By DAN BILEFSKY
August 4, 2012
The Turkish military has retired all 40 generals and admirals currently on trial on charges of plotting to overthrow the Muslim-led government, Turkish officials said Saturday, in the latest move by the government to tame the once indomitable army.
The decision by the Supreme Military Council, which is led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was announced in a statement on the official Web site of the Turkish General Staff.
The list of those being forced to retire includes 40 commanders who have been jailed in connection with a murky terrorist network that prosecutors maintain was conspiring to unseat the government.
The arrested generals had been awaiting promotions, but those were delayed last year. The council’s statement said the generals had to be retired because not enough positions were available, The Hurriyet Daily News reported.
The Supreme Military Council also appointed a new commander of the Second Army, which is responsible for defending Turkey against a prospective military attack by Syria, Iraq or Iran.
With the continuing widespread purge of the army, concerns have been growing in Turkey about the country’s preparedness for war at a time when instability at its border with neighboring Syria has been intensifying.
The Turkish government is particularly concerned that Kurdish separatists in Syria could use the conflict in Syria as a pretext to attack Turkey. Mr. Erdogan has threatened to respond if Turkey’s security is jeopardized.
Since Syria shot down a Turkish military plane over the Mediterranean in June, the army has deployed troops and weapons along its long border with Syria.
Analysts said the decision to retire the high-ranking military officials, approved by President Abdullah Gul on Friday at the end of a four-day meeting of the council, was the latest step by the government to root out its secular opponents.
Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for the Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet, said in a telephone interview on Saturday that the commanders who were retired should have been allowed to retain their positions until a verdict in their cases was reached.
She suggested that the move was part of an attempt to declaw the military.
“Based on human rights and the concept of innocent until proven guilty, these commanders, who may be innocent, should not have been forced to retire,” she said. “It seems odd and little more than an excuse to reshape the military.”
Moreover, she noted, it has emerged that some of the evidence in one of the key plots implicating the commanders — known as the Sledgehammer case — had been fabricated, calling all of the trials surrounding the case into question.
The military was long viewed as the untouchable guardian of the staunchly secular state, but lost its immunity when the current pro-Islamic government took power in 2002.
Mr. Erdogan has won praise for exerting civilian control over the military, which has deposed elected governments four times in Turkish history.
But the government’s recent arrests and jailing of hundreds of generals, journalists and politicians in connection with a supposed coup has come under strong attack by critics who say the government is using the coup as a pretext to arrest its rivals and further an Islamic agenda.
Last year, Turkey’s top military commanders resigned en masse, a move without precedent in Turkish history that many analysts saw as a failed effort by a beleaguered institution to exert what was left of its diminishing political power.