A new era for Turkey’s military

A new era for Turkey’s military

Turkey’s top soldier is assuming his responsibilities at a very critical time. Amid a civil war in nearby Syria, a possible land offensive in Iraq against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the surge of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacks inside Turkey, Gen. Hulusi Akar will be juggling many balls while delicately handling domestic politics.

His rise to the top was neither an easy nor a surprising one. Gen. Akar came from a modest family in Kayseri, attended a standard state high school unlike many of his predecessors that graduated from Military High Schools like Kuleli, Maltepe or Işıklar. Sources close to him describe him as an officer who “thinks like a civilian, acts like a soldier.”

Gen. Akar has served two terms at NATO’s Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH) in Italy (renamed the Allied Joint Force Command Naples in 2004), first as intelligence officer and later as the head of the Plans and Principles Department. 

One interesting fact about him is his doctoral thesis on the Armenian Problem and how American politics affected the events in 1915. Many of his junior officers could easily tell that he is particularly watchful of events in Bosnia and Azerbaijan.

Gen. Akar’s promotion comes with a full agenda. The priorities of his immediate predecessor, Gen. Necdet Özel, were focused on re-establishing the credibility of the Turkish Army after the politically charged cases of Ergenekon and “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer). Both Özel and Akar are still under fire in terms of their almost numb approach toward the cases and suffering of the defendants. Yet, Özel managed to get results and clear the name of the military. Akar will be “the healer.”

Akar’s mission will be toward the transformation of the Turkish forces. Until the end of his term in 2019, Akar will completely change the army structure and put more emphasis on the War Academy, the Special Forces and technological advancement. While it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit non-commissioned officers and well-educated personnel in the military, Gen. Akar is said to be a lot more serious about keeping promising officers in the force.

When I asked a former soldier who knows him quite well about his approach towards untraditional allies like China and Russia, his answer told me a lot about the change the Turkish Armed Forces had gone through since 2003.

“Gen. Akar would never intervene in domestic politics. And he would support better political relations with China and Russia,” my source told me, “But he would not allow the military structure to be out of the traditional alliance rules. He is a true NATO soldier in that sense.”

1915 was said to be the Ottoman Empire’s longest year in terms of political and military disasters, Armenian suffering and domestic turbulence. One hundred years later, the Turkish Republic is facing a crisis much smaller in scale yet more important for years to come. 

“His foremost priority will be the protection of the borders and his men in uniform,” my source told me. “He would avoid any military adventure.”

“So what about a land offensive for Aleppo? Or Raqqa?” I asked him. “Only when the threat becomes real. He is not a YES man for sending troops outside of Turkey.”