Erdoğan's tighter grip on army creates a paradox - columnist

Changes imposed on the Turkish military have put President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in solid control of the institution, turning it to an " army of one", İsmet Akça, a Turkish military expert, wrote to Carnegie Middle East Center on Wednesday. 

Akça said the Turkish military operated as an autonomous power since the foundation of the republic until 2002 when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came into power. 

"Indeed, victory in the AKP’s political battle against the armed forces was the only way for the party to impose its hegemony over the Turkish state."

Between 2002 and 2005, the AKP-led government introduced constitutional and legal reforms, even taking steps on the pacification of the country's Kurdish question, that were required to join the European Union. However, AKP used these reforms as leverage to curb the military’s power, especially that of the National Security Council, according to Akça. 

Akça stated that in 2008, the AKP confronted the military directly through the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials of which many high-ranking military officials including the former and retired chiefs of the army together with journalists, lawyers, politicians and academics accused of plotting overthrow the government and were sentenced to prison terms.

After the referendum of 2010, the AKP gradually gained control over higher judicial bodies such as the Constitutional Court and the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors to restrain the military’s power, Akça wrote.

The coup attempt in 2016 extended Erdoğan's grip on the Turkish army. On July 15, 2016, groups in the military, most of them linked to the U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gülen movement, attempted to overthrow Erdoğan in a coup, according to Akça.  The coup failed and led to the dismissal of over 116,000 public employees as well as massive purges in the army, with some 8,200 officers affected. The new laws passed under the state of emergency ended or sharply restricted powers granted to the general stuff, force commands and other military institutions, Akça added. 

"Among the most important changes were the subordination of the Ground, Naval and Air Force Commands to the Ministry of National Defense, and of the Gendarmerie General Command and Coast Guard Command to the Ministry of Interior," Akça said, "The president and prime minister were also granted the power to give direct orders to force commanders."

In June 24 elections, Erdoğan elected Turkey's first President. He issued presidential decrees that affect the military, Akça said. 

"The chief of general staff and the National Security Council and its general secretariat were directly attached to the President’s Office. The president was endowed with the authority to either nominate or give approval for the nomination of high-ranking officers."

The regulations concerning the military were designed to establish presidential control over Turkey's armed forces. However, it is not an indication of democratisation of Turkey in which civilian rule is imposed over the military, according to Akça, since the powers of supervision and control remain monopolised by an all-powerful super-president.

Erdoğan created a paradox, Akça said, the efforts to curb the military's autonomy pave the way for new modes of politicisation of the military.