This year’s Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) convened on Wednesday for its annual meeting to decide promotions and retirements within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), with all eyes on the situation of dozens of active duty generals and admirals presently under arrest on coup plotting and terrorism charges. Any decision to come about the military’s jailed higher-ups will have a profound effect on the chemistry of the TSK, as it may mean the advent of a “do or die” attitude to efforts to civilianize the Turkish military and solidify the country’s democratic nature.
There are 68 active duty generals and admirals under arrest. Forty of them are expecting to be promoted at this year’s YAŞ meeting. Twenty-one of them, whose service was extended in 2010 and 2011, have now hit the four-year limit, and they need to be asked to retire, according to military custom. The tenure of the remaining 19 officers may be extended, but analysts say it would be better if they, too, were forced to retire, given their status as suspects in coup and terrorism cases.
Uncertainty persists over whether the prime minister and military superiors will decide to promote the suspects, force them to retire or allow their term of duty to be extended for another year.
YAŞ meetings in recent years have been occasions on which civilian will has come up against the Turkish military in attempts to make it give up its anti-democratic efforts and bow to the will of the people. This year’s meeting, however, is an occasion on which the very nature of the military is likely to be re-shaped. Reşat Petek, a retired public prosecutor, believes that forced retirements will boost the TSK’s image in the eyes of the public. Article 65 of the Law on TSK Personnel stipulates that a member of the military who is imprisoned or is being tried cannot be promoted. For this reason, said Petek, the generals and admirals cannot receive a promotion at this year’s YAŞ.
“The TSK law also says a military staff member who is standing trial on a charge that requires a jail sentence of more than five years should be suspended. Yet there is passive resistance within the military against suspensions. The TSK should be commanded by safe hands. Its future should not be entrusted to arbitrary practices. Whoever commits a crime should be removed from the military. This is what the law requires,” Petek stated.
The 68 generals and admirals are suspects in coup plotting and terrorism-related cases, including those related to the Ergenekon terrorist network, the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plot and an Internet campaign to discredit Turkey’s ruling party. Among the jailed generals and admirals are Lt. Gens. İsmail Hakkı Pekin, Nejat Bek and Yurdaer Olcan; Maj. Gens. Gürbüz Kaya, Ahmet Yavuz, İhsan Balaballı and Berkay Turgut, and Vice Adms. Mehmet Otuzbiroğlu and Kadir Sağdıç.
The TSK has for some time attracted criticism for becoming a hub of anti-democratic activity. A crisis dominated last year's YAŞ meeting when former Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner and three force commanders resigned in protest of the government's refusal to promote generals standing accused in the Sledgehammer coup case, a decision in line with legal regulations for such situations. But the president appointed Land Forces Commander Gen. Necdet Özel to replace Koşaner, in a move that could be described as a “soft transition.”
Mesut Ülker, a retired colonel and a strategy expert, thinks a YAŞ decision to force jailed generals and admirals to retire will not “ruin the spirit” of the Turkish military. “It would be a lawful decision,” he said, but cautioned that a massive retirement of the military higher-ups might “catch the TSK off guard.” He added: “In such a case, criticism may emerge that the armed forces are unprepared for such a maneuver. Plans for massive retirements or discharges are announced one year beforehand in developed countries so that the military may make its preparations [to compensate for possible losses].”
There is also speculation that Air Forces Commander Gen. Mehmet Erten will be asked to retire at this year's YAŞ meeting. Erten's dismissal could be related to his poor management of the situation with respect to the killing of 34 citizens by F-14 jets in Uludere in December 2011, after they were mistaken for members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and the downing of a Turkish F-4 warship by Syrian forces on June 22. Some also claim that Erten has consistently performed poorly at National Security Council (MGK) meetings and may be replaced with Lt. Gen. Abidin Ünal, who is the most experienced general at the First Air Forces Command in Eskişehir.
Retired military judge Ümit Kardaş agreed that the generals and admirals who currently face serious accusations should be forced to retire at this year's YAŞ. “Distancing the Turkish military from the coup-making tradition, an unlawful regime and anti-democratic aspirations would by no means ruin the TSK's structure. Military staff with coup inclinations should be sent out of the TSK,” he said.
Analysts also believe the YAŞ decisions will give an indication of the future of Turkey's aspiration to fight coups and other anti-democratic activities. Kardaş said that not forcing the generals and admirals under arrest to retire at the YAŞ meeting would mean an “agreement with the status quo” and stepping back from efforts to do away with Turkey's shadowy networks, which have shaped the country's political landscape for many years.
Petek agreed, and said that a hiccup within the YAŞ or the judiciary in the fight against coups and coup plotters may mean the return of those figures to office and the resumption of plans to seize control of the country through undemocratic means.
The council, which convenes every August to discuss promotions and dismissals within the armed forces, convened this year's YAŞ meeting early on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz and 11 generals in attendance. The prime minister presided over the meeting, which is set to continue until Aug. 4.
Head of Education and Doctrine Command (EDOK) Gen. Nusret Taşdeler, a suspect in the investigation into an Internet campaign to discredit the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and currently receiving treatment at the Gülhane Military Academy of Medicine (GATA), did not attend yesterday's meeting.
Led by Erdoğan, YAŞ members paid a visit to Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, at noon on the first day of the YAŞ meeting. The members will attend a dinner on the fourth and last day of the meeting, to be chaired by President Abdullah Gül. Decisions of the council will be made public after approval by the president. The commanding echelons of the TSK will not see a major overhaul at this year's meeting.
Members of the military who are discharged from the TSK are free to appeal YAŞ decisions through the courts. However, members of the military who are sent into retirement do not have the right to appeal the council's decisions.