Objections to gov’t method of reforming Turkish army

Objections to gov’t method of reforming Turkish army

President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım had reasons to take prompt action to radically restructure the Turkish military following the coup attempt of July 15 by a junta from within – “in order not to provide ground for future attempts,” Erdoğan said in justification of the move.

With the move, the land, air and naval forces were separated from the General Staff and put under the Defense Ministry; similarly, the Gendarmerie and Coast Guard were put under the Interior Ministry, while the military schools were shut down.

There is another reason for the government’s move other than the past record of the Turkish military, which had overthrown elected governments three times before. It is the widespread belief in both ruling and opposing parties after July 15 that the followers of Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish Islamist preacher living in the U.S., had infiltrated almost the entire ranks of the army, starting in military schools 40 years ago and building a secret and silently working network.

At the core of the restructuring move are two factors: Decentralizing the power of the Armed Forces and increasing civilian control over it. Such things are necessary in every democracy. 

But the opposition parties, both the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), have started to raise some objections to the move, despite the fact that they are also voicing better parliamentary control over the military. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli says that the government should not act hastily in a fashion that could damage the capabilities of the military, while CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu says the restructuring of the state should not be done by three or four members of the government, pointing at the parliament as the legitimate address for any new oversight.

At the center of criticism is the fact that the move was done by a government decree in force of law (DFL) which was enabled by the declaration of the state of emergency following the July 15 coup attempt. The DFLs under the state of emergency are not under the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court as in the case of laws approved by parliament under normal circumstances. So, the opposition cannot take the move to the top court.

Yet there are questions looking for answers. For example, will the placing of more ministers on the joint boards of the military in terms of the promotions of officers be enough to call the system democratic civilian control? Or will that lead to a domination of the ruling party over the military instead of a genuinely civilian democratic control? Will the Turkish system swing from one extreme to the other once again to lead to new problems while trying to cure the existing ones?

There’s more. For example, the former chief of General Staff, Gen. İlker Başbuğ, says it was not the military which committed the coup attempt but a “terrorist gang” within the military, meaning it would weaken the army to punish it because of that. Başbuğ was sentenced to life for trying to overthrow the government in the Ergenekon cases, but later acquitted and released on the ground that the evidence was all fabricated by a group of police officers, prosecutors and judges, many of whom are now either under arrest or on the run for being members of the Gülenist network, which is now called the “Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ)” in the indictments against them. Başbuğ said in the same Aug. 1 interview on CNN Türk that when he told then-Prime Minister Erdoğan about the rise of the Gülenists in the army and judiciary and said, “Today they are attacking us; tomorrow it will be your turn,” Erdoğan replied: “You are exaggerating them.”

Erdoğan said in an interview over the weekend that he was “mistaken” on the Gülenists and asked for “Allah to forgive” him.

Yet, the government has still time and room to maneuver for a better DFL on the military with more contribution from the opposition parties in parliament. Civilian control of the Turkish military should not turn into party domination.