Turkey has been freed from the "soldier's bayonet" only to face the prime minister's "truncheon," the deputy group chairman of the country's main opposition said.
The Republican People's Party, or CHP's, Muharrem İnce made the comments ahead of a crucial meeting Wednesday called by the party to determine its stance on the ongoing Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ. The CHP's Central Executive Council, or MYK, was still meeting when the Hürriyet Daily News went to press.
"As we talk about being freed of the soldier's bayonet, in comes [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan's truncheon," said İnce, adding that there were 250 officers currently under arrest without having been convicted of any crime.
He also said 58 colonels and 14 generals had lost their rights to be considered for promotions during the YAŞ meetings.
"Is the Prime Ministry the right place for Erdoğan to satisfy his personal ego?" İnce said, criticizing the prime minister for holding a two-hour private meeting with the deputy chief of staff.
"What are you hiding from the other commanders? Not even Fatih Sultan Mehmet had such an authority. When a war was lost, it was his head that was chopped off," he said. "He is the sole decision-maker, but even that isn't enough for him. He chose the rectors, the ministers, the deputies, the president, but it's not enough. Turkey will not surrender to this. I trust our nation. The CHP is part of Turkey and we will never give in," the CHP deputy chairman said.
Touching also on outlawed Kurdish groups that have taken up arms, İnce said, "While it is bad for the soldier to become political, it is even worse when civil society becomes militarized."
İnce also said he had traveled to the Iranian border Sunday when he was faced with a thousand people with signs featuring slogans such as "The Kurdistan Autonomous Region" and "No Entry without Passports."
A deputy accompanying the crowd told İnce that closing the border was their "constitutional right." During the press conference, İnce questioned why the government was remaining silent on the issue.
Meanwhile, the CHP's Ankara provincial organization was hit by the resignation of senior executive Dursun Bayram on Wednesday.
Bayram tendered his resignation to party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu because of a reported disagreement with Ankara branch head Tarık Şengül.
Turkey Sees Police Role in Kurdish Fight
The Turkish military casts itself as a defender of the nation against internal threats, as well as external ones, and describes soldiers who die in combat with Kurdish rebels as martyrs. Now, a government plan to deploy elite police squads in the fight could undercut the traditional role of the armed forces, even as civilian leaders move forcefully to reduce its political power.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chaired a military meeting in the capital of Ankara after the nation's top four commanders quit last week in protest of the arrests of retired and active-duty officers accused of plotting a coup.In eastern Turkey, meanwhile, security forces combed a rural area where three soldiers were killed a day earlier by suspected Kurdish militants.
The Ankara meeting, which started Monday, will select new commanders in a process aimed at sealing civilian authority over the generals, whose predecessors once staged coups in the name of stability or secularism. But discussions about handing more power to the police in domestic security matters such as the Kurdish conflict could reduce the military's operational clout.
Erdogan, whose roots in political Islam unsettled hardline secularists in the military, raised the police idea after suspected rebels killed 13 soldiers on July 14 in the Silvan district of southeast Turkey. The attack was especially bold because it happened in daylight; media reports said rebels threw a grenade from a speeding car, and then opened fire on soldiers standing beside armored vehicles at a checkpoint. The assailants quickly withdrew. The seeming lack of military preparedness and intelligence sharpened criticism of a largely conscripted force that has struggled to tamp down guerrilla activity even though the Kurdish rebel group PKK lacks the power it enjoyed at its 1990s peak. Many rebel leaders are based across the border in northern Iraq.
The government says it has no intention of forcing the military, which has jets and other heavy weaponry at its disposal, out of the fight altogether. Instead, it is urging the generals to initially deploy 5,000 professional soldiers with commando-style training.
"The military police and police forces will be integrated at the highest level," Erdogan said in late July. "The (military) Land Forces will intervene if the governors deem it necessary. We want to withdraw conscripts from the border units."
He said a government study has concluded that counter-terror police units should deploy, not just in rural areas, but also towns and cities, and that he hoped for "maximum results in this struggle in the shortest period." The rebels, who seek autonomy and other rights, have escalated attacks in recent weeks, apparently dissatisfied with government pledges to follow through on reconciliation efforts after June elections. The clashes also left about 10 rebels dead.
The use of elite police in operations against Kurdish rebels, dubbed terrorists by the Turkish state and its Western allies, would elevate the standing of an agency seen as possessing strong intelligence-gathering abilities and close ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party. Police answer to the Interior Ministry, which is officially outside the authority of the military.
