|General Isik Kosaner, the head of the Turkish armed forces, has quit along with the heads of the ground, naval and air forces.
The country’s state-run Anatolia news agency said on Friday that the military chiefs wanted to retire because of tensions with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the recently re-elected prime minister.
Anatolia reported Kosaner as resigning “as he saw it as necessary”.
In a written statement released after the news of the generals’ retirement, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, said that the armed forces will continue to do their duty in a spirit of unity.
Erdogan also named General Necdet Ozel, head of the gendarmerie paramilitary force, as both the commander of the ground forces and acting chief of the armed forces. Abdullah Gul, the president, approved the appointment.
Ozel was the only one among the top commanders not to ask for retirement.
He was expected to be appointed as chief of the military’s general staff in place of Kosner, as tradition dictates only the ground forces head can take over the armed forces.
Hurriyet, a Turkish daily newspaper, said on its website that Kosaner was quitting his post as an act of protest against the court cases jailing military officers which mean he could no longer defend the rights of his staff.
“It has become impossible for me to continue in this high office because I am unable to fulfill my responsibility to protect the rights of my personnel as the chief of general staff,” the report quoted Kosaner as saying.
This is the first time so many top commanders in Turkey have stepped down at once.
Al Jazeera Turk’s Elif Ural said Erdogan, Gul and Kosaner met for 50 minutes in the morning, which was the last time the three could meet before next week’s Supreme Military Council meeting, where key posts for next year are to be decided.
There were hopes that leaders of the government and the military could reach a compromise about the postings, but the retirement announcements showed the rift could not be bridged, Ural reported.
The mass retirement notices came hours after a court charged 22 suspects, including several generals and officers, with carrying out an internet campaign to undermine the government.
The unprecedented departures come ahead of the annual spring meeting scheduled for August 1, where leaders of the government and the military come together to discuss key appointments for the next year.
Reports say Friday’s news signal a deep-rooted rift between the military and the government, amid an ongoing trial accusing dozens of generals and officers for plotting to overthrow the government.
In a 2003 case called the “Sledgehammer”, 17 generals and admirals in line for promotion have been jailed along with nearly 200 officers on charges of plotting to over throw the government.
More than 400 people – including academics, journalists, politicians and soldiers – are also on trial on separate charges of plotting to bring down the government.
That case is based on a conspiracy by an alleged gang of secular nationalists called “Ergenekon”.
The government denies the cases are politically motivated and says it is just trying to work to improve democracy.
Military vs. government
Erdogan’s ruling AK party, which won a third term in elections on June 12 in a landslide victory, has said its key goal is to replace a military-era constitution with a more democratic one.
But critics say AK has a secret Islamist agenda, an allegation it denies.
The Turkish military has staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and forced the country’s first Islamist-led government out of power in 1997.
Coup leaders drew on the support of Turks who saw them as saviors from chaos and corruption, but they were often ruthless.
In the 1960 takeover, the prime minister and key ministers were executed and in a 1980 coup, there were numerous cases of torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killing.
Such intervention is no longer regarded as feasible, as the power of the military has been curbed sharply under reforms carried out by Erdogan’s government.
Kosaner, who took over as head of the armed forces in August 2010, is regarded as a hardline secularist, but he has kept a lower profile than previous chiefs of the general staff.
The announcement comes amid an upsurge in fighting in southeast Turkey between the military and the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party guerrillas.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s re-elected prime minister, has pledged to build a new constitution for the country by consensus after winning a third straight term in parliamentary elections.
Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won nearly 50 per cent of the vote on Sunday, but came up just short of its target of 330 seats in the new parliament, which would have enabled it to draft a new constitution without consulting other parties.In a victory speech before thousands of flag-waving supporters in the capital, Ankara, Erdogan pledged “humility” and said he would work with rivals.
|Turkish elections: Full coverage
“People gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation,” he said.
“We will discuss the new constitution with opposition parties. This new constitution will meet peace and justice demands.”
Erdogan put his plans for constitutional change at the heart of his party’s election campaign, arguing that a new one was needed to make Turkey more democratic and to enhance individual freedoms, replacing a document drafted under martial law in 1982.
But his opponents said Erdogan and his party, which mixes social conservatism with liberal economics, would use a dominant parliamentary majority to consolidate their own grip on power.
