Cablegate: Defining the Republic of Turkey: General Staff and Government Struggle with Themselves and Each Other

Published: Fri 6 Jun 2003 02:02 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
061428Z Jun 03
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 003694
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/28/2013
B. ANKARA 2666
C. ANKARA 2122
D. ANKARA 1350
E. ANKARA 0418
F. 02 ANKARA 7682
G. 02 ANKARA 7683
(U) Classified by Ambassador W. Robert Pearson; reasons: 1.5 (b,d).
1. (C) Summary: Chief of the General Staff (TGS) Ozkok's
attempt to smother disgruntlement in senior ranks and at the
same time to warn ruling AK party against perceived
anti-secular trends has achieved neither goal. While
tensions between the military and AK, and within each, will
continue, we see no likelihood under the current
constellation of forces for the military to force a change of
government. End summary.
2. (C) Chief of the TGS Ozkok's May 26 political warning in
the form of a briefing for selected newspaper journalists is
yet more evidence that the TGS is very unhappy:
-- Unhappy within itself (Ozkok is being pressed by a group
of six to eight senior officers who hold what a broad range
of journalist, political, and national security analyst
contacts characterize for us as "Eurasianist, status quo,
keep-military-procurement-secret" views; other TGS officers,
such as J-5 chief of agreements Air Force MG Ajar, who is
well connected to Ozkok, told us he agrees with the
assessment that Ozkok is too soft on AK).
-- Unhappy with the AK government, which proclaims itself
conservative-democratic, but which the TGS and most of the
rest of the Kemalist Establishment (presidency, most of the
judiciary, bureaucracy, main opposition CHP, and large
majorities of the media and academe) charge is both
incompetent and carrying an Islamist torch.
-- Unhappy with the fact, flexibility, and speed of change in
the world.
-- Unhappy with change at home, where social change from
below, a growing freedom of debate about many hitherto taboo
subjects, and the government's attempt to avoid submitting
its newest package of EU Copenhagen Criteria-related reforms
to the military-dominated NSC for review all suggest that, as
ordinary Turks consider where their country should go, the
Turkish military is beginning to lose its position as the
ultimate arbiter of republican probity.
3. (S) As many contacts -- among them premier national
defense analyst Faruk Demir -- have reminded us, we should
put Ozkok's latest remarks in the context of a longer series
of TGS statements and growing military discomfort (refs A-F
stretching back to October 2002). Ozkok's aims on May 26
were six-fold:
(A) To cut the legs off the press reports, originating in the
May 23 issue of Kemalist "Cumhuriyet" that "young officers"
are very uneasy about AK party and the AK government's goals.
"Young officers" is a phrase redolent of the May 27, 1960
coup, engineered by young officers against both the
government of the day and senior commanders, and Ozkok was
determined (1) to end public speculation that his tenure is
under question in the officers' ranks and (2) to restore
discipline in the ranks -- his use of an oblique Ottomanesque
phrase ("kerameti kendinden menkul kimseler", roughly
equivalent to "Lord Muck miracle workers") to demean his TGS
critics made his message to them all the blunter.
(B) While acknowledging that the TGS is not monolithic in its
discussions of "ideas", to reject all speculation that there
are differences of view or any polarization in the TGS (note:
to protect his image as chief of the TGS, Ozkok felt he had
to assert that there is no difference of view in the TGS, but
others, including MG Acar, readily admit to us that there is
a heated debate, especially concerning Turkey's direction on
the EU, relations with the U.S., and what to do about AK
(C) To declare that the TGS and AK government are not on the
same wavelength.
(D) To affirm that the TGS as a whole is "uneasy" with the
current political situation.
(E) To reject any discussion of a coup "under this roof" (the
TGS) but to leave the journalists, and thus the public at
large on alert (1) by emphasizing that the armed forces will
continue its secularist struggle "to the very end" within the
constitutional framework; and (2) by warning that the
February 28 process (the "post-modern" coup that brought an
end to the Islamist Erbakan government in 1997) is a cause
and effect relationship, and "with the reasons for February
28 continuing, its effects will continue."
(F) To defend himself against the charges -- which appear to
originate with the high-ranking generals aligned against him
-- that he is too democratic and Western-oriented to be a
strong guardian of core "secularist" values; Ozkok said that
his attachment to democratic values and the benefits of
having served in Western billets strengthen his ability to
defend core values.
4. (C) Ozkok's briefing has produced sound and fury, but
uneven effect.
