Retired Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök’s testimony as a witness in the Ergenekon case appears to have opened the way for a new era. While giving testimony, Özkök tried his hardest not to erode the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) as an organization.
However, what he also did was confirm that initiatives existed within the TSK against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the frustration felt by the chain of command from the first day the party was established, as well as the efforts toward abolishing the AK Party through extra-democratic interventions.
He noted that the word “memorandum,” was uttered by the former Land Forces Commander Gen. Aytaç Yalman. And more importantly Özkök stated, “In the First Army during the dates of March 3-7, 2003, in a pre-planned seminar, real political names were used, thereby going beyond the seminar’s aim.” And this was the truth of the matter. If those being tried in the Sledgehammer Case had said what Özkök did from the very beginning, perhaps today they would not have retired. The Chief of Staff headquarters made this mistake from the very beginning. They went down the path of denial, calling signed, initialed documents, “pieces of paper,” calling the light anti-tank weapons (LAWs) found in Poyrazköy at the beginning of the Sledgehammer investigation, mere “pipes,” and dismissing the e-memorandum (of 2007) all together. All of these acts came back to haunt them.
When the decisions by the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) a few days ago and the retirement of commanders being tried in the Sledgehammer trial are brought together with the statements of Özkök, it is possible to see the traces of a new era in government-military relations. The strongest indicators of this new era were the statements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the “Gündem Özel” (Special Agenda) television program on ATV on Sunday evening.
The prime minister said of Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who is still under arrest, that he is “not a member of an organization. The accusation is inhumane. I don’t find it right that he is jailed pending trial.” In this ongoing case, the approach by Erdoğan, which is blatantly intervening in the law, went a step further and Erdoğan continued as such: “Members of the Turkish Armed Forces should be tried without arrest. I don’t believe that a member of the TSK could easily escape from this country.” (Should the journalists questioning the prime minister not have reminded him of how a suspect in the e-memorandum case, Mustafa Bakıcı, with the help of the PKK, ran away to Russia in November of last year?)
There must a reason for this change in our esteemed prime minister, who has asserted a strong political will behind the coup-planning cases from the very beginning. Is there a possibility of a war? What can the reason for this change be?
I find the accusations that our esteemed prime minister has changed due to his pending presidential candidacy in the 2014 elections to be premature and unfounded. In the end, our president, the honorable Abdullah Gül, said: “Our relationship [with Prime Minister Erdoğan] is beyond brotherhood. There are still two years. We’ll discuss this when the time comes,” thereby putting an end to further discussion on his potential candidacy.
We are obliged to think the best. When the honorable prime minister holds a positive attitude in his dealings with the military there is an obvious difference. To my knowledge the honorable Erdoğan thinks: These lawsuits have gone on for a long time. The hearings that appear before the new General Staff headquarters every day, the pronouncements, denials, the continuing arguments are wearing away at the establishment. He thinks it is necessary to turn the page on this chapter of Turkish history. In the same way, the new commander of the Special Forces, along with the TSK, wants the period of going hand-in-hand with talk of coups to end. The announced retirements from the last YAŞ meeting imply this. Turkey’s democratization process is ready to do its part along with the TSK towards this end. Terrorism in our backyard has been whipped up, countries that we knew as friends now have a hand in creating serious worries for Turkey. Let us leave these arguments over coups in the past and focus on our noble responsibilities.
If it were like this in reality, we could understand the change coming from the honorable prime minister. I feel the need to signal a warning. What is most important is that the armed forces experience a change in mentality. No salve or encouragement must be given to members of juntas or coup enthusiasts within the organization. With this change of mentality acting as a signal, the 35 items used as justification for the coups in the TSK internal service law, without waiting for constitutional change, must be removed as soon as Parliament reconvenes.