Erdogan brings Turkish armed forces under civilian control

A new decree, which is only the latest effort by Mr Erdogan to consolidate power and purge state institutions since the coup attempt on July 15, allows the president and his prime minister to give direct orders to military commanders in the country.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, reviews special police forces' at their headquarters in Ankara on July 29, 2016. Kayhan Ozer Presidential Press Service, via AP, Pool
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, reviews special police forces' at their headquarters in Ankara on July 29, 2016. Kayhan Ozer Presidential Press Service, via AP, Pool

BEIRUT // Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan moved on Sunday to further weaken the role of Turkey’s military following a failed coup, issuing a decree to bring the armed forces under civilian control.

The decree, which is only the latest effort by Mr Erdogan to consolidate power and purge state institutions since the coup attempt on July 15, allows the president and his prime minister to give direct orders to military commanders in the country. It was issued under expanded powers that Mr Erdogan obtained through a state of emergency declared on July 20.

Turkey’s supreme military council has also been expanded as part of the decree to include more civilian members. The country’s deputy prime ministers as well as its justice, foreign and interior ministers will now sit on the council.

All military academies will also be closed, with the decree declaring that a new national defence university will be established to train officers.

In addition, nearly 1,400 military personnel were dismissed for their suspected roles in the coup attempt. It comes after another 1,700 or so military personnel were dishonourably discharged last week. Almost half of Turkey’s admirals and generals have been removed in recent weeks.

Overall, nearly 70,000 civil servants, teachers, judges, soldiers and police officer officers have been removed from their positions since the coup attempt, with some jailed.

The failed coup, which the government blames on followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, was carried out by factions within the armed forces. But although the government has stressed that only a small group within the armed forces was involved, since the coup attempt Mr Erdogan has taken aim at the venerated institution.

“The extent of Erdogan’s purge and his use of a counterterrorism justification demonstrate his intent to use the coup attempt as an excuse to transform the Turkish military into a source of personal power and eliminate sources of dissent in Turkey,” wrote the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War in an assessment report on Sunday.

The military has a respected and powerful role in Turkey. It was soldiers fighting under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who established the modern Turkish state after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. And since then, the military has seen itself as the guardian of Turkey and the secularist ideals set out by Ataturk.

For much of Turkey’s modern history, it has been accepted that if the nation strays too far from its roots – or its roots as perceived by the military – then soldiers will step in and correct its path. Since the founding of Turkey in 1923 the army has carried out four successful coups.

Today, Turkey has one of the largest standing armies in the world and the second-largest military force in Nato after the United States.

As a bastion of secular nationalism, the military has been seen as fundamentally at odds with the vision for Turkey held by its Islamist president. And as Mr Erdogan has sought to build more power for himself and his allies, the counterweight of the powerful military has been perceived as an obstacle.

Butting heads with the secular military’s power has been a major theme in Mr Erdogan’s life and rise to power. After military officers took power in a 1997 coup, the then mayor of Istanbul was jailed for four months after he publicly read a poem that included the lines “our minarets are our bayonets, our domes are our helmets, our mosques are our barracks”.

Mr Erdogan’s confrontation with the military now comes at a time when Turkey’s armed forces are at war on multiple fronts.

In eastern Turkey, the armed forces continue to fight a year-old war against the Kurdish separatists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK. And along the border with Syria, the military is involved in protecting the frontier from extremist attacks and striking ISIL.

In their deadliest attack since the coup attempt, PKK fighters killed eight Turkish soldiers in clashes near the Iraqi border late on Friday according to the army. Another soldier was also killed by the PKK on Sunday according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

Turkey’s military also hosts US forces involved in the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

Last week, Gen Joseph Votel, the head of the US’ central command, said he was concerned that Mr Erdogan’s purge in recent weeks could affect operations against ISIL. He added that some key Turkish military personnel the US liaised with were now jailed.

jwood@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters

Published: July 31, 2016 04:00 AM

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