In the event, Erdogan’s party finished with 49.9 per cent of the vote and 326 seats, while the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) increased its vote share to 25.9 per cent, winning 135 seats.
Turkey’s ultra-nationalists, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), also entered parliament with 13 per cent of the vote and 53 seats. Thirty-six independent candidates, representing the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), were also elected. The number of female deputies in the parliament rose from 50 to 78.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the CHP, a secularist centre-left party, said the opposition had emerged stronger from the elections.
“We wish all success to AKP, but they must remember there’s a stronger main opposition party now,” Kilicdaroglu said.
|Turkish parliament seat breakdown
Devlet Bahceli, whose MHP was tainted in the run-up to the vote by a sex-tapes scandal which it blamed on the AKP, also claimed success as it achieved the 10 per cent threshold necessary to enter parliament.
“Dirty propaganda to push our party below the threshold was carried out by large consensus led by the Justice and Development Party. Despite all these, the Turkish nation embraced the MHP and did not leave it alone,” Bahceli was quoted by the Zaman newspaper as saying.
Cengiz Aktar, a columnist for the Turkish Daily News, told Al Jazeera that the electorate had delivered a clear message.
“Turkish voters were telling Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ‘Look we would like to have a new legislature with an opposition. Go and talk to them to solve the burning issues of the country, ie. the new constitution and the Kurdish conflict.’
“So he has the initiative; either he goes that way, or he goes the way he was presenting to us during the campaign, that he will have his own agenda and apply it. In that case, we may have problems in Turkey.”
Erdogan’s third election success, following victories in 2002 and 2007, comes amid unprecedented prosperity under the AKP’s stewardship and with Erdogan credited by many with raising the country’s profile on the international stage.
‘Turkey loves him!’
Many newspaper front pages paid glowing tribute to Erdogan’s enduring popularity on Monday.
“Turkey loves him!” said Haber Turk.
Sabah said: “With every election, the AKP sets a new record.”
European leaders also congratulated Erdogan on his victory.
“The results of the elections pave the way for continuation and strengthening of Turkey’s democratic institutions as well as the modernisation of the country,” Jose Manual Barroso, the president of the European Commission, and Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said in a joint statement.
Erdogan came to power almost a decade ago on a pledge to take Turkey into the European Union and opened accession talks in 2005.
But those talks have stalled amid failure to find a resolution in Cyprus, while many Turks now question the attractiveness of membership, as Turkey’s economy grows while neighbouring Greece and other EU members have succumbed to economic problems.
Turkey’s influential business lobby, the TUSIAD, called on Erdogan’s government to shape a new constitution through consensus.
“Our expectation from the new period is a Turkey which has achieved a new constitution through consensus and participation, which has moved closer to European Union membership, and which has guaranteed economic stability and reduced unemployment,” the group said.
Turkey’s re-elected government also faces a worsening crisis on its southern frontier, where thousands have fled across the border to escape a crackdown in Syria, prompting Erdogan to condemn the Syrian government’s actions as “inhumane”.
Ankara had previously enjoyed cordial relations with Damascus, with Erdogan calling Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, a “personal friend”.
But Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s chief political analyst, said he expected to see a shift in tone from Ankara in the coming days.
“I spoke with foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu extensively this week about Turkey’s relations with the Arab world,” said Bishara.
“I think we should expect that Turkey will make a major foreign policy stand or statement that will underline and clarify future Turkish policy with its neighbours, and make it clear that it stands with change and will not stand with those who are indifferent to, or resistant to, change in the Arab region.”
Official name: Republic of Turkey (Turkiye Cumhuriyet)
Government type: Republican parliamentary democracy
Population: 77.8 million (National census, 2010)
Area: 779,452 sq km
Languages: Turkish (official), Kurdish, Zaza, Arabic, Armenian, Greek
Major religion: Islam
Life expectancy: 66.5 years male, 71.7 years female (UN)
Monetary unit: Turkish lira
Literacy: Total population: 87%; Male: 95%; Female: 80%
GDP per capita: $9,100
The modern secular republic was founded in 1923 from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire by Mustafa Kemal, later named Ataturk (Father of the Turks), whose memory is still widely revered. Ataturk led the nationalist movement to victory over occupying powers, which dismembered the empire after its defeat in World War I.