So-called Special Operations Police were widely used between 1990 and 1993, at the peak of a conflict in which large numbers of villagers were forced to relocate and both sides committed abuses. They were forced to hand over heavy weapons, including some mortars and rockets, to the military in 1997 when the generals pressured the Islamist premier, Necmettin Erbakan, to step down. The police force was tainted with allegations of corruption and extrajudicial killings, especially during the tenure of Prime Minister Tansu Ciller in the mid-1990s. Government officials have clarified that special police units would not replace the military in the fight against rebels, and the date and other specifics of their mobilization have not been announced. Still, Kurdish militants condemned the idea.
"This announcement reminds Kurds of the '90s, when these special units ravaged the region, committing executions and torture, leading the country into a dark period," the rebel group said in a statement sent by email to The Associated Press.
Nearly 150,000 soldiers serve in the east and southeast, where most of the Kurdish rebel violence occurs. The PKK has been fighting since 1984, and tens of thousands of people have died. State officials have held exploratory talks with jailed rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan, but key questions such as the autonomy debate and a possible amnesty for rebel fighters have yet to be addressed.
Promotions of 14 Imprisoned Generals Still Major Source of Contention in YAS Meetings
Turkey's Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, came closer to re-shaping the military command structure on Wednesday, the penultimate day of its four-day annual gathering, amid growing signs of who would take over the most senior posts after the beleaguered top brass stepped down last week.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan chaired the two-hour meeting at the General Staff headquarters and was to come together with the generals again later Wednesday for an iftar dinner to break their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan, hosted by President Abdullah Gül.
With YAŞ expected to formally announce its decisions Thursday, unconfirmed reports suggested that the commanders of the land, air and naval forces were largely agreed on.
Four-star Gen. Hayri Kıvrıkoğlu was expected to become Land Force commander, even though he ranks third in the traditional line of succession. The two more senior generals, Saldıray Berk and Aslan Güner, have fallen from grace with the government amid coup plot probes and political tensions.
Three-star Gen. Abidin Ünal was expected to take over the Air Force in the absence of a four-star general, and hold the post as an acting commander until promotion next year, making a first, if realized.
The succession line in the Air Force was disrupted in May when the would-be commander, four-star Gen. Bilgin Balanlı, was arrested as part of a massive investigation into the Balyoz Sledgehammer case, a purported 2003 plan to overthrow Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
Fleet Commander Adm. Murat Bilgel was expected to head the Naval Force, while Gen. Servet Yörük was likely to become commander of the Gendarmerie, succeeding Gen. Necdet Özel, who would formally take over as chief of General Staff following Gen. Işık Koşaner's surprise resignation last Friday.
The reshuffle is likely to leave some senior figures disgruntled and may trigger fresh resignations, observers said.
Ankara has been awash with speculation about how YAŞ will resolve a major point of contention – the situation of 14 generals in line for promotion, who remain in prison pending trial as part of the Balyoz investigation.
Their cases are likely to be handled on an individual basis: some may end up in retirement; others may be kept in a "waiting line" with their rankings effectively frozen.
The law bars the promotion of detained officers and the government has made it clear that it will not make compromises, reportedly insisting to send them directly into retirement.
The mass detentions in the Balyoz case, marred by serious doubts over the authenticity of some key incriminating documents, has sparked indignation among the military and emerged as the main reason that prompted Koşaner and his fellow commanders to step down.
Jailed Generals, Admirals Keep Positions for One Year
The Supreme Military Council has completed its three-day works.
Gen. Necdet Ozel became the new chief of the General Staff while Gen. Hayri Kivrikoglu was appointed the new commander of the land forces. Meanwhile, the situation regarding the 14 jailed generals and admirals escalated tensions during the meeting. The government wanted those military personnel to be retired. The military wing insisted on an extension of their tenure. In the end, it was decided that the jailed generals and admirals will keep their positions for a year.
Gul Hosts Fast-Breaking Dinner at Presidential Residence
President Abdullah Gul hosted a fast-breaking dinner for YAS members at the Presidential Residence on Wednesday. All commanders were in attendance.
In the photographs distributed to the media, one can see an atmosphere showing that "crisis was over in YAS." During the dinner, Acting Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel and Gen. Saldiray Berk, who is expected to be retired at the end of this YAS meeting, sat on the right and left of President Gul. National Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz and Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Aslan Guner sat on the two sides of Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Two New Fault Lines Surface in Kurdish Problem
Prosecutors asked for 15-year prison terms for 98 mayors who were members of the former Democratic Society Party, or DTP, on Wednesday.
The mayors said: "Conditions in which (head terrorist Abdullah) Ocalan can contribute to a solution should be created."
The previous day, PKK gave a message that it could end cease-fire. Both developments indicate that Turkey can face clashes in coming days.
