.
"The posts don't belong to an individual. The commanders asking for their resignation will contribute to the strengthening of Turkey in a democratic sense," Bozdağ said.
The resignations forced Republican Peoples' Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to cut short his holiday and return to Ankara to follow the developments. Kılıçdaroğlu chaired a meeting Saturday to closely evaluate the developments before making a statement to the public outlining the CHP's reaction.
"Discrediting the military day and night, and disgracing it through smear campaigns, will not bring any advantage to our people," deputy CHP leader Emine Ülker Tarhan told reporters after the meeting.
Saying that dragging the military into political discussions would be harmful to the stability of the country, Tarhan said the resignations just days before the YAŞ meeting were clear evidence of a lack of communication and coordination between state institutions.
Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, said Saturday that the main cause of the crisis was the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, resolve to turn the conventional hierarchical structure of the Turkish Armed Forces upside down.
The association of generals and admirals with coup allegations in the ongoing "Balyoz" Sledgehammer case, Ergenekon and "Internet Memorandum" investigations prepared the ground for the current crisis, Bahçeli said.
"It is obvious that the judicial trials [against top soldiers], which got out of control as they somehow failed to complete them, aims to weaken the Armed Forces and put pressure on them. The ruling party has committed a great sin before history and the nation," Bahçeli said.
But Selahattin Demirtaş, the head of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, said Saturday that the resignations would not cause a crisis in the country.
"It is proven that it can happen. It has been made clear that the resignations of the chief of General Staff and force commanders have not caused a crisis, but this does not mean that military tutelage has been totally replaced by a civilian democracy," he said.
Turkish PM Promises 'Embracing' Constitution
Turkey's prime minister vowed Saturday to push ahead with plans for a new constitution that would be inclusive and democratic, conspicuously avoiding comment on recent resignations by the country's top military commanders that have gripped the nation.
"Turkey cannot proceed with a constitution that was written under extraordinary conditions when Turkish democracy was suspended," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a televised address to the nation on Saturday, referring to the period after the 1980 military coup, when the current charter was prepared.
"The outcome of the June 12 elections proved that the new constitution should be drafted with the largest participation possible and it should be a text of consensus that will meet the demands of the whole society," Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan's address came one day after Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner, along with the Land Forces, Air Forces and Navy commanders, all resigned from their posts in a show of protest against the jailing of 250 officers on charges of planning to topple Erdoğan's government.
While the prime minister did not refer to the resignations, and only touched on the Armed Forces role in highlighting the government's determination to fight terrorism, his remarks on the new constitution marked his first comprehensive statements on the issue.
"I believe that our most important task is to write a new constitution that is democratic and liberal – without shortcomings – and that meets the needs of today," Erdoğan said. "In such a period, where Turkey is undergoing a transformative process from politics to the economy, from justice to freedoms and from a social-state understanding to cultural initiatives, the major need is a civilian constitution reflecting the spirit of these changes and the will of our nation," the prime minister said.
The June 12 elections have provided an opportunity to prepare a new constitution that will be in line with the people's demand for transformation and democratic expectations, he said.
"This constitution will be free of the democratic shames of the past, not exclusive but inclusive, not alienating but embracing, not discriminating but integrating, and not oppressive but liberating," he said, also calling on Turkey's politicians, academics, social scientists, legal experts, nongovernmental organizations and the media to contribute to the new charter.
As for terrorism, he said, "the Turkish government had displayed a resolute fight against terrorism since the beginning and was decisive in continuing to fight terrorism without any compromise in the balance between security and freedom.
"Turkey is leaving behind its troubles and overcoming its chronic problems. Some powers, jealous of Turkey's growth and its development, have made moves to stop it. I would like to make it clear that terrorism targets Turkey's growth, progress, development, prosperity and, most important, its brotherhood," Erdoğan said.
Britain Calls for More International Pressure on Syria
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called Monday for "stronger international pressure" on Syria following a deadly crackdown on protesters, but ruled out military intervention.
"We want to see stronger international pressure all around and, of course, to be effective. That can't just be pressure from Western nations," Hague told BBC radio after Syrian security forces killed nearly 140 people on Sunday.
"That includes Arab nations, it includes from Turkey, which has been very active in trying to persuade President [Bashar al] Assad to reform instead of embarking on these appalling actions."
Britain, along with France, Germany, Portugal and the United States, have been pushing for weeks for some kind of UN Security Council condemnation of the violence in Syria.
"We do want to see additional sanctions, and we have agreed a further round of sanctions at the European Union, which will be announced in detail later this week," Hague said. "I would also like to see a United Nations Security Council Resolution to condemn this violence, to call for the release of political prisoners, to call for legitimate grievances to be responded to."
