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BURAK BEKDİL

burak.bekdil@hurriyet.com.tr

BURAK BEKDİL > The neo-Ottoman Military Band (II)

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In “The neo-Ottoman Military Band” (this column, Jan. 23, 2013), I observed that “the Turkish command structure is probably … fragile.” To support that view, I did not revisit the resignations of the Navy, Army and Air Force commanders in 2011.

Instead, I mentioned: 1) Despite plans to recruit 50,000 special combat units to fight the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), less than 1,500 applicants turned up; 2) Higher ranks in the military did not look to be in better shape and morale as 5,067 officers, 12,274 non-commissioned officers and 7,766 special combat units quit service between 2008 and 2012; and 3) At the top end of the spectrum, the profession of soldiery is no less dangerous than the anti-terror fight as hundreds of officers were in jail, and insiders were quietly talking of command weaknesses and low morale.

A few days later, the resignation of Adm. Nusret Güner, the number two in the Navy, was publicly confirmed (Güner was to take over as the Navy commander in August). As the Economist put it: “Imagine a country with NATO’s second largest army that counts Iraq, Iran and Syria as neighbors and is encircled by the Aegean, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean – but has nobody to command its Navy (The Economist, “Erdoğan and His Generals,” Feb. 2, 2013).” That is, unless, of course, the government plans to recruit imam school graduates as admirals after six-month, intensified “How to Become an Admiral” courses.

With more than half of Turkey’s admirals in jail along with hundreds of generals and other officers on charges of plotting to oust the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the wave of resignations to avoid jail will most likely endure. There are unconfirmed reports that more than 100 Air Force officers have petitioned to quit.

Yet, last week, the Turkish General Staff denied claims that there is a weakness at the military chain of command. That’s fine – Turkey’s state departments have always exhibited a traditional reflex of denying everything they may deem bad for their reputation. The tradition also goes that it is imperative for these extremely thin-skinned office buildings to claim a conspiracy behind such “evil allegations.” The military command is no exception to this rule, and its statement claimed that: “Those who believe that they can harm the Turkish Armed Forces by setting [this] agenda are wrong.”

Is the Turkish military so fragile that it can be harmed if people speak of officers’ resignations? And who are “those who think that they can harm the Turkish Armed Forces by setting this agenda?”

For instance, who said this: “These operations against the army are affecting morale. There are 400 serving and retired officers in jail. At this rate we will have no officers left to appoint to command positions.”

These words come close to my column of Jan. 23, but are not mine. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said them about 10 days after “The neo-Ottoman Military Band.” But could the prime minister be thinking he could harm the Turkish Armed Forces by saying what he said? Nonsense.

All the same, I suggest Mr. Erdoğan’s government should start devising plans to change the curriculum at imam schools as soon as possible. New courses could include naval cruising, platform dock landing, jet piloting, tank command and artillery and asymmetrical warfare.

What about the resigning officers? I suspect they may be secret members of the Ergenekon gang. Prosecutors should indict them on the grounds that these officers, by resigning, aim to assist their terrorist friends in captivity and to undermine the Turkish military by causing command weakness – ah, to harm to the Armed Forces, of course…

A note of no importance: Dear column neighbor; Your “A response to a below-the-belt punch” was another disappointment, but I am not going to respond to your response since I sadly observe that you perceive arguments over ideas as ad hominem attacks. This small note merely aims to correct a factual error you made: Your line that “[I] long ago unilaterally declared we should be sparring partners” is wrong. I still keep the email message in which a former editor coined the term “sparring partners,” after he accused you of “belonging to the ambush culture” for reasons I am sure you remember well.

February/13/2013

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