U.S.-Turkey Security Ties Will Remain 'Unchanged'
Security relations between Turkey and the United States will remain unaffected by the recent resignation of Turkey's top brass, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone said Wednesday at a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"We look forward to working with the new [military] leadership. The security relationship, though, goes beyond individuals, it is based on institutions. Turkey is a state of law and strong institutions that are durable even though they are dynamic and in change. I have every confidence that our security relationship will continue to be strong, that our military leaders will meet with the new Turkish military leaders. I am very confident things will be just fine," Ricciardone said.
Ricciardone has been acting as the envoy to Turkey, but his appointment must still be approved by the Senate.
Commenting on the resignation of Turkey's chief of General Staff and top force commanders, Ricciardone said there was always turnover in the military leadership around this time of the year.
"This turnover happened in a different way, by means of a resignation under evident protest for particular reasons articulated by Gen. [Işık] Koşaner," he said, adding that he was "very, very confident" that this situation had not caused any setbacks in security relations between the two countries.
"During my 33-year career in the Foreign Service, I've had the pleasure and the privilege of previously having served in Turkey three times. And through this period, I've observed Turkey's continuing transformation into a more democratic, more open and more economically vibrant modern state, and as a player with growing influence on the world stage," he said. "Throughout this change in development, there has been one constant, and that has been Turkey's continued commitment to its partnership with the United States and the NATO alliance. It's also a member of the G-20 now, and having one of the fastest-growing economies in the world."
Ricciardone also highlighted Turkey's role as a majority Muslim nation and as a secular democracy, while drawing attention to the intensive cooperation that has taken place between Turkey and the U.S. for decades in diverse areas, ranging from trade and regional stability to countering terrorism and strengthening democracy.
"Just last month, Turkish security officials arrested an alleged al-Qaeda cell that was plotting to bomb Western interests in Turkey, including the United States embassy. We support Turkey's own foremost security objective of defeating the terrorist violence, which the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party] continues to perpetrate and which has led to the deaths of over 30,000 Turks since the 1980s. We strongly support Turkey's efforts to improve the human rights and economic situation for the Kurds, and their democratic participation as full citizens, and the rights also of other communities of vulnerable groups in Turkey," he was quoted as saying by Anatolia news agency.
The U.S. backs Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union, while the U.S. will also continue to press for the reforms required for Turkey's accession, he said.
"I've been privileged to serve in Ankara during the Arab Spring, during which I've strived to enlist Turkish support for the NATO role in Libya, for a successful transition to democracy in Egypt, and in collaboration with my colleague and friend next door in Syria, to pressure the regime in Syria to cease its brutal repression and to heed the will of its people," he added.
"On missile defense, Turkey did support, of course, the NATO statement at Lisbon. They support the NATO effort to have a phased adaptive approach radar system. We've moved well beyond that generality to have detailed technical discussions and legal discussions with the government of Turkey," Ricciardone said.
Senator Robert Menendez, known for his critical stance toward Turkey, criticized Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's statements on the issue of Cyprus and inquired about Ricciardone's views on the matter. Ricciardone replied that the U.S. wanted a solution based on a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation on the divided island.
Menendez also inquired about Ricciardone's views on Armenian allegations of genocide regarding the bloody events of 1915.
"I stand behind President [Barack] Obama's characterization of the Yeds Meghern, as the Armenians themselves call it, the tragic massacre, murder of, you know, a million and a half men, women and children marched to their deaths in 1915. But I stand behind our characterization of that and our efforts of what we're trying to do now," he said.
Ricciardone also pointed out that any instability in Syria could have direct security and economic repercussions on Turkey's vital national interests. The Turkish government did not see religious minorities as a threat and was pleased over religious diversity in the country, Ricciardone said, adding that the Turkish government had been exerting efforts to alleviate the problems of religious minorities.
Touching on Israel, he said: "I feel very certain, having discussed this at length with the prime minister and the foreign minister, certainly the military leadership, that all these Turks, whatever their feelings, misgivings, irritation, issues over the terrible flotilla incident of last year, over events in Gaza, they understand that to influence events in the region, to be part of a more peaceful and prosperous region, which is in their vital national interest, they need to have a normal, fruitful, respectful, full diplomatic dialogue with Israel, and they want to get back to that," he said.
Ricciardone's Nomination for Ambassador to Turkey to be Decided Next Month
The United States' ambassador to Ankara, Frank Ricciardone, appeared late Wednesday before the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee for his second confirmation hearing, but the committee will not decide on his fate until September.
