On August 4, the Turkish military officially announced the expulsion of ten serving officers for alleged Islamic fundamentalist activities. The announcement came one day after the end of a three-day meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAS), which traditionally meets at the beginning of August to decide on the annual round of promotions and appointments in the Turkish military. Another 13 officers were expelled for disciplinary offences (Anadolu Ajans, NTV, August 4).
In recent years the expulsion of officers suspected of Islamic activities has become a regular occurrence at YAS meetings. In addition to its regular meeting in August, YAS can also be convened at a time chosen by the chief of the Turkish General Staff (TGS), which has usually been in November or December. A total of 17 officers were expelled in August 2006 and another 35 in November 2006. In 2005 the totals for the two YAS meetings were 11 and four respectively.
Since the early 1990s, identifying Islamist sympathizers in the armed forces has become one of the primary objectives of Turkish military intelligence. Although the expelled officers are usually accused of Islamist “activities,” suspected intent rather than action is usually sufficient to ensure their expulsion. The expelled officers are rarely allowed access to the evidence gathered against them and, under Article 125 of the Turkish Constitution; there is no right of appeal against YAS decisions. Expelled officers automatically lose all their pension rights and frequently have difficulty finding alternative employment.
Introducing the right of appeal against YAS decisions is one of several constitutional amendments currently being considered by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Although they signed the latest YAS decision, both Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul noted their objections to the lack of a right of appeal (Hurriyet, Milliyet, August 5). Nevertheless, the TGS has opposed the introduction of a right of appeal, arguing that it would force the military to disclose classified information.
Until relatively recently, the TGS’s primary fear was infiltration by supporters of the Islamic preacher Fetullah Gulen, who is currently in exile in the United States. Gulen’s supporters in Turkey currently control a vast network of businesses, schools, charitable foundations, and media outlets. The movement was an outspoken supporter of the AK Party in the run up to the July 22 general election (Today’s Zaman, July 21). However, in recent years the TGS has also become concerned by the activities of the Naqshabandi Sufi brotherhood, which is one of the oldest and largest orders in Turkey. Although all Sufi brotherhoods are theoretically illegal in Turkey, in recent years they have begun to operate increasingly openly. In conversation with this Jamestown correspondent, leading Naqshabandis freely admit to trying to cultivate serving members of the military, although they insist that they are solely concerned with the officers’ spiritual well-being and have no ambitions either to influence the internal workings of the TGS or erode its traditional rigorous commitment to the principle of secularism enshrined in the Turkish constitution.
Nevertheless, an officer’s attitude toward religion has now become one of the main criteria for promotion. Many in the military believe that one of the main reasons that General Hilmi Ozkok, who served as chief of the TGS from August 2002 to August 2006, was reluctant to be more assertive with the AK Party when it first came to power in November 2002 was because his family came from a Naqshabandi background.
In theory, the prime minister chairs YAS meetings, although in practice they are run by the chief of the TGS. There have been concerns in the military that Erdogan would attempt to block the ascent of known hard-line secularists through the military hierarchy However, Erdogan made no attempt to interfere in any of the appointments at the latest YAS meeting (Radikal, August 5).
As expected, Admiral Muzaffer Metin Atac was appointed to succeed Admiral Yener Karahanoglu as commander of the Turkish navy, while General Aydogan Babaoglu took over from General Faruk Comert as head of the air force. The commands of both General Yasar Buyukanit, the current chief of the TGS, and General Ilker Basbug, the current commander of the army, were extended by another year. As a result, barring an unexpected development, Basbug looks certain to succeed Buyukanit when the latter steps down in August 2008 after reaching the age limit for a chief of the TGS of 67 (Radikal, August 5).
Basbug will himself reach the age limit in August 2010, when he is expected to be succeeded by General Isik Kosaner, the current commander of the gendarmerie. Although it is more difficult to predict Kosaner’s likely successor, the latest round of promotions suggest that Kosaner is likely to be succeeded by General Necdet Ozel, the commander of the Turkish Third Army (Milliyet, August 6).