Saturday, 30 July 2011

Turkish generals resign - confrontation or surrender?

Turkey's whole top brass has resigned en masse, just days before a crucial high-level meeting to confirm promotions and resignations. The story is still unfolding so I won't give an in-depth analysis until the dust has cleared, particularly when we see how the AKP government responds.

Strictly speaking the heads of the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Chief of the General Staff Işık Koşaner have not resigned so much as sought early retirement, but the overall message is the same. 

Their move is a protest against the ongoing investigations into alleged coup plots, which have seen dozens of officers arrested and jailed. General Koşaner made this clear, announcing that "It has become impossible for me to continue in this high office, because I am unable to fulfil my responsibility to protect the rights of my personnel as the chief of general staff". The trigger seemed to be Friday's announcement of arrest warrants for 22 officers, including the head of the Aegean Army.

As Reuters points out, this could prove embarrassing for PM Erdogan in the short-term, particularly during an upsurge in fighting between the Turkish military and the PKK. However it could be a strategic victory in the long-term as the Prime Minister takes the opportunity to stack the military's upper echelons with officers more sympathetic to the AKP.

The wider implications for Turkey's fraught civil-military relations aren't yet clear. A characteristically pessimistic analysis by Stratfor, which calls the resignations "the biggest crisis between the [AKP] and the secular military establishment since the AKP first came to power in 2002" is wide of the mark (anyone remember the attempted 'e-coup' of 2007?). 

Instead the fact that the generals chose to seek early retirement, rather than fight back using the judicial and military establishments, shows just how hollowed-out the traditional secular bastions have become. The top brass's move is probably not the first blow of a counterattack: instead, it seems like a remarkably placid acquiescence.

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