The Turkish government announced on Wednesday that the commanders of its army, navy, and air force were all stepping down at the end of their terms, naming replacements and asserting that the change in authority was not an irregular occurrence.
As Turkey has lost thousands of its troops to accusations of involvement in planning the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016, this latest shake-up continues the appearance of instability within the ranks of the Turkish military. Throughout its modern history, the Turkish military has served as a bastion of secularism and intervened to protect the secular legacy of founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk five times.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin named Gen. Yasar Guler the new army chief, Vice Adm. Adnan Ozbal the new navy chief, and Gen. Hasan Kucukakyuz to run the nation’s air force in an announcement to reporters Wednesday. In addition to those appointments, Kalin said the nation’s Supreme Military Council (YAS) promoted 61 officials to the title of general/admiral, as well as promoting six generals to higher ranks.
Reuters notes that Kalin did not make any indication that those whose service had concluded were being removed due to suspected ties to the failed coup.
The new promotions will help supplant the 28 admirals/general expected to retire in September. They will also help replace the tens of thousands of soldiers removed from the armed forces due to alleged evidence that they had ties to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Islamic cleric who Erdogan’s government claims orchestrated the failed coup. Between July 2016 and October of that same year, the Turkish government removed 157 generals and 162,954 troops in total.
Erdogan’s government has insisted that Gulen’s religious followers orchestrated the coup, demanding the United States extradite him and arresting, detaining, or firing over 100,000 people nationwide since the coup occurred. During the early hours of the coup attempt, however, those organizing the seizure of power did not mention Gulen or Islam at all, instead identifying themselves with language that appeared to indicate they were secularists.
Following the beginning of the coup but before Erdogan regained power, Turkish media began circulating a statement allegedly drafted by the leaders of the coup. “Turkish armed forces seized the rule of the country completely with the aim of reinstalling the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to make rule of law pervade again, to re-establish the ruined public order,” the statement read. “All the international agreements and promises are valid. We hope our good relations with all global countries goes on.”
A former head of the Turkish air force, Akin Ozturk, stood on trial this week along with 500 others for allegedly helping organize and lead the coup.
Following the coup, Erdogan gave the Defense Ministry, typically run by civilians, control over the commanders of the army, navy, and air force. Since then, reports suggest that the stridently secularist elements of the military have bristled at the encroaching Islamism of the Erdogan administration. “It is obvious that the Turkish army is becoming deeply politicized and its recruitment criteria are becoming entrenched within religious practices,” a columnist for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet wrote this week. “There are also stories of newcomer soldiers resisting certain military training due to prayer times. This issue is critical for Turkey’s security, as well as for the international engagements it is engaged in.”