AKP gov’t firmly dragging Turkish military into politics

A number of news reports that have recently made their way into the pro-government media suggest that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government may be working to drag the Turkish military into politics to ensure its support for the government’s fight against its imaginary enemies.
The pro-government Akşam daily ran a headline story on Friday in which it claimed that the government is currently engaged in efforts to fire many pro-Hizmet movement members from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).

According to the daily, there are 40 high-ranking officers in the armed forces who have close links with the faith-based Hizmet movement. However, the daily did not provide any evidence to support its claims about the officers and the movement.

The daily also asserted that there is a “special team” that has been working for three months to find out the pro-Hizmet officers at the TSK. The team was reportedly assigned by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Among those officers are allegedly 20 brigadier generals, five admirals, five region commanders and one force commander. Akşam did not mention their names, though. Those generals will allegedly be sacked from the TSK prior to the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ), which is scheduled for August.

The daily did not provide any details as to how the links between those 40 high-ranking military officers and the Hizmet movement have been confirmed by the prime minister’s special team. Now there are rumors that the team might have profiled all high-ranking officers at the Turkish military in accordance with their religious and ideological backgrounds, which is a crime under Turkish laws, to confirm the links between those officers and Hizmet.

The Hizmet movement promotes interfaith dialogue and the resolution of problems through peaceful methods all over the world. However, Prime Minister Erdoğan’s AK Party has been at odds with Hizmet, especially since Dec. 17, 2013, when a major government graft operation became public. The prime minister claims the operation was orchestrated by the Hizmet movement with the motive of overthrowing his AK Party government. He has not provided any evidence to prove his claim. The movement denies the accusation.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül vehemently denied the claim. A statement the president’s office released on Friday slammed the news report as “irresponsible” and criticized an attempt to tarnish the reputation of the military at a time of external threats.

The statement said the president “deeply saddened” over the report and urged the media to pay extra attention when reporting developments about the military.

According to some observers, the Akşam daily’s report is an indication that the AK Party government wishes to secure the support of the Turkish military in its fight against Hizmet. For them, it is odd that the government, which spent several years to curb the political party of the TSK, has now been taking steps to drag the military back into politics.

Lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who is also a human rights activist, told Today’s Zaman that the AK Party wants to push the Turkish military to its side in its fight against the Hizmet movement.

“Turkey, which has discussed for long years that the TSK must stay away from politics, has not been witnessing recently that the TSK is being dragged into politics [by the AK Party.] A Kemalist wing in the state has been cooperating with the Erdoğan’s AK Party to produce policies to finish Hizmet off,” Cengiz stated.

The recent release from prison of hundreds of military officers, who stood trial on accusations of plotting a coup against a democratically elected government and some of who were convicted on coup charges, has raised questions over whether the releases — which came as a surprise for many — could be part of a covert alliance between the TSK and the AK Party government.

According to a news analysis by Ali Aslan Kılıç, Today’s Zaman, there are rumors that the government set up a de facto alliance with the TSK after the corruption and bribery investigation became public on Dec. 17 of last year.

According to rumors, the AK Party agreed with the TSK on a cooperation that it would ensure the release of the arrested officers and in return, the military would help the government in its efforts to do away with claims of corruption and bribery leveled at some government members and put the blame on the Hizmet movement.

Apparently as part of this plan, Parliament passed a law in March that reduced the maximum period of detention before a final verdict on the appeal to five years. As a result, dozens of suspects in the Ergenekon case — considered a milestone to fight the “deep state” and other anti-democratic structures — were released from prison. The suspects were handed down lengthy prison terms on charges of terrorism and coup plotting, but the sentences have not been upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals.

More recently, over 230 defendants in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup trial who were convicted on charges of working on a coup plan against the government were released from prison last week. The releases came after the Constitutional Court ruled that the defendants’ right to a fair trial had been violated. The defendants will be retried due to charges leveled at them.

The releases in both the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases have come after a senior adviser of the prime minister said publicly in January that officers in both cases had been framed by groups within the judiciary, in a covert reference to the Hizmet movement, and the prime minister ordered the Justice Ministry to seek possible ways for the retrial of army officers suspected of coup attempts.

Journalist Lale Kemal, an expert on defense issues, said the Akşam daily’s story on an ongoing work by a special group assigned by the prime minister to find out Hizmet-affiliated members of the TSK is a latest indication that the government has been engaged in efforts to drag the military into politics. According to Kemal, there are many other indications of the government’s efforts to this end.

“For years, we have defended that the TSK should remain outside of politics. But the government has not made required reforms to this end. The military has been moved to a position to be dragged into politics rather than being transformed into a transparent body. While the General Staff must be subordinated to the Defense Ministry, the authority to try force commanders was vested in the prime minister. This was a strong indication of the prime minister’s aspiration to drag the military into politics,” Kemal stated.

She also noted that a de facto alliance between the government and the military has become more apparent after the corruption operation of Dec. 17 of last year. “Dragging the TSK into politics would mean to curb the power of the military. There are many foreign policy risks targeting Turkey. Coup cases did not deeply influence the power of the TSK, but dragging the military into politics will do this,” Kemal added.

‘A bigger witch hunt under way’

According to Cengiz, a covert alliance between the AK Party government and the TSK, along with other state institutions, gives signals that the government is getting prepared for a bigger “witch hunt” against the Hizmet movement and individuals whom the government believes to be members or followers of this movement.

“The witch hunt which we have witnessed so far will be very slight when compared with the one that will be coming soon,” he stated. Cengiz also recalled a draft legislation the government recently sent to Parliament would make it easier for the government to fire public workers and allow managers to ignore court orders of reinstatement, adding that the legislation, if adopted by Parliament, will make it easier for the AK Party to go ahead with its planned purge of public workers from state posts.

Since the corruption operation of Dec. 17, 2013, the AK Party ordered the arbitrary purge of bureaucrats, members of the judiciary and the police force, whom it believes to be Hizmet members. The number of purged officials now exceeds 20,000. The fact that no internal investigation had been launched before those officials were reassigned and that most of them were not given any explanation for their reassignment has led to comments that the government — per the prime minister’s orders — is carrying out a witch hunt against its critics.

The prime minister virtually confessed to carrying out a witch hunt in a public address in May. When commenting on the reassignments, the prime minister — without providing the slightest shred of evidence — accused the reassigned officers of “betraying Turkey” for their suspected links to the faith-based Hizmet movement, which he currently views as “enemy number one.” “If reassigning individuals who betray this country is called a witch hunt, then, yes, we will carry out a witch hunt,” Erdoğan said.

Ümit Kardaş, a retired colonel and former military judge, told Today’s Zaman that such wide-scale profiling to prepare for a mass purge in the military can only happen in coup periods. “The government has been implementing anti-government practices without any regard to the rule of law,” he said.

Oktay Vural, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) parliamentary group deputy chairman, said the Erdoğan government wants to stir up trouble within the military so that it can redesign the military according to the government’s own ideological references.

“The government has conducted psychological warfare against the military before. Now they want to turn it into a partisan military,” he added.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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