Turkey

Destruction Of A Myth: Turkey's Once Esteemed Military Has Sunk To A New Low

Op-Ed: Turkey's once powerful military was respected both within the country, and around the world. But it now has it been -- rightly -- superseded by the civilian government, and recently leaked comments from top brass show an institution rife w

Turkish soldier at the Ataturk mausoleum in Ankara (eddy13)
Turkish soldier at the Ataturk mausoleum in Ankara (eddy13)
Mehmet Ali Birand

ISTANBUL - Historians writing about this era of Turkish history will point to the symbolism of a photograph taken at the recent Higher Military Council meeting. The image shows the country's Prime Minister sitting alone at the head of the table, where traditionally he would be flanked by generals.

Some people say this image reflects the surrender of the Turkish armed forces to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party. This is correct. This is also what needed to happen. The armed forces should be subordinate to civilian authority. A politician elected by the people to lead should sit at the head of that table, and be able to determine overall strategies for the country.

The recently leaked recording of former military Chief of Staff General Isik Kosaner speaking at a top military meeting came as a big surprise not just to us, but to international military circles as well. The Turkish armed forces held a near mythic status, both abroad and at home. We were fed stories of success, constant sacrifice, discipline and heroism. Kosaner's talk destroyed this myth.

What happened to our military? You know, the one that was guarantor of our lives, protector of democracy, held in such high esteem?

The leak of that talk has sowed great disappointment. Not just here. International military observers are also reevaluating what they know, and rewriting standing reports on the Turkish military.

As it turns out, nothing that was said about the military until now was true.

They said we were the strongest military in NATO, and the region.

But as it turns out, all we did was create hundreds of thousands of soldiers willing to die out of ‘patriotic love". In addition to dying, it turns out we also made them do housework.

They said we had the most disciplined military. As it turns out, over time that discipline had totally eroded. Instead, the desire spread to see themselves as above the law.

They said the military education here was even better than that of the US military. As it turns out, there was no decent education being given, nor was there any control over the chain of command.

Do listen to what General Kosaner says in that talk. He criticizes the faulty management of units, the inability to correctly process data from drone flights, the chaos and lack of control over military headquarters – and he speaks of officers who are incapable of being leaders.

They used to say the Turkish armed forces' biggest asset was the experience it gained fighting terrorism in the southeast. As it turns out, no great counter-terrorism lessons were actually learned, apart from the pain of individual sacrifices.

The price of political meddling

You listen in shock to the stories of commanders who abandoned their guns and posts or shot their own soldiers. Are these our heroes? Where are those famed commanders who appear on television, sell books filled with advice and slam civilians for daring to make suggestions about policy?

As it turns out, all we were fed was an image, devoid of any substance at its core. We were conned.

At the heart of all that went wrong with the Turkish armed forces is the fact that commanders were far more concerned with intervening in domestic politics than with doing their real job.

From the May 1960 coup onwards, the Chief of Staff began to take on an increasingly dominant role in domestic politics. Consider our recent history and you'll see this immediately. The intervention of March 12, 1971, followed by two unsuccessful coup attempts, followed by the September 12, 1980 coup, means that the Armed Forces devoted a grand total of 25 years to domestic politics. Add to that the ‘soft coup" of February 28, 1997 that created even more confusion. If you include subsequent efforts to manipulate democracy and military interventions in the 2004-2007 period, after the AK party came to power, it all adds up to the conclusion that the military has been in politics for 40 years.

If a military's top cadres become involved to this degree in domestic politics, and the commanders spend most of their time on non-military business, then that military will end up in the situation it is in today.

I have been writing about the dangers of this for 40 years. All that time, I have said that the military should stay out of politics. I was declared ‘an enemy of the military" for this. I was taken to court. They sought to punish me.

But in the end, I was right.

Read the original article in Turkish

Photo - eddy13

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