Defense Ministry lends full support to chief of staff in polemic with opposition politician
DHA PhotoThe Turkish Defense Ministry and Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz have declared their full support for Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel, who was slammed by Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli for his part in the Feb. 21 “Şah Fırat” overnight military operation into neighboring Syria. Bahçeli has argued that the mission to evacuate troops guarding an Ottoman tomb and move the crypt to a new location was a failure for Turkey, rather than the success portrayed by the government.
Both the Defense Ministry and Minister Yılmaz released separate written statements on the issue late on Feb. 25, with the latter saying that the addressee for politicians should be politicians, not the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). He also “severely condemned” criticism of the Turkish military forces members, which he said was “unreasonable, inconsiderate and ruthless.”
“Undeservedly charging an institution which is still on top of most credible institutions according to public opinion surveys, and which has been preserving its exceptional place in the hearts of Turkish people, is against customs and also reflects a lack of information,” the Defense Ministry stated, underlining that all members of the Turkish military, regardless of rank, were ready to sacrifice their lives for “the homeland, the Republic and duty.”
MHP leader Bahçeli strongly criticized Özel for “abandoning Turkish soil” inside Syria during his parliamentary group meeting on Feb. 24, questioning the top soldier’s loyalty to his country.
“Mr. Özel Pasha, what is the homeland for you? Did you skip class when the issue of the homeland was being discussed at the Military Academy?” Bahçeli asked.
In a written statement issued by his office later on Feb. 24, Özel responded to Bahçeli, describing his words as “inappropriate.” “I am of the opinion that he does not have the right to question my conscience about my country, my nation, and my flag, as a person who has served the Turkish people and its army for the last 46 years,” he stated, adding that he does not want to engage in polemics with Bahçeli.
In his statement, similar to the Defense Ministry’s statement, Yılmaz did not directly cite Bahçeli’s name, but he criticized “politicians from opposition parties” for “unreasonable, inconsiderate and ruthless criticism and attacks against Turkish military members, who should not be subjected to daily political discussions.”
“I believe our sacred nation has made the most appropriate assessment on this issue too, as it has always done. I severely condemn these kinds of statements,” Yılmaz added.
“The responsibility of guarding the national interests of the Turkish nation and the Republic of Turkey doesn’t solely belong to the government. What is expected from the opposition is to act with national consciousness on these kinds of sensitive issues,” he also stated.