Turkey’s military command echelon resigned late Friday from their posts amid an ongoing spat with the government over the growing number of arrested generals. The mass resignations, which marked a first in the country’s history, immediately caused a state crisis.
Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner, Land Forces Commander Gen. Erdal Ceylanoğlu, Air Forces Commander Gen. Hasan Aksay and Naval Forces Commander Adm. Eşref Uğur Yiğit quit their posts days before the Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, was supposed to meet to discuss key military promotions. Koşaner had another two years left in the office.
Gendarmerie Forces Commander Necdet Özel did not resign. [Hours later, Özel was appointed the land forces commander, paving the way for him to become Chief of Staff of the military.]
The resignations came hours after a prosecutor demanded the arrest of a top military official, Gen. Hüseyin Nusret Taşdeler, the commander of the Aegean Army. Sources said disagreements over promotions and the arrests of numerous generals peaked to an unacceptable level following the legal action against Taşdeler.
Tensions between the military and the government have been high in recent years as hundreds of high-ranking officers were put behind bars in the ongoing “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) and Ergenekon coup-plot cases.
It was not yet sure as of late Friday whether this year’s YAŞ, set to begin Aug 1., would take place as scheduled.
Consecutive meetings between Koşaner, President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the last 10 days were not sufficient to avert the crisis. Koşaner, Gül and Erdoğan met Friday morning, after which Erdoğan met with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin. Gül tried unsuccessfully to calm down the tension through a statement he made Friday afternoon, before the resignations were announced.
“I hope that everything will be solved in a good way,” Gül told reporters after Friday prayers. Asked by a journalist if the recent meetings were “a sign of a problem” between the government and the military, the president said they were not.
Right after Gül made his statement Friday, however, an Istanbul court demanded the arrest of the commander of one of the country’s most strategic armies, threatening the efforts by the government and military to avert a crisis over the promotions of senior generals.
The 13th Istanbul Court for Serious Crimes on Friday unanimously accepted the indictment prepared by Prosecutor Cihan Kansız, demanding a life sentence for Gen. Taşdeler, who served as Erdoğan’s military advisor in 2007-2008.
Erdoğan met with Ergin after the prosecutor’s demand was made public.
This year’s YAŞ was set to decide on key promotions to the positions of commander of the air and naval forces. Naval Forces commander Yiğit, and Air Force commander Aksay were both scheduled to reach the end of their terms on Aug. 30.
The commander of the Turkish Land Forces, Gen. Ceylanoğlu, had also been expected to retire due to age. However, filling the empty seats was already expected to cause problems with so many high-ranking and eligible generals behind bars in the Balyoz case. The only eligible candidate to replace Aksay had been considered to be is Lt. Gen. Mehmet Erten, who would have had to be promoted to the rank of general and then be appointed as the commander.
Balyoz is the code name for an alleged military coup plot against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, drafted in 2003. According to the allegations, the military planned drastic measures to foment unrest in the country in order to remove the AKP from power.