As president of Turkey, Ataturk implemented a series of reforms, including secularisation and industrialisation, intended to modernise the country. Under his leadership, the country adopted wide-ranging social, legal, and political reforms. The country has since alternated between relatively free, democratic governments and military-led coups.
After a period of one-party rule, an experiment with multi-party politics led to the 1950 election victory of the opposition Democratic Party and the peaceful transfer of power. Since then, Turkish political parties have multiplied, but democracy has been fractured by periods of instability and intermittent military coups.
Turkey’s 550-seat ‘Meclis’, or parliament, is elected every five years. Parliament elects the president to a five-year term. The president names the prime minister and cabinet, but the president’s role is largely symbolic.
Turkey is a secular democracy governed by a constitution largely written by the military and ratified by popular referendum in 1982.
The Turkish armed forces, “guardians of the nation”, seized power and ousted governments in 1960, 1971 and 1980, when it thought the country’s secular values were threatened, or when it deemed the civilian government incapable of keeping economic and social order.
But recent constitutional changes, introduced by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) through a referendum, have curbed the political influence of the military somewhat.
Concerns over the potential for conflict between a secular establishment backed by the military and a society rooted in Islam had resurfaced with the landslide election victory of the Islamist-based AKP in 2002.
Critics remain suspicious about the Islamist roots of AK party leaders, including Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, although the party has cast itself to conform with Turkey’s secular constitution.
In recent years there have been several allegations that members of the military have been involved in plots to overthrow the government.
Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952. Half of Turkey’s armed forces are deployed against an ongoing uprising by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in the southeast of the country.
The Turkish parliament in late 2007 authorised armed incursions into northern Iraq to pursue Kurdish rebels.
Turkey is more than 99 per cent Muslim, mostly Sunni, but Alevis are estimated to comprise 15 to 25 per cent of the population. Turkey also has fractional Christian and Jewish minorities.
Secular by law, Turkey forbids the wearing of veils by students in government schools and universities, and by civil servants in government buildings.
The ban was upheld in a November 2005 decision by the European Court of Human Rights.
Turkey had been the “sick man of Europe” for decades, beset by hyperinflation, but now Turkish politicians are dispensing advice to their peers in the ailing economies of the eurozone.
The AKP, in power since 2002, has overseen a period of unprecedented prosperity since inheriting a struggling economy after a financial crisis in 2000-2001.
Turkey’s economy was heavily centralised until the 1980s, when liberal reforms took hold. The economy has grown robustly since, at about six per cent a year, except for during the 2001 financial crisis, when then-prime minister Bulent Ecevit and then-president Ahmet Necdet Sezer clashed over corruption in the banking system and the speed of reform.
Inflation went from 25 per cent in 2003 to eight per cent in 2007. About 60 per cent of the economy is service-driven. Industry, agriculture and construction account for much of the rest.
Turkey joined the UN in 1945 and in 1952 it became a member of NATO. On May 2011, Turkey announced its bid for a new term at the UN Security Council (UNSC), declaring its candidacy for a non-permanent seat in the influential body for 2015-2016.
In October 2008, for the first time since 1961 and with a historic vote from 151 members, Turkey was elected as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.
According to the Turkish newspaper, Zaman, Turkey decided to seek a new term at the UNSC soon after its 2009-2010 term expired because it hoped to offer significant contributions to global peace and security at a time when the Middle East and the Mediterranean region were undergoing major changes.
In 1964, Turkey became an associate member of the European Community. Over the past decade, it has undertaken many reforms to strengthen its democracy and economy; it began accession membership talks with the European Union in 2005.
The Cyprus issue has affected Turkish-Greek relations, as well as Turkey’s EU prospects. Turkey sent troops to the island in 1974 to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority after a Greek-based coup, and has held the island’s northern third ever since, keeping at least 30,000 troops stationed there.
Turkey cannot join the EU without a deal on Cyprus because the Greek-Cypriot republic, an EU member since 2004, has a veto. A Cyprus settlement is essential if Turkey is to have any hope of progress towards the EU.
Turkey has also been battling an uprising by minority Kurds in the southeastern part of the country since the 1980s.
After the capture of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) group’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999, the rebels largely withdrew from Turkey, mainly to northern Iraq.
Clashes between Turks and Kurds intensified when the constitutional court voted unanimously on 2009 to ban the biggest Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party (DTP), on the grounds that it had become “a focal point for terrorism”