The Turkish military, between conflicts and court cases

The Turkish military, between conflicts and court cases

Turkey’s Anatolia news agency yesterday started filing photos of Turkish tanks maneuvering next to the Syrian border, near the border town of Nusaybin, in operations that are part of increasing their “preparedness” in the event of a conflict spreading from the civil war-shaken Syria. Nusaybin is actually a town divided into two by the Turkish-Syrian border, and the name of the twin town on the Syrian side is Qamishli.

In both of the towns, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been well organized for years. When the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria started to raise Kurdish flags in Syrian-populated towns deserted by the Syrian army last week, the Turkish government was alerted. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has asked his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to go to Arbil, where the headquarters of Masoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, is located. Davutoğlu paid a visit to Barzani yesterday in order to ask for more support against the PKK bases in KRG-controlled areas, and also to tell him that Turkey was strictly against the formation of a Kurdish state by carving territories out of Iraq, Syria, Iran and itself.

The PKK, by the way, has just launched a new armed campaign against Turkey. Turkish army units have been fighting PKK militants aiming at Şendinli, a town bordering both Iraq and Iran, for more than a week now.

Under such circumstances, the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) met yesterday chaired by Erdoğan to discuss the “war preparedness” of the Turkish Armed Forces, and also the names to be retired and promoted.

The problem is that there are a limited number of names both eligible and experienced enough to get promoted instead of the ones to be retired, because of court cases ongoing for more than three years now, in which dozens of active generals are under arrest on suspicion that they had been in conspiracy to overthrow the Erdoğan government. None of them has yet been sentenced, but 40 of them (18 from the army, 14 from the navy, 5 from the air force, and 5 from the gendarmerie) are in potentially promotable positions. Last year, Chief of General Staff Işık Koşaner resigned along with three force commanders in protest at the arrests. That puts even more pressure on the current Chief of Staff General Necdet Özel, who is already under pressure because of the arrest of a former Chief of Staff, İlker Başbuğ. Başbuğ has been accused of being the “chief of a terrorist organization.” Another former Chief of Staff, Hilmi Özkök, is expected to appear before the Istanbul criminal court today as a witness, in order to answer the questions prosecutors have about his former fellow officers.

The situation is not an easy one for Prime Minister Erdoğan himself, who had an important phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama about the situation in Syria on July 30. We are talking about the phone call during which Obama was photographed holding a baseball bat, in a picture released by the White House, perhaps to show the political psychology in Washington D.C. What is described above is just a cross-section of the political psychology in Ankara.