Nearly the entire leadership of Turkey’s armed forces departed en masse Friday, local media reported, in the latest sign of tension between the country’s once dominant military old guard and a rising pious Muslim political elite.
Turkish media reported that the army’s chief of general staff, Gen. Isik Kosaner, and the officers heading the Turkish ground forces, navy and air force resigned their posts.
Turkey’s semi-official Anatolia news agency first quoted the Kosaner as writing, “I resign my post as I deemed necessary.” The agency then rescinded the report and described the top general’s departure as a “retirement.”
There was no confirmation of the resignations from the country’s political leadership. Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim was quoted by the daily newspaper Today’s Zaman as saying that “the state would continue to function” and that he had been told that the officers “have asked for their retirement.”
The apparent departures mark a significant milestone in the trajectory of Turkey. A North Atlantic Treaty Organization member and once-steadfast Western ally, Turkey has moved out from the shadow of nearly 80 years of domination by military figures under the nine-year reign of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP, led by the charismatic Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Analysts said the departures came about after Erdogan’s attempts to further bolster the civilian government’s control over the military following his party’s landslide election win in June.
“Symbolically, it’s the end of the period of the military involvement in politics,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for the daily newspaper Milliyet. “They’ve been politically paralyzed. This is the symbolic move in which the military is defeated entirely.”
But even those opposed to the once seemingly impregnable power of the military in Turkey acknowledged that the mass resignations could entail severe political expenses for both the AKP and the country’s international reputation.
“Four of the five top military brass resigning from their post to protest the political authority -- in any country this could create a problem,” said Mensur Akgun, head of foreign policy at the Turkish Economics and Social Studies Foundation, a think tank in Istanbul.
“It can lead to a political crisis, depending on the actions of the opposition parties. They can capitalize on this issue and put pressure on the government.”
But others said they doubted the incident would harm the country’s international reputation.
“This is part of the normal democratization and normalization process of this country,” said Cengiz Aktar, a newspaper columnist and professor of social science at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul. “The military should go back to its barracks once and for all and obey the elected government of the country.”
Currently, authorities are holding dozens of military officers in jail on what critics describe as flimsy, politically motivated charges. More officers allegedly involved in coup attempts were indicted on this week. Analysts say the military elite has been under pressure to fire those officers who remain in jail on conspiracy charges, even though they have yet to be convicted.
The resignations came two days before the annual Supreme Military Council meeting of the top brass and the political leadership to decide on armed forces promotions to be announced later in August. Many speculated that the officers resigned rather than deny promotions to colleagues in jail.