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To the Editor:
In his recent article on the changing role of the Turkish military, Ersel Aydinli argues that "the military leadership is growing more consolidated within a progressive agenda and that the conservative argument is losing its centrality."1 In reference to the three most recent Chiefs of Staff, he even asserts that "the adoption of the progressive thinking of the Ozkok era ... seems to be continuing under Generals Buyukanit and Basbug."2 Although it is true that the EU accession process and its attendant reforms, as well as the AKP's democratization initiatives have led to a decline in the military's political role, Professor Aydinli's thesis is too optimistic. Indeed, he can only argue as he has by totally ignoring the Semdinli affair of November 2005 and then giving a tortured interpretation of the military's role in the constitutional crisis over electing the AKP's Abdullah Gul as President in 2007. Aydinli also ignores the subsequent, nearly successful attempt to have the Constitutional Court ban the AKP on July 30, 2008.
The Semdinli affair was a botched military provocation in which two non-commissioned officers of a paramilitary antiterror intelligence squad bombed a bookstore in the southeastern town of Semdinli, resulting in the deaths of two bystanders. After the two bombers were apprehended, General Yasar Buyukanit, who became Chief of Staff less than a year later, perhaps understandably denied any military connection but then ludicrously went on to praise one of the two suspects as a "good guy."3 Eventually, the two bombers had their prison terms overturned on appeal, while Ferhat Sarikaya, the Van public prosecutor, was sacked for pursuing the case. Sabri Uzun, the chief of the Intelligence Department of the General Directorate of Security, also was fired for supporting Sarikaya and calling Semdinli an insider affair. Similar to the notorious Susurluk case of November 1996,4 the Semdinli case indicated illegal military intervention in state affairs at the highest level.
Once he was promoted to Chief of the General Staff, the outspoken General Buyukanit implicitly opposed Turkey's EU candidacy on the grounds that it was "creating minorities in Turkey."5 He also implied that the United States was part of Turkey's problem with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) because of its support for the autonomy of the Iraqi Kurds.6 These were hardly actions indicative of a "paradigmatic shift" on the part of Turkey's generals. Furthermore, despite Aydinli's claims that Buyukanit's successor and current Chief of the General Staff, General Ilker Basbug, has revealed his "disassociation from the conservative discourse" in the ongoing Ergenekon trial of members of reputed military plots against the AKP government,7 questions arise here too.
For example, a photocopied document from the Chief of the General Staff's headquarters released in October 2009 revealed:
Planting weapons in some people's houses and then making it seem as if they belong to people from the Gulen movement and then trying to paint them as a terrorist organization; conspiring to provoke hatred amongst Sunnis and Alevis by fabricating anti-Alevi documents in Sunnis households; fabricating information about the suspects in the Ergenekon trial and misleading the court; using controlled Islamist leaders to create a fabricated threat of Shariah; using media to discredit the Gulen movement and the AK Party, creating division inside the AK Party through agents planted inside the party; portraying the Gulen movement as in cooperation with the outlawed . …