Erdogan and his generals


From Economist:  Imagine a country with NATO’s second-largest army that counts Iraq, Iran and Syria as neighbours and is encircled by the Aegean, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean—but has nobody to command its navy. Just such a situation looms in Turkey after this week’s resignation of Admiral Nusret Guner, the number two in the navy who was expected to take over when its incumbent head steps down in August. There are no other qualified candidates, not least because more than half of Turkey’s admirals are in jail, along with hundreds of generals and other officers (both serving and retired), all on charges of plotting to oust Turkey’s mildly Islamist Justice and Development (AK) government.

Admiral Guner’s resignation came after prosecutors claimed that 75 naval officers being tried for allegedly running a sex-for-secrets ring had planted a spy camera in his teenaged daughter’s bedroom. In an emotional speech the admiral said he believed in his colleagues’ innocence.

The series of cases known as Ergenekon has left Turkey’s once omnipotent armed forces weak and divided. At last count one in five Turkish generals, including Ilker Basbug, a former chief of the general staff, was behind bars. This ought to be a triumph for Turkish democracy. But the trials are dogged by claims of spiced-up evidence and other discrepancies.

The families of over 250 defendants given long prison terms in September 2012 in another alleged coup plot, Sledgehammer, are taking their case to the UN Human Rights Council. They insist the evidence was doctored. Independent forensic experts back their claims. Jared Genser, a lawyer based in Washington, DC, who has worked for such luminaries as Vaclav Havel and Desmond Tutu, says he agreed to act for the Sledgehammer defendants because he “firmly believes” in their innocence and because the evidence against them “was demonstrably forged. . . .”

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, shares some doubts, even though he has cut down the generals’ influence during his decade in power. “These operations against the army are affecting morale. There are 400 serving and retired officers in jail. At this rate we will have no officers left to appoint to command positions,” he complained in a recent interview. As clashes with the Kurdish separatist PKK continue despite new peace talks and the conflict in Syria threatens to spill over the border, Mr Erdogan is right to be worried.  (photo: Levant Post)

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