Everything you’d like to know about the Turkish military

Everything you’d like to know about the Turkish military

On Friday, Aug. 3, the second day of his testimony as a witness, Ret. Gen. Hilmi Özkök, the head of the Turkish military between 2002 and 2006, began to unveil the power games among the top brass in the Turkish military, giving names for the first time. From what he said it can be understood that the power game appears to have two dimensions: one between the top generals, and another between the military and the government or politics in a more general sense.

For example, Özkök revealed the name of Ret. Gen. Aytaç Yalman, the head of the Turkish Army between 2002 and 2004, as the member of the General Staff who raised the issue of warning the government against injecting religion into politics. 

This has actually already come up in a text which was announced to be the chronicles of the Naval Forces commander of the time, Özden Örnek. Örnek had denied that the “chronicles,” which were accepted by prosecutors in the Ergenekon case as evidence that there was a military-civilian conspiracy against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, were his. Now the top witness says that it was actually Yalman who raised the issue; a statement which might drag Yalman before the court too.

Özkök also said that he had warned Şener Eruygur, the Gendarmerie commander of the time, not to exceed his authority by drafting unauthorized plans against the government. Eruygur is being tried in the Ergenekon case. 

Eruygur and Yalman are examples of the power game between the military and politics; something that resulted in three coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980.

The Kıvrıkoğlu case, which Özkök revealed on Friday, is an example of the struggle within the military. Hüseyin Kıvrıkoğlu was Özkök’s predecessor. Özkök claimed in court that as soon as it was understood that he would be the one to be promoted as the next Chief of General Staff, Kıvrıkoğlu started a campaign to denounce him as being “insufficient to fight against religious reactionism.” “Kıvrıkıoğlu tried to prevent my promotion,” Özkök said.

Just a note: As Kıvrıkoğlu was trying to prevent Özkök’s promotion, the country was passing through its worst economic crisis, a failing three-party government was steering the country toward an early election, and the U.S. was trying to convince Turkey to allow its troops into the country for the approaching invasion of Iraq. Özkök said the U.S. had blamed him for not putting forth enough effort to achieve a decision for the Parliamentary permission, but he refrained from intervening in political affairs.

His second-day statements endorsed the impression of the first day: that Özkök was the first top Turkish general to resist a major military intervention in politics, and actually succeeded in stopping it by himself. He said in the court that he always tried to remain loyal to democratic principles.

But Özkök testified on behalf of İlker Başbuğ, who was one of his successors, then his deputy, and is currently in jail under arrest as part of the Ergenekon case. “He never mislead me, and was a loyal staff member,” Özkök said. “We had no discrepancy of opinion regarding loyalty to democratic principles.”

As Özkök speaks, we could learn everything we always wanted to know about the Turkish military.