The General Staff ranked third last among all other state institutions, according to the poll conducted by the Ankara-based MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center between Aug. 5 and 11. The General Staff was preceded by the police force, the Presidency, Parliament, the Prime Ministry and the government. Pollsters said the General Staff recorded the lowest in the surveys of the past three years.
“The decline in public confidence in the General Staff has two main reasons: the military’s attempts to intervene in politics and the coup plots it is said to have prepared to this end, and its failure in the fight against terror,” stated Mehmet Metiner, a Star daily columnist. For the columnist, the General Staff loses more prestige in the eyes of the public the more it strives to become an actor in politics.
The General Staff is often associated with the military in Turkey. In other words, people usually think of the military itself when the case is related to the General Staff.
“The attempts by the military to stage coups d’état against democratically elected governments, and the right it sees itself as having to take necessary action to unseat the governments [it considers dangerous to its existence] has significantly changed people’s perception of the military. Such factors have created social unease,” Metiner noted.
The Turkish military, which played a role in the establishment of the Turkish Republic, has long seen itself as the protector of the regime and the secular order in the country. It has ousted four governments thus far, and is believed to be engaged in plans to “get rid of” the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which it considers a threat to “secular Turkey.”
Civilian prosecutors have exposed many plans, believed to have been drafted by members of the military, to overthrow the AK Party government. The General Staff, however, denies their authenticity. It argues that the plans were fabricated by “enemies of the military” to discredit the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). However, separate examinations by the İstanbul Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK), the İstanbul Police Crime Laboratory and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) vouched for the authenticity of the plots.
According to Metiner, the General Staff’s attempts to influence the judiciary over the course of the Ergenekon case has also led to a decline in people’s confidence in the General Staff. Ergenekon is a clandestine criminal organization accused of working to overthrow the government. Dozens of its suspected members, including those from the military, academia and the business world, are currently in jail on coup charges.
On various occasions, Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ defied the law and stood by military members on trial. Observers believe the self-positioning of the general against the law is a covert message for the judiciary to stop future indictments of military officers on coup charges.
“There is also the impact of the military’s failure to achieve success in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK] terror in the recent decline in public confidence in the General Staff. People have started to question why the war against the PKK has not ended in 26 years. The General Staff is, however, silent on many issues,” Metiner added.
The terrorist PKK was set up in 1984 as a result of Turkey’s long-standing Kurdish question. The organization has sought to establish an autonomous Kurdish state in eastern Turkey since then. More than 40,000 civilians and security forces have been killed in clashes thus far. The General Staff is frequently the target of harsh criticism due to its inability to end the PKK terror.
Gülay Göktürk, a columnist for the Bugün daily, agreed with Metiner on the point of a loss of public confidence in the General Staff because of the Turkish military’s failure to end PKK terror. She also said the General Staff’s refusal to communicate with the public on military failures in counter-terrorism efforts has shaken people’s trust in the General Staff.
According to the columnist, the General Staff made a critical mistake by not responding to the public’s questions on allegations that the military failed to act against PKK terrorists at the Hantepe outpost last month despite intelligence provided by Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
“There is still no military explanation on the Heron allegations. … The damn silence persists. And as the silence persists, suspicions in the hearts of millions of people leave a place for disappointment and frustration,” Göktürk wrote in her column last week.
Turkey was shaken by claims that surfaced in early August suggesting that the military failed to act against terrorists in Hantepe despite intelligence provided by Herons to 30 security units during every second of a terrorist attack on an outpost in the area in mid-July. The attack resulted in the deaths of seven soldiers. According to the claims, security units, including the General Staff, watched the attack live through intelligence provided by the Herons but did not send any additional firepower to the scene of the assault to save the wounded soldiers.
Although nearly one month has passed since these claims were first voiced, the General Staff has not issued a single statement on the matter.