Turkey's military, relations with US to survive failed coup, ruling party vice-president
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Turkey’s military reshuffle, the danger of abuses during the post-coup crackdown, apparently tense relations with the US … the vice-president of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, Mehdi Eker, commented on these questions and more in an interview at the party’s headquarters in Ankara this week.
A diplomatic row blew up this weekend after comments by the head of the US Central Command, General Joseph Votel, that cooperation in Turkey have been made more difficult by the detention of some of the senior officers Washington is used to dealing with through Nato under suspicion of involvement in the failed putsch.
The Pentagon on Saturday was forced to deny that Votel had expressed “any support for Turkish military officers who undertook illegal military action against the Turkish government".
It was responding to an angry outburst by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who accused Votel of expressing support for the coup.
Ankara is buzzing with rumours that the CIA was involved in the coup attempt and the Turkish government is increasingly frustrated that the US has yet to comply with its demand for the extradition of Fehtullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based imam who runs a shadowy organisation accused of being behind the putsch.
“We consider United States as an ally and a friendly country,” Eker, who is an MP for Diyarbakir in the Kurdish-majority south-east, said before the furore over Votel’s comments. “So, officially we apply for the States to extradite him. We believe that an ally and friendly country will act according to international law and according to bilateral relations on this issue to the exchange of guilty people. If this procedure is complete, I believe that they will extradite him.”
Off the record, ministerial advisers say that refusal to extradite may be taken as proof of US complicity in the coup.
Eker would not be drawn on the consequences of a refusal to hand over Gulen.
“Actually, I don’t speculate on that,” he said. “This is just speculation.”
New friendship with Russia
He was also non-committal on the distinct warming of relations with Russia, with Erdogan scheduled to visit Moscow on 9 August.
“With Russia we are already friends, no problem with them,” he declared, although relations have changed dramatically and rapidly, following the lifting of Moscow’s damaging embargo on Turkey over the downing of a Russian jet over Syria a year ago.
Erdogan is clearly frustrated with American and European comments on his post-coup crackdown and seems ready to draw closer to the Western powers’ rival in Moscow.
Post-coup military crackdown
Although alleged coup organiser Gulen was for some time an ally of Erdogan, the two sides fell out four or five years ago and the government has been trying to root out the Gulenist organisation’s members from the state machinery, notably since 2013 when prosecutors apparently linked to it launched corruption investigations against ruling party members and leaked allegedly compromising tapes to the media.
Eker referred to that as the “2013 coup attempt” and claimed that, despite that confrontation, the government did not appreciate the extent of infiltration in the armed forces.
“Nobody would believe prior to 15 July, hardly believe, that this organisation will use weapons, will bomb the parliament, will attempt to assassinate the president, kill policemen, kill innocent people on the streets,” he said. “We knew that they had some people in the army but we thought they were just the followers and the believers, the supporters of Gulen himself.
A military high council was meeting as we spoke – an annual meeting that may have sparked the coup attempt if the Gulenists feared that it would lead to a purge of their members in the armed forces.
That purge is now taking place and the Interior Ministry has been given more powers.
The police, who had already been widely purged and fought the coup, also seem to being strengthened, with Interior Minister Efkan Ala saying they will be equipped with heavy weapons.
“What is now decided is that the general commandership of the gendarmerie [police operating in rural areas who are formally part of the military] will be directly operating under the administration of the Interior Ministry. The second part is that, we have coastguard again they are in the new system they will be ruled under interior minister,” he revealed. “So naturally the police will have heavier guns. We need their service.”
With over 8,000 soldiers dishonourably discharged, are the armed forces not seriously weakened?
Eker pointed out that there are 700,000 personnel in the military but conceded that nearly half of generals and admirals have been dismissed.
But the armed forces will bounce back, he insisted.
“The Turkish army is traditionally very strong and powerful. Of course as far as they get the support from the people and administration, they will recover. I have no doubt whatsoever about it. In previous coup attempts, for example in 1971 there was again a coup attempt, it recovered. It will again recover. No problem!”
Torture allegations to be investigated
Some of the plotters and other members of the movement are reported to have confessed and passed on what they know about the Gulen organisation, although its secretive nature and cell structure must make any investigation difficult.
“The danger is not totally over unfortunately,” Eker said. “We know that there are some sleeping cells. Because an assassination team that was sent to kill the president in Marmaris, some elements of this group are still not in custody. Security people are looking for them. Now they will be captured.”
But how has that information been obtained?
Lawyers, backed up by human rights group Amnesty International, have made allegations of abuse, torture and rape of detainees, charges Eker described as “prejudicial”.
But there will be an investigation, he said, and if any of the charges turn out to be true “of course they will be punished”.
State of emergency to last three months
Without directly referring to some European politicians’ criticism of aspects of the state of emergency declared after the coup attempt, Eker pointed out that France and Belgium declared states of emergency, in Belgium’s case just in the capital, Brussels, following last year’s terror attacks and that France’s was still in place eight months later.
“This is done in every country in any place on earth,” he insisted. “You experienced for instance terrorist attacks, which we already condemned, in Paris, Brussels and Nice. There was a state of emergency as well.”
But Turkey’s will not last more than three months, he predicted, “unlike those in France”.