This year's Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, which started Monday, marks a power shift in favor of the government in the wake of the resignations of nearly the entire top military echelon.
Unconfirmed reports suggest there are fault lines to be overcome, mainly concerning the promotion of some low-ranking military officers to key positions, demands made by the government. Many saw the snap meeting held between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and acting Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel as a sign of ongoing problems. As YAŞ convened for its four-day gathering, Erdoğan sat alone at the head of the table, breaking custom for the annual meetings.
Sources said the change in protocol was because Özel, the army's head commander, was currently serving as the acting chief of General Staff and his appointment was yet to be concluded during the high-level meeting.
The image, however, was seen by many as a symbol of Erdoğan's full control over the military after former Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner and the land, naval and air forces commanders resigned from their posts late Friday.
A few hours after the picture was taken, Erdoğan and Özel met separately at the prime minister's residence, where they are believed to have reviewed appointments to the force commander positions and promotions that will shape the future command structure during their nearly two-hour meeting.
According to information obtained by the Hürriyet Daily News, three main problems could cause difficulties between the army and the government during the meeting, starting with the appointments to head the land, air, naval and gendarmerie forces.
Gen. Hayri Kıvrıkoğlu, the commander of the 1st Army, seems to stand the strongest chance among four candidates of assuming the post as head of the Land Forces as each of the other candidates have had problems with the country's civilian authority in the past. In this case, Gen. Aslan Güner, vice chief of General Staff and Gen. Bekir Kalyoncu could resign from their posts. Many believe that Kıvrıkoğlu is not the government's preferred figure either, and a low-ranking military official could be appointed to the post. This is also the case for the air and naval forces commanders.
The second problem facing YAŞ is the government's insistence on forcing military personnel under prosecution to retire from the army. Koşaner resisted this proposal on the grounds that none of the implicated officers has been convicted. In his farewell message, he stressed that 14 generals and 58 colonels in line for promotion were behind bars and impeding their promotion would be an injustice. It is not known how this year's YAŞ will respond to the government's demands in this regard.
A third problem could emerge in the promotions of lower-ranking personnel. The government is asking for a swift promotion to higher ranks for some military personnel with a view toward bringing them into key positions, overriding the military's strict customs of promotions. Such a move could cause massive unrest at the military headquarters.
Military Cause of Radical Balance of Power Shift
The principal casualty of this radical shift in the balance of power has been the military, the self-appointed keeper of the Kemalist flame that formed the backbone of the self-perpetuating Kemalist ruling classes. That did not look like a foregone conclusion when the neo-Islamist AKP first came to power in 2002, suspected by the secular of a hidden agenda, resented by the privileged for its presumption.
At the time, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP leader and former mayor of Istanbul, was banned from electoral office by Kemalist judges. Few Turkey experts were betting on his survival. Yet, since becoming prime minister after a by-election in 2003, he has twice won landslides at the polls on a rising share of the vote. And he has brought the army to heel. The stars certainly aligned in Erdogan's favor, but with his almost preternatural rapport with ordinary Turks, the prime minister has, time and again, outfoxed the generals.
The end of the cold war, during which the Turkish army, the second-biggest in Nato, was the alliance's sentinel in the eastern Mediterranean and the Caucasus, downgraded military influence and freed Turkey to re-emerge as a regional and commercial power. Under Erdogan, Turks have seen their per capita income double and their country's influence burnished.
Kemalist political parties, meanwhile, with their lazy sense of entitlement and reliance on the generals and judges to win back what they kept losing at the ballot box, were eclipsed by the AKP, further dimming the luster of the military.
The European Union, which made Erdogan's Turkey a candidate for membership in 2004, was another big engine of change. The army saw in the now-stalled accession talks of fulfillment of the European vocation envisaged by Ataturk, while the AKP astutely used the EU – which demanded curbs on military influence in politics – as a shield against the generals.
The critical moment came in 2007 when the high command announced on the army's website it could not accept Abdullah Gul, then foreign minister, as president because he had begun his career as an Islamist. Erdogan went to the people, who helped him bury the generals under an avalanche of votes.
Since then, magistrates have uncovered a baroque series of alleged plots against the government, leading to the arrests of hundreds of serving and retired officers. Legal process has been intolerably slow. It may be that Erdogan, seeing his chance to intimidate dissidents, has spread the net too wide. But one in 10 of Turkey's hitherto over-mighty generals is now behind bars, and a clear majority of Turks appears to support this.
The current standoff, which the government looks already to have won, follows Erdogan's refusal to accede to Gen. Kosaner's demands that officers in detention should be promoted as though they were on active service. That seems to be what prompted the generals to abandon the field.
There is further to go in clipping the military's wings; its Internal Service Law, for example, the legal pretext for the last coup in 1980, still entitles it to intervene in politics. There is much further to go in ensuring Turkey's new constitution, to replace the army-dictated charter arising out of that coup, contains a full panoply of democratic checks and balances, especially in light of Erdogan's presidential ambitions and authoritarian bent. But that constraining role is not for the army – not in a modern republic seeking its rightful place in Europe.
'Climate Will Change,' Says Kurdish Politician
A Kurdish writer and prominent political figure who spent 31 years in exile before returning to Turkey on Sunday received a warm welcome from the country's European Union minister.
EU Minister Egemen Bağış on Monday met Kemal Burkay, hoping to secure support for Ankara's aim to end the Kurdish conflict.
Referring to the lyrics of his poem 'Gülümse' (Smile), which were made famous by Turkish singer Sezen Aksu, Burkay said he was hopeful about the future.
"Turkey is facing hard [times], but the climate will change in the country, the summer will come," he said.
Kemal Burkay, the founder and former secretary-general of Kurdish Socialist Party, or PSK, fled Turkey in March 1980.
Bağış said he welcomed Burkay as an intellectual and a wise man with vision.
"I agree with Burkay's remarks that the outlawed organization [Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK] has been fighting against the Kurdish people," Bağış said, noting that he was born in the region where the heaviest clashes have been experienced.
According to Bağış, the way Burkay has fought the ideas that support violence is similar to the policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. The minister also emphasized that Turkey has made important steps on civil rights since Burkay went into exile. But more development is needed to bring peace to the country.
The minister presented Burkay with a book by Ahmed-i Hâni called "Mem û Zîn" and a Kurdish Quran, as their meeting fell on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, saying the government welcomes every idea that supports peace.
"In the year 1974, we were in preparations to publish a Kurdish newspaper, and they [officials] told us that our heads would be cut off if we published it," Burkay said, adding that they published the newspaper despite the threats. He also said that every death, regardless of that person's identity, causes him suffering.
"Losing a soldier and a member of PKK are the same," Burkay said. "[There was] the same suffering in Spain when that country was adopting democracy."
Calling on the people to support democracy and peace, Bağış said deputies should share their opposing views in Parliament and should get involved in the peace process. Reiterating Burkay's words, the minister also said that "the guns should be abandoned."
Burkay, the founder and former secretary-general of Kurdish Socialist Party, or PSK, fled Turkey in March 1980, six months before the Sept. 12 military coup. He received asylum in Sweden, where he has been living since. He is known for his pro-peace approach toward the Kurdish issue.
Supreme Military Council Meets for Second-Day Deliberations
Turkey's Supreme Military Council met under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday for its second-day deliberations.
The Council will advance several colonels, admirals and generals to a higher rank, appoint new generals and admirals to several military posts, and discuss undisciplined or unethical behaviors and retirement of officers during the meeting.
The regular YAS meeting will end on August 4. The council's decisions will be made public after being presented to President Abdullah Gul.