He admitted, however, that divisions in the council made this "quite difficult," adding the situation was "very frustrating."
Hague stressed there was no prospect of achieving a UN mandate for military intervention, such as in Libya.
"It's not a remote possibility, even if we were in favor of that, which we're not," he said. "There is no prospect of a legal, morally sanctioned, military intervention. And, therefore, we have to concentrate on other ways of influencing the Assad regime and of trying to help the situation in Syria," he said.
"It is a very frustrating situation. The levers that we have in this situation are relatively limited but we should be frank in admitting that and working with the ones that we have."
Activists said Syrian security forces killed at least 100 people when the army stormed the flashpoint protest city of Hama on Sunday. Dozens were killed in other cities.
Syrian Army Kills 62 in Sunday Attacks
The Syrian army raided cities across the country before dawn Sunday, killing at least 62 people -- most of them in the flashpoint city of Hama, where a barrage of shelling and gunfire left bodies scattered in the streets, activists and residents said.
The government is escalating its crackdown on protests calling for President Bashar Assad's ouster ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts Monday. Demonstrations are expected to swell during Ramadan in a remarkably resilient uprising that began in mid-March.
Having sealed off the main roads into Hama almost a month ago, army troops in tanks pushed into the city before daybreak Sunday in a coordinated assault. Residents shouted, "God is great!" and threw firebombs, stones and sticks at the tanks. The crackle of gunfire and the thud of tank shells echoed across the city, as clouds of black smoke drifted over rooftops.
"It's a massacre. They want to break Hama before the month of Ramadan," an eyewitness, who identified himself only by Ahmed, his first name, told The Associated Press by telephone from Hama, where at least 23 people were killed Sunday.
Hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties and were seeking blood donations, he said.
During Ramadan, Muslims throng mosques for special night prayers after breaking their daily dawn-to-dusk fast. The gatherings could trigger intense protests throughout the predominantly Sunni country and activists say authorities are moving to ensure that does not happen.
Other raids were reported in southern Syria and in the suburbs of the capital Damascus. In the neighborhood of al-Joura, in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, soldiers in tanks fired machine guns, killing at least seven people, activists said.
In the village of al-Hirak, in the southern province of Daraa, residents said security forces killed four people early Sunday after opening fire on residents as people ventured into the streets to buy bread.
A resident who gave his name as Abu Mohammed said more than 40 were wounded and 170 detained in house-to-house arrests. He also said some soldiers defected to the protesters after having refused orders to shoot at civilians.
The reports could not be independently verified as Syria has banned most foreign media and restricted coverage.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the attacks against civilians were "all the more shocking" on the eve of Ramadan and appeared to be part of a "coordinated effort to deter Syrians" from protesting in advance of the Muslim holy month.
"President Bashar is mistaken if he believes that oppression and military force will end the crisis in his country. He should stop this assault on his own people now," Hague said in London.
A spokesman for The Local Coordination Committees, which organizes and monitors anti-government protests in Syria, said the group had the names of 49 civilians who died in Sunday's onslaught on Hama.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of The London-based Observatory for Human Rights, quoting hospital officials in Hama, confirmed that death toll and said two more people were killed in Souran in the Hama countryside, in security forces' fire.
Both said the number of deaths in Hama is likely to be higher as many of the dead have yet to be identified and many suffered critical wounds.
An activist and Hama resident, who identified himself as Saleh Abu Yaman, said some soldiers had defected and were fighting against troops loyal to the regime. He said snipers had taken up position on the rooftops of government buildings in the city. Another resident said the city had been expecting an assault after security troops and pro-government thugs started streaming into the city overnight.
Residents set up sand and stone barricades to try and keep troops out.
An estimated 1,600 civilians have died in the crackdown on the largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad's regime since the uprising began. Most were killed in shootings by security forces on anti-government rallies.
Hama, about 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of the capital Damascus, has become one of the hottest centers of the demonstrations, with hundreds of thousands protesting every week in its central Assi Square.
In early June, security forces shot dead 65 people there. Since then, it has fallen out of government control, with protesters holding the streets and government forces ringing the city and conducting overnight raids.
The city has a history of dissent against the Assad dynasty.
In 1982, Assad's late father, Hafez Assad, ordered his brother to quell a rebellion by Syrian members of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood movement. The city was sealed off and bombs dropped from above smashed swaths of the city and killed between 10,000 and 25,000 people, rights groups say.
The real number may never be known. Then, as now, reporters were not allowed to reach the area.