Turkey faced turmoil within its military on Saturday after the country's four most senior commanders quit, offering Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan an opportunity to extend his authority over the once dominant armed forces.
Chief of General Staff General Isik Kosaner stepped down on Friday evening along with the army, navy and air force commanders in protest over the detention of 250 officers on charges of conspiring against Erdogan's government.
In a farewell message to "brothers in arms," Kosaner said it was impossible to continue in his job as he could not defend the rights of men who had been detained as a consequence of a flawed judicial process.
Relations between the secularist military and Erdogan's socially conservative Justice and Development Party (AK) have been fraught since it first won power in 2002, due to mistrust of the AK's Islamist roots.
Though the departures are embarrassing, they could give Erdogan a decisive victory over a military that sees itself as guardian of the secularist state envisioned by the soldier statesman and founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.Analysts see little political threat to Erdogan's supremacy.
AK won a third consecutive term, taking 50 percent of the vote in a parliamentary election in June.
Erdogan marked out Kosaner's successor on Friday, as his office put out a statement naming paramilitary Gendarmerie commander General Necdet Ozel as new head of land forces, and acting deputy chief of general staff, effectively making him next in line when Kosaner handed over the baton.
In years gone by, Turkey's generals were more likely to seize power than quit. They have staged three coups since 1960 and pushed an Islamist-led government from power in 1997.Some founders of AK, including Erdogan, were members of the Welfare Party, an Islamist party whose coalition was forced out 14 years ago. But as prime minister, Erdogan has ended the military's dominance through a series of reforms aimed at advancing Turkey's chances of joining the European Union.
"Four-star earthquake," a headline in Sabah newspaper said of the generals' decision, while papers also highlighted Kosaner's criticism of media reporting on the military.
"They tried to create the impression that the Turkish Armed Forces was a criminal organization and ... the biased media encouraged this with all kinds of false stories, smears and allegations," Kosaner's statement said.On Istanbul's streets, views of the issue reflected Turkey's polarization between government supporters and opponents.
"This is a move to place AK Party supporters in the army. There was only the army to protect secularism but they took that as well," said retired 54-year-old Perihan Guclu.
"This has been a good development. We have got one of the biggest numbers of generals in the world but we are becoming a democracy slowly," said a 52-year-old who gave his name only as
The subordination of the generals was starkly demonstrated last year when police began detaining scores of officers over "Operation Sledgehammer," an alleged plot against Erdogan's government discussed at a military seminar in 2003.
The officers say Sledgehammer was merely a war game exercise and the evidence against them has been fabricated. About 250 military personnel are in jail, including 173 serving and 77 retired staff. Most are charged in relation to Sledgehammer.
MILITARY MORALE SAPPED
A court accepted on Friday an indictment on another alleged military plot, known as the "Internet Memorandum" case, and prosecutors sought the arrest of 22 people including the Aegean army commander and six other serving generals and admirals.More...