Civilian–Military Relations enter a New Phase
Just recall for a moment the relations between the civilian government and the military.
All troops ranking between three star commanders and the general chief of staff used to castigate the government at every turn during the 2000s. Handover ceremonies in particular would turn into an arena to slam government and provide lectures on how to govern Turkey. Throughout this entire episode, political authorities would have fits and spare no comments in their private chattering, but they would also ignore the taunts of the military brass in their public speeches.
Following the accession of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power, both the tone and the content of these “warnings” grew tougher.
Everything changed, however, first with the investigations launched in 2008 (Ergenekon – Balyoz,) followed by President Abdullah Gül’s intervention in Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) appointments in 2010, and finally after the resignation of the general chief of staff and three other force commanders in 2011.
Momentous changes came about in “civilian–military relations” after Gen. Özel’s appointment to the general staff:
- The prime minister began presiding over the YAŞ all by himself, rather than in conjunction with general chiefs of staff.
- All members of the military brass, including the chief of staff himself, started taking care not to issue political speeches or bicker with the civilian government.
- As prosecutors boldly began calling controversial events to account, the general chief of staff, too, abandoned its view that the judiciary had no right to interfere in such matters.
- The general staff adopted a much more open attitude in responding to public complaints or in sharing operational mistakes.
- The AKP threw its full weight behind the Turkish Armed Forces for the first time and began lending complete support to the institution.
Whether it is the prime minister or other ministers, their behavior has more to do with “taking them under their wings,” rather than “calling them to account.” Those who once said “Thank God we did not enter into war with these generals,” now take pains to protect them instead of leaving them to face their mistakes all alone.
It could easily be said that in the workings of the Turkish state, the military’s past influence has now passed into the hands of the “civilian government.”
Negligence possible, intent unthinkable
The deaths of 35 people in Uludere must certainly be called to account, but the matter is increasingly being more twisted and more distorted. The whole affair has transformed into AKP – bashing through the Turkish Armed Forces. Such is the way of politics; wherever the opposition finds a gap, they take it out on the government. As such, the responsibility for the 35 deaths is loaded onto the AKP. Alright, but in the meantime, the Turkish Armed Forces is being excessively battered.
To tell the truth, I do not believe there is anything deliberate in the incident at all. I reach this conclusion as an observer who has chastised the many failings of the Turkish Armed Forces, even without seeing to all the details.
On the other hand, indications of “negligence” or “misevaluation” are running strong.
That is the subject which truly needs to be investigated.
If the commanders are responsible for any miscalculations or negligence, if they ordered the planes to take off saying “Well, we had a lot of intel. Look they are coming over with a caravan; let us not take risks, just shoot them,” then those in charge definitely ought to be punished.
The faster this investigation reaches a conclusion, the easier the Turkish Armed Forces will be able to shake off needless accusations.