Turkish newspaper headline uncovers fault lines between government and army

Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and Turkey President Erdogan and

Turkey’s highest selling daily newspaper Hurriyet on Saturday ran a report titled ‘The headquarters is disgruntled’ outlining the Turkish Armed Forces’ disturbance and response to several criticisms (seven) coming from the political class and other public officials towards the Turkish army.

“The Turkish Armed Forces has voiced its unease over ‘abrasive’ criticisms and reports that have targeted Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar in recent days over a number of topics on the country’s agenda,” the article, penned by the paper’s chief political correspondent and Ankara representative Hande Firat, began.

With Turkey still reeling from last year’s bloody coup attempt, the article has caused uproar in the country today, with pro-government newspapers and columnists calling Firat’s piece a ‘call to for military intervention’.

Among the things that created disturbance in the military was the recent lifting of the headscarf ban on female soldiers, something the article says was done without any government consultation with the armed forces. The current constitution stipulates that the Turkish army is supposed to act as the ‘guardian of Turkey’s secularism’. The Chief of Staff’s foreign visits with the president and the top brass’ visit to the Kardak Islets in the Aegean Sea, which were seen to be “playing into the hands of Greece,” were also listed as annoyances.

Ironically, it was via a phone call to Hande Firat on live TV that Turkish President Erdogan, on the night of the failed coup, called on his supporters to take to the streets; an act many have subsequently pinpointed as the defining moment in defeating the putschists. Today, she is being accused by pro-government journalists, those that applauded her bravery on 15 July last year, of presenting a new coup memorandum.

Last year’s coup attempt, which Turkish President Erdogan had called ‘a gift from God’, has given the government a perceived legitimacy to launch an unprecedented crackdown against the army, imprisoning, trying and dishonourably discharging thousands of medium to high-ranking officers.

With experts like Robert Fisk prophesising, even as early as the day after the failed coup, that “Turkey’s coup may have failed, but history shows it won’t be long before another one succeeds,” the ruling Justice and Development Party’s unease can be understood.

After last year’s failed coup, the Turkish army has tried very hard to show a united front against the putschists and support for the government, hence ‘democracy’; however, differences in opinion are slowly resurfacing.

Following publication of the report in Hurriyet the President’s Chief Advisor, Yigit Bulut, launched a vitriolic attack on Twitter and accused Aydin Dogan, the owner of the newspaper of threatening the president.

“Aydin Dogan and his masters and sub-contractors, on his [Erdogan’s] birthday, just before his trip to Russia, are threatening to usurp the TURKISH NATION, the ISLAMIC UMMAH and the LEADER. And they are thinking; we didn’t let [Adnan] Menderes [former Turkish Prime Minister hanged for treason] visit to Russia either. We see your move. Come and take us if you have the courage, we are here!”

In a recent trip to the Turkish Army’s Command Centre Hulusi Akar told his soldiers and generals leading the Euphrates Shield operation that, “with al-Bab now under control, all the targets of the [Euphrates Shield] operation that were set out at the beginning have been met.”

At the same time Turkish president Erdogan, and subsequently all government officials, were announcing that Manbij and Raqqa were the next targets. This, quite publicly, was a significant difference of opinion between two institutions that have been in almost complete synchronisation for the past seven months.

Setting a date for the next coup in Turkey, as some have already done, would be absurd. But we can say that the dynamic that has been the real balance of power throughout the history of the Turkish Republic (army-government) seems to be back in service with newspaper columns once again serving as the battleground.