Behind the scenes of Erdoğan’s iftar with the troops
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar joined troops in the southeastern province of Mardin the other day for the fast-breaking (iftar) meal.
It was a pleasant surprise. At a time when funerals of soldiers continue, and when troops need morale in the fight against terrorism, the picture given by the president and the chief of general staff was significant.
It was Erdoğan himself who asked to have an iftar meal with the troops. They agreed on it during a meeting and the iftar program was prepared by the office of the president.
It was top secret. Except for a very limited number of personnel, it was totally unknown to most in the Presidency at Beştepe and the Chief of General Staff headquarters. Most of them learned about it from TV news.
The president and the chief of general staff did not leave right after the meal. They stayed on for quite a while and talked with the troops.
Mardin was particularly selected because the special forces that have struck heavy blows on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in urban wars in Cizre, Nusaybin and Şırnak are based there. In addition, the Kayseri and Bolu commando teams and Gendarmerie Special Operations teams are also in Mardin, as well as village guards. What’s more, these troops are preparing for rural operations to start against the PKK very soon.
The PKK has been defeated in urban clashes, but the matter is not over. Within the context of the new “preventive strike” concept, rural camps where car bombs are prepared will be targeted. This summer the fight against the PKK will be conducted in rural areas.
While a delicate process is continuing in Turkey’s war on terror, one must also mention a recent controversy within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). In particular, the words of Defense Minister Fikri Işık on a new law that will require cabinet approval for investigations of military figures have caused some resentment.
“We have known for 35 to 40 years that there are terrorists in the mountains. We know of times when operations were not conducted, even though an operation order was given, because of concerns that soldiers may be killed,” Işık said, referring to the pre-2002 period.
The defense minister is an experienced statesman. But his words caused discomfort among the soldier who conducted the fight against terror in the past. In his iftar meal speech with the families of killed soldiers, Chief of General Staff Akar felt the need to say that “the Turkish Armed Forces, today as yesterday, do not hesitate to accomplish all kinds of duties assigned for the country and the nation.”
Işık is expected to make a statement on this matter when he gets back to Turkey, so the thought of another written statement being issued has been suspended for the moment. With the sensitivity of Akar and Erdoğan, it looks like the issue has been overcome.
Turkey is going through one of the toughest periods in its history. I was in the Sur district of the southeastern province of Diyarbakır last week. I visited the historic Kurşunlu Mosque, which had been set alight; the black smoke stains were not covering the bullet holes. I also visited the houses that were ruined, looking like houses in Aleppo. One official told me that 65 soldiers were killed in Sur, 28 of whom fell around the area of the Kurşunlu Mosque.
Security units have done what they had to do in urban clashes. Now it is the turn of the civilians. When Environment and Urbanization Minister Mehmet Özhaseki explained what they were going to do in Sur, he said “now it is time to work.” This must be a key sentence, because there was a loss of time due to the recent government change. Two deputy prime ministers have been assigned to speed up work related to the region. The coordination of the economic dimension belongs to Nurettin Canikli, while other coordination will be with Tuğrul Türkeş. Field work will be on the shoulders of Environment Minister Özhaseki.
This topic was also discussed in the recent Justice and Development Party (AK Party) MYK meeting presided over by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. One MYK member observed that all locals in the southeast, adults and children, are traumatized.
Indeed, the reconstruction of cities and the recovery of hearts should be conducted simultaneously. The prime minister has himself named the new era as the “restoration period.”