President Barack Obama last year nominated Ricciardone for the Ankara job, but right-wing Republican Senator Sam Brownback effectively blocked him. All senior administration officials, including ambassadors, need to be confirmed by the Senate with only one senator's objection being sufficient to prevent confirmation.
In Wednesday's hearing, pro-Armenian Democratic Senator Robert Menendez pushed Ricciardone on Armenian-related matters. When Menendez asked him if the U.S. had ever denied the "Armenian genocide," Ricciardone replied: "I stand behind President Obama's characterization of the 'Medz Yeghern' [great calamity], as the Armenians themselves call it, the tragic murder of a million and a half men, women and children who were marched to their deaths in 1915. But I stand behind our characterization of that and our efforts of what we are trying to do now."
If Ricciardone passes the committee hurdle, then his nomination will go to a vote in the full Senate. Under U.S. law, if Ricciardone also this time fails to win the Senate's confirmation before the end of this year, his post as ambassador to Ankara will end.
Prosecutors Release Detainee After Interrogation in German Charity Investigation
Prosecutors investigating fraud in a Germany-based charity organization have released a suspect who was detained on Tuesday for interrogation in the Turkish capital, Ankara.
Aysenur Sezgun, a former employee in the private Turkish TV channel, Kanal 7, was released Wednesday after giving her statement under the probe on the charity organization, Deniz Feneri e.V.
Three Turkish nationals had been convicted and sentenced to prison terms by a German court for syphoning millions of euros.
The German court had said Deniz Feneri e.V. had received a total of 41 million euros of donations over last five years in Germany and 17 million euros of that had been sent to Turkey.
Imbalances Could Negatively Affect Turkey's Rating, Moody's Says
International rating agency Moody's has said domestic and external imbalances could stall Turkey's positive rating momentum if the country failed to take corrective action.
"Growing domestic and external imbalances will, if left unchecked, begin to adversely affect Turkey's rating trajectory," Moody's Investors Service said Wednesday in a special comment.
Moody's said resilience of Turkey's economic and fiscal fundamentals during the global financial crisis had underpinned a positive outlook on the country's Ba2 rating, adding the economy's robust growth rate had contributed to an improved fiscal position.
The agency, however, said Turkey's large current account deficit remained as a particular issue, adding that the government was financing it using sources of capital that were more volatile. "Turkey is therefore susceptible to sudden shocks or shifts in investor sentiment," it said.
Moody's said post-election policy environment in Turkey was expected to be relatively dynamic and that the direction of the fiscal and monetary policy would be important for the country's rating trajectory over the next 12 months.
The agency said Turkey's rating could be upgraded if the country's fiscal fundamentals improved further, with a fiscal and monetary policy stance that reversed recent growth in internal and external imbalances, including a narrowing in the current account deficit. Turkey faced a more immediate challenge to strengthen its resilience to external shocks by restraining domestic demand.
"This will generate larger primary surpluses and reduce its debt levels. At the same time, additional measures could include a narrowing of its external imbalance and the accumulation of a larger buffer of both private and official foreign-exchange reserves," it said."If vulnerabilities continue to increase -- such as the large current account deficit, growing inflationary pressures and strong credit growth -- and external buffers diminish or remain the same, Turkey's resilience could be undermined, which could cause downward pressure on the credit ratings."
China Waiting for Visit from Turkish Prime Minister
China's ambassador in Ankara, Xiaosheng Gong, told the Sabah Daily about the 40th anniversary of establishment of relations between Turkey and the People's Republic of China.
"1,500 Chinese citizens were evacuated from Libya, thanks to Turkey. We will never forget the Turkish government's and people's friendship." The Chinese diplomat added that they were expecting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to pay a visit to China.
Japan Out of Tender Process for Nuclear Power Plant
Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz said that Japanese TEPKO left the tender process for the nuclear power plant to be built in the northern Turkish province of Sinop. Yildiz added that the Japanese government, however, wanted to carry on talks.
Turkish Parliament Speaker Meets Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister
Turkish Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek met Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov in Ankara on Wednesday.
Speaking at the meeting, Cicek said relations between the two countries could be a model for other countries. He described Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev as a significant value for the Turkish world and said that he had great contributions to ties.
Cicek said that Kazakhstan had made a great progress since it gained independence 20 years ago, adding that the Central Asia nation had drawn confidence from international community during this time. Cicek also added that he would continue to work to foster relations between the parliaments of the two countries.
For his part, Kazakhstan's top diplomat Kazykhanov said that his government was eager to carry forward strategic agreements and inter-parliamentary cooperation with Turkey.
Highlighting economic relations between Turkey and Kazakhstan, Kazykhanov said that trade volume reached $2 billion. He said Kazakhstan wanted to raise trade with Turkey.