Can Turkey’s military heal itself?

Can Turkey’s military heal itself?

By the time you read this article, another critical meeting in Ankara will have started. One year after the bloody coup attempt, this year’s Supreme Military Council meeting seems to hold more importance than ever. The scenarios are limited but the signs are many. 

After the resignation of Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) head Mehmet Görmez, all eyes are on two other powerhouses: National Intelligence Agency (MİT) chair Hakan Fidan and Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar. Pressure seems to be mounting on Fidan but the real story is in the garrison.

The Akıncı Air Base in Ankara was at the core of the coup attempt and the pilots who took flight from that Air Base (the 143th Fleet) have been appearing at court since yesterday. Not surprisingly, some have been eager to pull Akar into their defenses. 

Are there any signs that Akar will be thrown under the bus at the last minute?

Retired Major General Ahmet Yavuz, who had to serve three years in jail because of the bogus Sledgehammer case, told me a couple of scenarios regarding Akar’s retirement or continuation.

“If Akar continues, and technically he should, the [ruling Justice and Development Party] AK Party and the president are happy about his obedience to the party rules. If there is a surprise retirement, it means they see Akar as part of what happened on the night of July 15.” Yavuz said. 

“If other members of the top brass continue despite their terms being over, that means the same thing. The president believes ‘they do everything I say, so I should not change them.’ If they all retire, it means the normal procedure is working.”

Yavuz, who recently wrote a book on the July 2016 coup attempt called “Tutelage Wars,” is also critical of Akar and other top brass’ visible appearances in mosques last week. 

“It is mandatory to pray in uniform in religious holidays and funerals. But going into the Millet Mosque in full uniform for early morning prayers is a clear sign of surrendering to politics,” he said. 

It is obvious that the Turkish army is becoming deeply politicized and its recruitment criteria are becoming entrenched within religious practices. One military source told me about how the AK Party’s local branches and religious sects have become “headhunting companies” for the Turkish Armed Forces. There are also stories of newcomer soldiers resisting certain military training due to prayer times. This issue is critical for Turkey’s security, as well as for the international engagements it is engaged in. Turkey’s military does not have the luxury to fall like the Red Army after the collapse of Soviet Union.

Sabancı University’s Istanbul Policy Center has produced a couple of very powerful reports on July 15 and its aftermath. Metin Gürcan, a former major in the Turkish Special Forces, wrote the report on the military. These are his words:

“The transition from a monolithic military to a polylithic one, driven by the weakening of the agency of the Chief of General Staff, should be delicately managed, as this seems to be becoming the prime risk factor within the military ... The question at hand is therefore this: As long as we are inclined to put all our eggs in it, does it really matter if we define the basket as ‘military’ or ‘civilian’?”