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What dictates change of mentality within TSK ?

Recent developments in the Turkish armed forces.

Tuesday 6 January 2009, by Lale Sariibrahimoglu

Criticism leveled against the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) due to its overwhelmingly self-protectionist policies at the expense of accountability and transparency, however, has not been limited to Turkish liberals, but has also found support among TSK officers themselves.

The past several years have witnessed mentality changes within Turkey’s politically powerful military despite its attempt to portray itself as a monolithic structure.
In parallel with the launch of democratic reforms in Turkey in the late 1990s, the country’s liberal thinkers began to put the still autonomous TSK under the spotlight, generally criticizing its escape from democratic oversight.
Criticism leveled against the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) due to its overwhelmingly self-protectionist policies at the expense of accountability and transparency, however, has not been limited to Turkish liberals, but has also found support among TSK officers themselves.

Unease within the TSK also seems to have come to light in parallel with the democratic reforms, signaling that taboos had been broken. This unease can be diagnosed through a close examination of the TSK, tracing the events of the past decade.

Ongoing advances in communications technology have, of course, contributed enormously, paving the way for Turkish officers to take advantage of this era to express their dissatisfaction with some TSK practices.

The first signs of unease among TSK officers were revealed when allegations of corruption emerged from within the TSK. Unidentified officers began running Web sites through which they fed the public with documents containing evidence of corruption. Some of those allegations may not have been true, but the Web sites showed the public that similar acts do happen within the TSK and are not limited to civilian authorities.

Then-Chief of General Staff Gen. Hüseyin Kıvrıkoğlu, now retired, used his power at the time to have those Web sites closed. But his successor, Gen. Hilmi Özkök, took a courageous step and ensured the imprisonment of former Turkish Naval Forces Commander retired Adm. İlhami Erdil over corruption charges. Erdil, stripped of his title, served his jail sentence before being released earlier this year.

In a democracy, he should have had been tried by a civilian court, but the military court, nevertheless, gave him a fair trial.

It was later understood that having Web sites that criticize TSK wrongdoings shut down was not helpful as long as the TSK kept its house in good order.

Unsatisfied generals’ private conversations with their colleagues and junior officers criticizing the nature of TSK arms purchases or operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have begun to be tapped (it is still a mystery how they are bugged) and put up on YouTube, a video sharing Web site. (To remind the readers YouTube has been banned in Turkey as a reflection of the state’s intolerance for the freedom of expression.)

The general policy of state bans, however, has failed to prevent an increased desire for openness in Turkey, among both TSK officers and liberals alike.

The liberal Taraf daily came as a savior to those officers who were uneasy with TSK policies, as Web sites and blogging sites began to be closed down one after another.

Over the past year, Taraf has published documents that have revealed information ranging from internal TSK memos regarding a smear campaign launched against Turks from every walk of life to terror operations, pointing to serious security flaws on the part of the TSK.

The majority of these stories have not been denied by the TSK, and it has been unable to trace the source or sources of the information leaked to the press.

This overall situation tells us that there are both junior and senior officers within the TSK who are seriously dissatisfied and uneasy with its policies in all of the above-mentioned areas and are thus taking the risk of being caught.

According to a Turkish military analyst, the TSK, meanwhile, will avoid being implicated as an institution and is ready to sacrifice victims for the sake of protecting itself.

That explains, for example, why the General Staff allowed the arrest of former generals Şener Eruygur and Hurşit Tolon, upon the orders of civilian prosecutors over their alleged role in masterminding an armed uprising aiming to overthrow the government.

“If it is to protect the TSK as an institution, they [the TSK] will do anything. That includes allowing the arrests of Eruygur and Tolon,” stresses the same source.

The Turkish military analyst believes that the TSK is currently divided over Ergenekon — a terror organization whose suspected members, including several retired officers, are accused of masterminding an armed uprising against the government while being involved in unlawful acts to preserve the status quo. This trial has divided the TSK into a group that is pro-military coups and a group that is opposed military coups and defends the democratic process.

It is safe to say that except for those officers who are seeking advancement midway through their careers, both junior and senior officers are unhappy with the current military system. They believe it is necessary for the TSK to undergo reforms and are prepared to inflict damage on it for the sake of encouraging these reforms.

The communications revolution has also helped young officers in particular to see reality, prompting them, for example, to question the inadequate equipment and ill-defined strategies Turkey utilizes in coping with both terror and the world’s changing threat perceptions.

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Source : Today’s Zaman 02 December 2008

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