Turkish Military Faces Morale Crisis (By Lale Kemal / Today's ZAMAN)
On Thursday, June 6, a criminal
court in Ankara approved an indictment filed by the Turkish prosecutor’s
office under which 102 retired military officers — including former
senior commanders — and a civilian will be tried over charges of
staging what has come to be known as the post-modern coup of Feb. 28, 1997.
All the suspects, 76 of whom are in jail, face aggravated life imprisonment on
charges of overthrowing an Islam-sensitive coalition government and
preventing it from performing its duties. Former army chief Ismail Hakki
Karadayi is named as the prime suspect in the coup.
Together with the other Feb. 28
coup suspects, there are estimated to be around 450 active and retired
officers, including three former army commanders as well as active
senior generals and admirals, who are being tried on charges of either
staging coups, toppling former governments or making plans to unseat the
The fact that so many officers
are facing trials over coup charges raises the issue of the state of the
morale of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) at a time when Turkey has been
facing serious security risks on its doorstep — for example, the civil
war in Syria, which has already had a spillover effect on Turkey as
demonstrated by the twin car-bomb attack that took place last month in Reyhanli township, killing more than 50 Turks.
The ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP) introduced several military reforms during its
first term in office in 2003 and in 2004, curbing to a certain extent
the military’s power in politics. But those reforms are half finished
and have been replaced by symbolic steps taken by the military itself.
Still, NATO member Turkey has fallen short of the full democratization
of civil-military relations.
The symbolic steps included the
removal of a national security course given by military officers from
the secondary school curriculum, as well as ending the practice of using
conscripts for non-essential tasks such as serving as tea servers or
In return for the military
making these rather cosmetic changes, it is speculated that the
government agreed not to touch, among other things, the business
interests the military maintains through the Army Mutual Trust Fund
(OYAK), which owns 28 affiliated companies and partnerships operating in
several industries, including automotive, transportation, finance,
agriculture, food and information technology.
In an attempt to overcome
complaints from the military and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan about a shortage of generals and admirals because many of them
are in jail, TSK recently made amendments to its personnel law.
The draft law reduces the period
for promotions to a general’s position from four to three years, and
from five to four years for colonels.
This measure is expected to fill
the current gap of generals, admirals and colonels, as many in those
ranks are in jail. The draft personnel law is expected to be adopted by
the parliament before the yearly August meeting of the Supreme Military
Council (YAS) that decides on the promotions and retirements of generals
In August 2012, YAŞ retired 40
officers in detention as part of the ongoing coup plot trials. Around
10% of active Turkish generals and 33% of active admirals, out of a
total of 347 generals and admirals within the TSK, are in jail.
TSK has around 700,000 military
personnel, including the Gendarmerie General Command and the Coast Guard
Command. Total conscripts are estimated to be around 453,440,
comprising the backbone of the military.
The questions that should be
posed at this point are whether the military has suffered a morale loss
affecting its decision-making process and endangering the nation’s
security because of the many retired and active officers facing coup
plot trials, or whether it a state of low morale has existed since the
1950s when Turkey first introduced the multi-party system.
But the claim that TSK’s morale is low today because many of its members are in jail is misleading.
This is because, since 1960, TSK
has mostly busied itself with staging military coups and handling
purges of its own ranks. In addition, it has a history of pre-empting
military coups from within the armed forces since the first free and
fair elections took place in 1950.
In 1960, 3,500 high-ranking officers, including 235 generals, were forced to retire for not supporting a coup.
TSK staged coups or issued memorandums that
essentially imposed a change of government under the premise that
Turkey’s founder Kemal Ataturk’s secular principles were in danger.
In summary, between 1960 and 2007 the military staged three coups while issuing two memorandums.
The chronology of events since
1950 shows there was a seemingly endless series of events where the
military either staged coups or faced purges and coup plans from within;
these are the factors that should be cited as significantly lowering
the morale of the TSK for decades.
Now is the first time in
Turkey’s republican history that the alleged actors behind the coups
d’etat are feeling the heat of the judicial process.
It is, then, high time for the
government and the parliament to start fresh military reforms to
transform the TSK into an armed forces that will come under full
democratic control. Only then will Turkey have an armed forces with high
enough morale to fulfill its sole mission of defending the nation
against external threats.