Powers of the Turkish military command quietly transferred to Defence Ministry

Numerous powers of Turkey’s chief of staff have been transferred to the Defence Ministry since a failed military coup in 2016, and with a new presidential decree published this month and a bill submitted to parliament on Friday, top military personnel are losing even more authority.

The state of play in the military prompted Turkish columnist Müyesser Yıldız to ask, “Is the chief of general staff being liquidated?”, in an article for left-nationalist OdaTV on Sunday.

A governmental decree published on Jan.6 in the Official Gazette amended several articles of the Regulation of Moveable Properties of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), the Directorate General of Security (EGM) and the National Intelligence Agency (MİT).

Arms and vehicles belonging to the TSK can now be handed over to the police or the intelligence services by approval of the Defence Ministry during public events deemed to be "threatening public order", according to the amendment. 

Meanwhile, a bill submitted to parliament on Friday by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) includes some amendments to the Mobilisation and Warfare Law, as well as to the TSK Personnel Law.

According to the Mobilisation and Warfare Law, legislated in 1983 and still in effect, any decision to send the Turkish military on a mission abroad or to allow foreign armed forces into Turkey, belongs to the president, Yılmaz said.

However, the president needs to take into account the views of the chief of staff when making such decisions. Once the amendments to the law are adopted in the new bill, the president will need to take into account the defence minister’s views, instead of the chief of staff’s, Yıldız said.

According to current regulations, the chief of staff possesses the authority to allow the prosecution of generals and superiors who commit war crimes. When the legal amendment becomes law, this authority will pass to the Defence Ministry, Yıldız stated. 

The Turkish military had operated as an independent authority since the foundation of the Republic in 1923. 

After 2002, when introducing some constitutional and legal reforms required by the European Union, the AKP government used them as leverage to curb the military’s power, said İsmet Akça, a Turkish military expert. 

Following the failed military coup of July 15, 2016, Erdoğan’s control over the military has been significantly extended.

The failed putsch, which Ankara says was orchestrated by the Islamic movement of Fethullah Gülen, former allies of the AKP, led to a huge expurgation of military personnel. The powers granted to the general staff, as well as various other military organisations, either ended or have been curtailed, Akça said. 

While the general staff’s authority has been curtailed, the power of the Defence Ministry has increased. 

One of the most important regulations that decreased the general staff’s power was introduced by presidential decree in July 2018. It subordinated the general staff, as well as the ground, naval and air force commands, to the Defence Ministry.

The decree also granted the president the power to give direct orders to the chief of staff and the military's commanders. 

According to Yıldız, the regulations mean the chief of staff will just become the commander in charge of the General Staff Headquarters.

Probably because of its place in Turkey’s constitution, no changes have been made to the chief of staff’s duties in commanding the military, Yıldız said.

Clause 117 of the constitution states that in the event of war, as the commander of the TSK, the chief of staff acts as a supreme commander on behalf of the president.

(This story was corrected to show decree published in January in the first paragraph.)

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.