Erdoğan’s order, laws and the Turkish Armed Forces

Erdoğan’s order, laws and the Turkish Armed Forces

Although the negotiations between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continue, there seems to be a problem of trust. That’s why the PKK representative, Murat Karayılan, and others demand legal guarantees. The militants demand a law that will enable withdrawal with no security risks. Moreover, the PKK says that this is necessary not only for itself, but also for the sake of the professional future of the prosecutors, police officers, gendarmes and military personnel in the region.

Last week, the prime minister “personally” guaranteed that there would be no problems. Most recently, he changed his tune and said that “the terrorists should bury their weapons, wear civilian clothes and leave Turkey using the same route and method they used when they entered.” His deputy explained that the National Intelligence Organization is responsible for coordinating this process.

All this shows that Erdoğan is facing a dilemma. Erdoğan wants a smooth process. He wants to see the militants, if only partially, withdraw so that he can feed public opinion with hope and acquire political benefits. On the other hand, he does not want to legalize the process, which would mean granting the PKK a status and dealing the opposition parties a better hand in their parliamentary propaganda.

Even if the prime minister manages to convince Öcalan to accept the withdrawal of a symbolically relevant number of militants without legal guarantees, this does not solve everything. He will also have to ensure that the Turkish Armed Forces stand down.

Erdoğan will have to give “non-legal” orders to both the army, which he has pressured to act within the purview of the law in recent years, and the gendarmes. He will have to say to the army, “Turn a blind eye to terrorists crossing the border,” and to the gendarmes, “Do not conduct operations even if you receive intelligence.” Communicating such orders from the top to the bottom ranks and enforcing them will cause serious security and legal problems.

Many retired and active army officers have been in prison pending trial because they allegedly committed illegal acts. Most of them object, claiming that all they did was obey superior orders. So far they have not been heard, but were reminded of the rule stating that “following unlawful orders does not relieve you from criminal responsibility.”

Necdet Özel, the chief of the General Staff, has previously said that “No commander, including me, can give unlawful orders. Subordinates will not follow such orders.” We don’t know what the general currently thinks because he has been silent since the process began, but we can see the effects of his silence in Erdoğan’s “creative ideas.”