Turkish military refuses to be drawn into pre-election politics

Turkish military refuses to be drawn into pre-election politics

SOLDIERS STAND GUARD IN FRONT OF THE GENERAL STAFF HEADQUARTERS IN ANKARA. (PHOTO: CIHAN, EMRULLAH BAYRAK)

March 26, 2014, Wednesday/ 16:05:00

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has decried efforts to drag it into political debates ahead of this weekend's local elections, pledging to stay out of politics for the sake of the nation's best interests.

“It has been observed with regret that there have been efforts in recent days to draw the TSK into political matters ahead of the local elections. The TSK believes that its staying out of political debates and matters is necessary for the perpetuity of our state and the wellbeing and security of our great nation,” the military said in a statement, going on to emphasize its commitment to the constitutional principles of a “democratic, secular, social state respecting the rule of law” and adding that it opposes “anti-democratic methods and practices.”

The military's statement came in the wake of the downing of a Syrian warplane on Sunday. The military said the Syrian MiG-23 had ignored several warnings and violated Turkish airspace. The timing of the incident, just a week before the elections, has given rise to speculation that it could have been a government attempt to rally public support and distract attention from a sweeping graft probe targeting close allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The prime minister announced the downing of the Syrian aircraft at an election rally, congratulating the military for its success.

The Turkish military said the strike was in line with “national and international legal norms” and dismissed media reports as “speculative,” without giving specifics.

“The TSK carried out its task successfully, using the authorities granted to it,” the military said on Wednesday.

The TSK's rules of engagement for the Syrian border were changed after a Turkish reconnaissance plane was shot down off Syria's Mediterranean coast in June 2012. Under the new rules, any Syrian military element approaching the border is considered a threat.

Media reports after Turkey's shooting down the Syrian warplane claimed that the Syrian aircraft was seven kilometers inside of Turkey when it was shot down by the Turkish armed forces.

The military's Wednesday statement also noted that “it has no troops in Syria outside of the Süleyman Şah Saygı Post” -- which protects the burial site of the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire -- calling reports to the contrary “unrealistic.”

The tomb of Süleyman Şah topped the agenda after reports in the Turkish press on March 14 that area had been surrounded by al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters. ISIL reportedly demanded that Turkey lower its flag and withdraw its troops protecting the tomb within three days. The Turkish government issued a firm statement pledging to protect Turkey's only territory outside of its borders.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse in Konya on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also underlined Turkey's determination to guard the tomb, saying: “The Turkish republic is a powerful state and never hesitates to take any measures to protect its national security if need be. … Any group in Syria, or the regime, should not test Turkey's determination.”

An article of the 1921 Franco-Turkish Agreement of Ankara allows Turkey to guard and hoist its flag over the tomb, which is described as Turkish property; the arrangement was accepted by an independent Syria.

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