Turkey’s Purge: Erdogan targets his own military

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CNN asks What does arresting 9,000 officers do to Turkey’s military readiness?

More than 9,000 military officers are in detention already and the number keeps climbing.

The question is, when does this NATO ally hollow out its armed forces to the point of failure?

The simple answer: No time soon. But that belies the details of precisely who has been arrested.

Turkey has a conscript army and is estimated to have over 500,000 people in its armed forces. The current detentions you might assume barely scratch the surface of a force with such a deep bench strength.

But the reality is, among those thousands detained are over 100 top generals and admirals — that’s one third of the military’s command, which has NATO allies worried. Many of their long-time military partners are gone, raising concerns around who they deal with and whom can they trust.

Claire Berlinski, a Paris-based journalist who used to live in Turkey, wonders why NATO allies weren’t worried about this during the Balyoz trial.

Most Americans are probably wondering “What was the Balyoz trial?” It wasn’t covered very much in the states. According a CNN report, the Balyoz, or “Sledgehammer” (in English) trial shifted Turkey’s balance of power toward “a more civilian authority” (from the military to the Islamist Erdoğan).

In most countries, when a civilian government becomes more powerful than the military, liberals are pleased. But in Turkey, the military is required to step in to keep secular institutions intact, to stop Islamists from turning Turkey into an official (or unofficial) theocracy. Liberals in Turkey were not happy about the blatantly illegal Sledgehammer.

… liberal voices in the Turkish media have criticized the conduct of the trial as well as the evidence presented…

…”This is not to whitewash the military role in Turkey’s past. … But some of the evidence presented in this case would not hold in a court of law in any other country.”

According to Gareth Jenkins of Silk Road Studies:

Balyoz was launched in 2010. It was the second – after the notorious Ergenekon case – in a series of high profile show trials instigated by followers of the exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. At the time, what is commonly known as the Gülen Movement had formed an alliance of convenience with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In return for its support, Erdogan had allowed the movement to establish a substantial presence in the police and the judiciary, which was then used to target their shared enemies, opponents and rivals – ranging from hardline secularists to military personnel, charity workers, journalists, lawyers, trade union officials, opposition politicians, Turkish nationalists and Kurdish nationalists. Thousands of people were charged and imprisoned and tens of thousands more were intimidated into silence for fear of meeting a similar fate.

The Balyoz indictment claimed that the defendants had discussed staging a coup at a military seminar in Istanbul on March 5-7, 2003. (See March 1, 2010 Turkey Analyst) The prosecutors even produced a CD containing what they maintained was a detailed coup plan. The metadata on the CD appeared to show that the documents containing the coup plot had been last saved on March 5, 2003 and not subsequently amended. However, not only did the documents contain numerous anachronisms, contradictions and absurdities but forensic analysis showed that they had been written using Microsoft Office 2007 – the beta version of which was not available until 2006. (See February 13, 2013 Turkey Analyst)

Nevertheless, on September 21, 2012, a total of 331 serving and retired members of the military were convicted in the Balyoz trial. On October 9, 2013, the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeal, or Yargıtay, upheld the convictions of 237 of the accused.

The Yargıtay’s decision came six weeks after 251 defendants had been convicted on August 5, 2013 of membership of what prosecutors described as the “Ergenekon terrorist organization”, which they claimed was controlling every militant group in Turkey and had been responsible for virtually every act of political violence in Turkey over the previous 20 years. Yet they produced no convincing evidence that any of accused had engaged in criminal activity or even that Ergenekon had ever existed. Indeed, much of the “evidence” they did produce had clearly been fabricated and, in some cases, equally clearly planted to try to incriminate the accused.

We should have been alarmed by this obvious show trial, but when the experts portray it as a ‘civilian’ government taking on the big bad military, why would we be concerned?

Why did our experts downplay the dangers of the Sledgehammer trials? It might have something to do with the fact that Erdoğan’s former partner in lawbreaking and current rival, the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, has friends in high places. More about that later…

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About marypmadigan

Writer/photographer (profession), foreign policy wonk (hobby).
This entry was posted in middle east, Politics/Foreign correspondents. Bookmark the permalink.

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