Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz’s remarks about the results of the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon cases marked a turning point for the Turkish Armed Forces. During a visit to the Anatolian Agency’s Editor’s Desk, Yilmaz said 73 officers, whose convictions for plotting the overthrow of then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were overturned, had returned to their posts in the Turkish Armed Forces. Among them, 46 colonels would be up for promotion during the Supreme Military Council meetings in August.
According to military sources, this is a landmark decision in terms of reinstating the soldiers into the ranks of the Armed Forces, “As they are already back on active duty and they can be promoted,” said a former soldier familiar with the process. “They will get their ranks, social benefits and severance packages back. And they will be appointed to their next post.”
As Turkey approaches the most critical election in a decade, the country’s top brass are also getting ready to adapt to a changing political and social climate. For almost a year now, Turkey’s Air Force, Naval and Army academies have been advertising to get new cadets, fresh blood and fresh thinking into the barracks. Not a week goes by without a seminar on new military technology or cybersecurity. There is news that the Turkish Joint Chiefs have already formed a social media team, so that we can follow and like them on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr (No, Instagram would be too much at this point).
During a TV project called “Women in Uniform” last year, I had had the chance to see first-hand how much a new generation of commanders were trying to adapt to this new reality. General Necdet Özel was and still is a big advocate of having more women in the ranks. Young female teachers who were not been able to get appointed had applied to the gendarmerie to become border patrollers, prison officers and criminologists. A young female sergeant who had a degree majoring in human resources had preferred to apply to a position in the Army. “Our job is the same,” she had said. “Managing human beings, handling human crises... whether we are in a small company or a brigade does not matter.”
So can the Turkish military be the pioneer of that quantum leap that society needs? History tells us that big changes always started with the military, whether it was the Ottoman Empire or the Turkish Republic. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is proudly talking about how two “all-Turkish made” ATAK helicopters accompany him during his flights on the campaign trail. Surprisingly, the Justice and Development Party (Ak Party) is very eager to use the words “soldier, military, etc.” in the campaign this year, together with other things. Too bad, the late Necmettin Erbakan could not live long enough to see these days. After all, he was the mastermind behind the “all-local” defense industry.
Turkey’s military is shedding the trauma of big court cases, bogus accusations and fabricated evidence with the help of these technological advances. To rise from its ashes, it has to create a new momentum, a new understanding of organisational culture and a new mind-set. And for that, the current and future commanders are working very hard to keep the military away from daily political debates.
For this, and maybe much more for the future of our security, we have to thank the top brass of the Turkish military and wish a speedy recovery for General Özel.