Collective resignation: Do labor law rules apply to top generals?

July 31, 2011, Sunday/ 15:40:00/ BERK ÇEKTİR

I was bewildered by the collective resignation of Turkey’s top generals. Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner and the commanders of the air, navy and land forces have all requested early retirement amid a controversy over the appointment of generals which actually stopped the procedural activities of the Turkish military, including the army, the navy, the air force and the gendarmerie forces.

Even an arrest order for a simple sergeant by a civilian court was almost impossible to get 20 years ago and it is fully understandable that these generals were not happy with the judicial process, which unexpectedly ended up with the arrest of several hundred military officers, including generals and other high-ranking staff. This process also affected the benefits and promotions of the generals, and the chief of General Staff earlier asked for a way to be found to release the generals while their trials were going on. Before this year’s Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Koşaner and President Abdullah Gül held talks to prevent a similar crisis from happening.

There are currently 195 suspects, all retired and active duty members of the armed forces, in the ongoing case of Sledgehammer, a suspected coup plan devised at a military gathering in 2003 that allegedly sought to undermine the government in order to lay the groundwork for a military takeover. More senior military personnel were recently arrested and jailed on charges of links to the subversive coup plan. The government plans to prevent the promotion of 41 Sledgehammer suspects, all active duty staff of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).

I am not happy to see these generals arrested and many citizens also think this way. However, once a crime has been committed, those responsible should be prosecuted and the judicial process should be applied in the same way to every single member of this society, regardless of the position of the person being prosecuted. I sincerely hope that the generals will be found not guilty and released because it would be a big shame to see hundreds of officers found guilty of a crime against the state for which they took an oath to protect.

The government and the military have agreed that none of the generals currently in jail will be promoted. Prime Minister Erdoğan earlier ruled out any prospects of tension between the government and the military at a YAŞ meeting slated for Monday, saying the decisions to be made at the meeting will be in accordance with the law. All the commanders except Koşaner were already set to retire on Monday, when the YAŞ meeting begins, but they all requested permission to resign in petitions sent to the Prime Ministry.

The Turkish military is one of the biggest in the world and has a unique importance in the minds of the Turkish people. So the resignation of the chief of General Staff is not something we are used to. Even in a simple restaurant people are subject to sanctions in case of resignation without notice. If three waiters and a cook with more than 30 years of experience resign from a restaurant, the restaurant owner would bring this matter before a court and ask for compensation for the loss he would suffer given the immediate and unexpected resignations. If the resignation took place right before a very important event during which the presence of the staff is of utmost importance, the matter would be handled in an even more careful way by the court.

Certainly, such high-ranking officers should not resign without any prior notice. A resignation may result in the commanders losing their retirement benefits, if not more, if the resignation is made without prior notice. Having said that, I have to repeat that this is the Turkish military and not a restaurant. Communication at this high level is very confidential and what is discussed stays between the top echelons of the government and the military. We don’t know if notice was given or not.

In any case, the resignation was apparently based on the consensus of the military staff and we should also consider what drove the generals to take such a serious action. I presume that the resignations are not only based on the release of the generals; there should be other and more serious reasons for their resignations.

We don’t have enough facts to comment on if the generals will lose their retirement benefits, but they probably will. My concern is the following: Is it possible for the chief of General Staff and top commanders to resign all together with or without notice?