[ANALYSIS] - Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz remained quiet with regard to questions posed by the media over the future of active generals and admirals in jail -- charged with plotting coups to unseat the government -- at this year’s four-day Supreme military Council (YAŞ) meeting due to start next Wednesday. YAŞ decides on promotions and retirements for generals, and thus the future status of these top ranking officers has made these decisions a matter of curiosity.
More than 250 retired and active officers, including generals, are on trial facing charges of plotting coups to unseat the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in ongoing cases codenamed Ergenekon and Balyoz as well as ongoing investigations and arrests as part of the Feb. 28 postmodern coup that culminated in the resignation of the coalition government in 1997. Of around 250 officers in jail, 68 are active generals and admirals -- with approximately 40 of them eligible for promotion to a higher rank at this year’s YAŞ meeting. Existing laws relating to the status of officers in jail are clear.
Article 65 of the Personnel Law of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) stipulates that a member of the military who is imprisoned or is being tried cannot be promoted. The same law, however, allows their term of duty to be extended for another year if they are in the process of being tried. The same law, however, is not necessarily applied to junior officers who are tried for various offences since they can be expelled from the military before the court arrives at a verdict. In practice, the future status of about 40 generals and admirals in jail is subject to a bargain between the still politically influential TSK and the civilian government.
Today’s Zaman asked Minister Yılmaz during a dinner gathering last Monday whether he can give a hint about possible decisions over the future status of high-ranking officers in jail during this year’s YAŞ.
He refused to answer the question, and instead said, “We are working on it.” He did not specifically say what they were working on.
Though the political authority is tightlipped concerning bargaining with the military over possible decisions on those high-ranking officers, there is mounting speculation that a midway formula may be found for those generals and admirals who are awaiting promotion but in jail and being tried over coup plans.
According to some military sources, who wished to remain anonymous, the term of duty of some of the generals and admirals awaiting promotion but defendants in coup trials may be extended for another year while some may be retired. Those who were criticized for their insulting remarks to citizens that became known when their voice recordings were leaked to the press may be retired, while the others’ terms of duty may be extended.
Ideally all the jailed generals and admirals should voluntarily retire to end speculation that has been harming the military, said a retired staff colonel.
“If those defendants resign of their own will instead of the TSK retiring them, this will be more honorable for them and for the TSK,” the same source told Today’s Zaman.
The alleged midway formula is said to be considered the most likely option to be implemented during this year’s YAŞ meeting.
The last two YAŞ meetings -- i.e., in 2010 and in 2011 -- turned into a power struggle between the political authority and the military, which regards, among other things, YAŞ as a platform for maintaining the system of military tutelage. But the ruling AK Party has been asserting its legal power since 2010 over YAŞ decisions and has broken, to a certain extent, the TSK’s tradition of not allowing the elected governments to intervene in the promotion and retirement of Turkish generals, who number around 360.
Last year’s YAŞ meeting witnessed for the first time in Turkish history the resignation of then Chief of General Staff, now retired, Gen. Işık Koşaner together with the heads of the army, navy and air force, protesting the arrest of senior officers. President Abdullah Gül moved quickly and appointed Gen. Necdet Özel as the new chief of General Staff.
Top generals resigning instead of staging a coup was another sign of the declining power of the TSK in politics; since 1960 the TSK has staged three military coups and issued two memorandums -- one of which resulted in the fall of the government in 1971.
Though in jail, some high-ranking generals’ terms of duty were extended for another year under Article 65 at last year’s YAŞ meeting and they were appointed to several positions that are critical to the TSK decision-making process. For example, Gen. Korcan Pulatsü, in jail, occupies the seat of a deputy air forces commander, while another jailed general Gen. İhsan Balabanlı was appointed as a deputy to the commander of the 1st Army Command. Gen. Balanlı was the 1st army commander when he was arrested last year over charges of coup plotting in the Balyoz trial. The appointment of jailed generals to the above-mentioned positions creates weakness in the military decision-making process since they have no influence in this process as they are in jail. This kind of appointment policy also results in uneasiness among those colonels and generals who cannot be promoted due to the extension of the terms of duty of generals in jail.
When asked whether the government has any action plan for the YAŞ meeting to kick-start the transformation of the TSK into a smaller but effective force that is fully obedient to civilian governments, Yılmaz said “no.”