There is a very serious situation unfolding in relation to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). A leadership mentality that has pushed aside its essential mission, as well as a structure forged during the years of the Cold War is steadily corroding this critical institution.
As for the ongoing process of justice, it shows just how much the TSK needs a change in mentality and for its structure to be overhauled. Despite this, however, General Staff command is still busy avoiding dealing with the situation in which it finds itself. This path it has chosen is really not a path at all, and augurs bad things not only for the TSK but for Turkey as a whole.
The General Staff does not accept the absolute necessity of reform. Instead, under pressure, it has released a series of not-very-convincing statements full of contradictory remarks. And what this does is turn back-to-back mistakes into a dead-end from which it cannot emerge.
Allow me to provide two examples. The first is in connection with a statement issued by the TSK after the explosion in Afyon that killed 25 of our soldiers. Here is what the statement, issued on Sept. 8, said: “The media reported that the soldiers killed were new soldiers. This has no connection with the truth. Rather: (1) Fifteen of the soldiers killed were short-term soldiers, and (2) short-term soldiers receive three weeks of basic military training, and after taking their military oaths are sent out to their various units. So, in fact, the soldiers who were killed in this group had already been soldiers for one month.” This statement is not a denial but an admission of the truth. Of the 25 soldiers, “only” 15 were short-term, and they were not absolutely brand new but had received three weeks of training.
Now allow me to give a second example. It is a statement issued from the General Staff on Sept. 10, regarding military operations that have taken place over the past six months: “The publicly stated opinions that our recent martyrs were personnel who had only received brief training, and who were only soldiers because of the mandatory military service system, are not true. The number of martyred soldiers since the date of Sept. 6 is 88, with 54 of those being professional soldiers.”
Subtract 54 from 88 and you get 34. In other words, a full 40 percent of recent martyrs were youths who had received only brief military training, and were serving mandatory military service. This is the way it has been going for the past six months.
If the numbers from the past 30 years were made public, it would become clear that this percentage was actually much higher.
As I said earlier, the TSK needs to give up making these statements. The real issue is the TSK being at the command of the civilian will through a civil Constitution. We as a nation ultimately reject the battle between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been carrying out guerilla attacks for the past 30 years, and the forlorn foot soldiers, or “Mehmetçik,” of the TSK, who receive no guerrilla training. We reject the way these foot soldiers are literally turned into some sort of target practice for the PKK, at the shack-style security stations which have been hit repeatedly over the years, from which we lose the bulk of our young soldiers.
The bill of reckoning for all these lost lives must be placed before those responsible for the neglect that has led to these events. We need to move now to a professional army. The TSK must be directed in a transparent manner, and military spending must be similarly transparent, and open to questioning. We want a military that does not spend its time getting mixed up in politics, trade or coup plans. We do not wish for this task to be forgotten or neglected.
The General Staff and the gendarmerie must be connected directly, not just on paper, to the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Article 35 of the TSK Interior Service Law, which acts as the basis for so many coups, must be eliminated, as should the high military court. Miserable treatment accorded to the foot soldiers of the military must be prevented. Mistakes and accidents as the result of negligence must be investigated and pursued. The four top officers responsible in the explosion that recently took the lives of 25 soldiers have not even been removed from their posts. They were not even moved to new locations.
The three events which have made life so difficult for our government in the past three months are linked to the military. These are Uludere, the downing of our jet off the coast of Syria and the explosion in Afyonkarahisar.
Turkey is growing, getting stronger, becoming more democratic. The military of the new Turkey should also be new. We as the people want to see a military which has high deterrent capabilities and possesses technology, information, national defense industry capabilities. It should take its strength from the people. A military that will cause enemies to think carefully before even looking askance at Turkey.