5. (C) First, press and private commentaries have been as
openly critical of the military's heavy-handedness as we
recall ever having experienced in Turkey. Not one of the
journalists, analysts, politicians or businessmen we have
talked to since the briefing sees a coup as possible under
current circumstances, or even desirable. However, Demir
emphasized that the way Ozkok broached the coup subject
leaves the door open should the AK government's performance
cause widespread and sharp discontent, thereby eroding the
resilient support Erdogan and AK continue to have in
Anatolia. Some see Ozkok's position as lessened or, more
broadly, the military's ability to intimidate politicians and
the public as diminished. Emblematic of this latter view is
the comment we heard from a major crude oil and molasses
shipper, who expressed the hope that this controversy marks a
definitive turning point toward full democracy and civilian
6. (S) Second, senior generals' objections to Ozkok's more
patient, reasonable line appear not to have abated. Our
defense and national security contacts identify seven of the
generals opposed to Ozkok as Land Forces Commander Yalman,
Jandarma Commander Eruygur, First Army Commander Dogan,
Aegean Army Commander Tolon, Second Army Commander Turkeri,
and NSC SecGen Kilinc, with Buyukanit described as playing it
both ways. Buyukanit's anti-American/anti-Western remarks at
a May 29 conference in Istanbul (ref H) lend weight to
classifying him in this group. Cengiz Candar noted to us May
29 a report that on May 28, General Dogan, in speaking at a
memorial service for a recently deceased army colleague,
deliberately used the inflammatory "young officers" phrase in
a way which would underscore continuing defiance of Ozkok.
7. (S) The carrying power of this group remains a subject of
debate. Three contacts (Faruk Demir, a military affairs
journalist, and a center-right politician with close ties to
high-level retired generals) have separately told us they
have heard that this group of generals aims to give Ozkok a
memorandum demanding that he resign or submit to their view
and get tough with AK. At the same time, MG Acar told us he
sees no possibility of an "open rupture" within the military.
Moreover, Ozkok has the opportunity to put his own stamp on
the military this year. He can retire two of this group (who
also opposed his nomination as CHOD) in summer 2003, and two
more in summer 2004. He will promote a significant number of
three- and four-star generals and can change up to 80% of the
senior TGS staff this year.
8. (C) Third, P.M. Erdogan has publicly admonished those who
would seek to foment AK-military tensions and privately
acknowledged that it is essential to support Ozkok, although
he told Cengiz Candar he is at a loss how to do so. AK
deputy party chairman Firat affirmed to us May 30 that
Erdogan is searching for a modus vivendi. At the same time,
Justice Minister Cicek; Firat; and other AK M.P.s such as
former Erdogan chief of staff Comez, deputy parliamentary
group chairmen Ipek and Ergin, and human rights committee
deputy chairman Torun, have each reiterated to us in the past
few days that the party will press ahead with its new EU
harmonization reform packages. Ipek emphasized that the NSC
is merely an advisory body and the fiery Torun asserted that
the party is ready "to go down like Menderes" (the P.M.
removed in the 1960 coup and hanged in 1961) to defend its
reforms against the military. However, most of our AK
interlocutors admit that they will have to slow the pace
owing to TGS and NSC objections to specific reforms.
9. (C) Comment: Ozkok and Erdogan appear to be strange
bedfellows as each grapples with lack of coherence and
discipline in the ranks below and both try to figure out a
modus vivendi with the other through weekly one-on-one
meetings. Each tries to give direction to the divided
institution (military high command, parliamentary majority)
he relies on for authority and power.
10. (C) Given Erdogan's political savvy and the strong
protection afforded him by his continuing solid support
across Turkey, we see no evidence that a coup, direct or
politically-engineered, is likely under current
circumstances. However, aside from the pressures Ozkok
faces, his and Erdogan's challenge in finding a
mutually-compatible way forward is compounded by the
following factors in AK: Erdogan's self-imposed isolation and
consequent dearth of fresh information from outside; the
uneven level of competence among party vice chairmen and
parliamentary group deputy chairmen (whips); static-filled
communications between party and government on the one hand
and parliamentary group on the other; factions which render
the party a coalition in itself; controversy over whether the
party's candidates for management positions in the
bureaucracy are sufficiently competent or loyal to secular
precepts; and questions over the party's intentions in
pursuing certain draft legislation (e.g., right to set up a
prayer room -- of any denomination -- in every apartment
building). See ref (F) and septel.
11. (C) What is clear is that Ozkok's briefing neither
satisfied those in the military who oppose his approach nor
intimidated AK. The tensions between the military and AK,
and within each institution, will continue and affect
Turkey's ability to set itself on a consistent course in any
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