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Was future Turkish army boss
involved in war crimes?



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991
Comments to

March 16, 2006

LONDON - Given what we now know about the way the Turkish army fought the terrorist group, the PKK, in south east Turkey during the 1990s, we perhaps should not be surprised that its local commander between 1997 and 2000, General Yas¸ar Büyükanit, is now being accused of being behind the well documented army atrocities visited upon Kurdish villages at that time.

Even if he isn't guilty, as the recent statement of a public prosecutor puts it, of "establishing a criminal group, falsifying documents and misconduct in office"- and the evidence seems to be based on the testimony of a single local businessman- one would be surprised if he was entirely ignorant of what went on.

Establishing the degree of his involvement- hands on or simply turning a blind eye- in the crimes of the era is going to take many months if not years. It is clouded further by the fact that the public prosecutor has at the same time indicted three undercover agents of a paramilitary force for being responsible for the bombing of a bookstore as recently as last November, masquerading as a pro PKK group, and has accused Büyükanit of making a remark, taken out of context, in defence of one of the accused.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks fast towards August when Büyükanit is expected to take over as Chief of the General Staff. If this earnest prosecutor, or some newspaper or NGO succeed in digging out information that could convict Büyükanit of an act of complicity in war crimes this would rock the Turkish boat at a crucial time in the negotiations for European Union entry.

The army is a critical player in Turkey's quest to enter the EU. No other country that has so far entered the EU could be described as "a military-democracy", but Turkey certainly is, if less so that a decade ago. The army is up to its neck in the government's European policy and if it toned down its present enthusiasm for Europe this would have a devastating impact in a country where the army is considered to be its most venerated institution.

The pro European policy reaches back to the time of the armed forces' chief Attatürk, the post Ottoman founder of modern Turkey, who wanted his country to model itself on Europe. According to the present Chief of the General Staff, Hilmi Ozkok, "This change was as important for Turkey as was the Renaissance for those in the West".

The army today, as one former general told me, has made up its mind long ago to use its prestige and influence to secure Turkey's entry into the EU. Yet it is more complex and multi layered than he suggests. It is complicated first and foremost by the military's long battle with the PKK. Until recently the army considered the PKK beaten. But it was acknowledged in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, authored by two Turkish military men and thus subject to having such a manuscript vetted, that the effort had "exhausted" the army and "also begun to endanger its institutional integrity."

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The latter is a loaded observation. Perhaps it has something to do with the consequences of the government's slow response in implementing its promised reforms in its Kurdish policy- allowing Kurdish language broadcasting, Kurdish- speaking education and an increased pace of economic development. Six months ago Kurds had no time for the PKK but today there is a growing degree of passive support for a recent resurgence of PKK militancy.

Moreover, senior figures in the military feel that the EU has been so pro Kurdish it has helped improve, albeit indirectly, the image and self-confidence of a once beaten PKK.

Ilnur Cevik, publisher of the daily, The Anatolian, who is regarded as so well informed on Kurdish affairs that he is regularly invited to brief western ambassadors, argues that rogue elements in the Turkish army, led by fairly senior officers, are so angry at the present state of affairs that beside tolerating agent provocateurs as with the bookshop incident they are turning a blind eye to incursions of the PKK from across the Iraq border. They feel that the EU entry effort is tying the army's hands and so are implementing a perverse policy of enabling the PKK to raise the intensity of combat in order to "legitimise" its own response, all in an attempt to derail Turkish entry talks.

Although it is very unlikely that General Büyükanit is involved in any such current events the question of his probity from his time as a local commander is not going to disappear. And if he is compelled to resign after he is anointed chief it will profoundly affect for the worse Turkey's EU entry prospects.


Copyright © 2006 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


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