April 11, 2006 Special Dispatch No. 1136

The AKP and Other Turkish Islamists Attempt to Block Secular General From Top Military Post

April 11, 2006
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 1136

Despite three military coups in the past decades, the Turkish military is the most respected and trusted institution in the country, as the guardian and guarantor of the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - a pro-Western, secular Turkish republic.

But in the view of Turkey's Islamists, a strong and hawkish chief of general staff would pose a threat to their efforts to move Turkey from secularism to Islamism.

Turkish military commander Gen. Mehmet Yasar Buyukanit, an outspoken and tough-on-terrorism anti-Islamist, is expected to become the next chief of general staff in August 2006. Since last year, a campaign has been waged to tarnish Gen. Buyukanit's reputation, in order to block him from this post.

First in this campaign were allegations, spread through various websites, that Gen. Buyukanit was not a "pureblood" Turk, but had Sabbatean Jewish elements in his family tree. It was claimed on these websites that, in accordance with the traditions of Sabbateans, he had wed his daughter to a "certified" Sabbatean. One Islamist website posted a long list of names and citizenship identification numbers of members of Gen. Buyukanit's family tree, to "prove" that he was not a "real" Turk. [1] The site's homepage heading challenged Gen. Buyukanit: "If you have any courage, prove to us that you are not a Jewish donme [i.e. a crypto-Jew; Sabbatean convert to Islam]!" [2]

Then, in early March 2006 came an indictment against him in the matter of the November 9, 2005 bombing of a bookshop in the mainly Kurdish town of Semdinli, owned by a former Kurdish member of the PKK. [3]

The charges against Gen. Buyukanit were prepared by the assistant district attorney for the city of Van, prosecutor Ferhat Sarikaya who in October 2005 had charged and incarcerated Professor Yucel Askin, president of Yuzuncu Yil University (YYU) in Van [4] who was known for stopping the Islamist activities in the university.

The charges against Gen. Buyukanit created a political storm in Turkey. The military called the charges an assault by a certain sect of Islamists on the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), and hinted that the followers of Turkish Islamist leader Fethullah Gulen [5] and some AKP members were involved.

Subsequently, on March 23, the Turkish media reported on the removal of Turkish Security Directorate intelligence chief Sabri Uzun for statements inferring that the military was behind the Semdinli events. Then, a Justice Ministry investigation of Prosecutor Sarikaya found that the charges against Gen. Buyukanit did not have "the required basis" for prosecution.

The following are excerpts from the Turkish press' coverage of the crisis:

"First the Rector, Now the General"

Columnist Bekir Coskun of the secular mainstream Turkish daily Hurriyet wrote: [6] "The rift is deepening between the [AKP] government and all the concepts and institutions that are defending the secular republic. Now the lines are clearer, the attitudes are stronger, [and] the attacks are more frequent. The religionist [i.e. the Islamist] has abandoned his calm, softer attitude. The game is over. […] 'First the rector, now the general…' Accusations directed at Gen. Yasar Buyukanit - who is expected to become chief of general staff in the coming period - is where we have got to, following the [AKP government's] purge of thousands of secular Ataturk followers from government positions. It seems that the armed forces commanders are next in line."

In an op-ed titled "The Goal is to Wear Gen. Buyukanit Down," columnist Mehmet Y. Yilmaz of Hurriyet wrote: [7] "[…] First they spread lies about the ethnic origins of Gen. Buyukanit's family [alleging Sabbatean/Jewish ancestry]. […] Now on the agenda is the Van prosecutor's charge that 'Buyukanit attempted to influence the judiciary.' They base their accusation on what Gen. Buyukanit said about a soldier allegedly involved in the Semdinli incident: 'I know him, he is a good guy.' The rest of Buyukanit's statement, 'Whether he is guilty or not will be determined by the investigation,' has been omitted for some reason. [...]"

Columnist Meric Koyatasi of the secular, mainstream daily Aksam wrote: [8] "[…] Even if it was not heard directly from the mouth of the government, it is known that circles close to the [AKP] government are trying to block Gen. Buyukanit. […] The prosecutor is famous for his previous indictment of the rector of the university at Van [YYU Professor] Yucel Askin, who had not permitted shari'a [advocates] to organize on campus. […]

"Everybody already knows that certain circles want to peck at and erode our military. These [circles] have worked and organized, secretly and tirelessly, since the [1923] founding of the Republic [of Turkey] [...] Prejudice [in the judiciary] based on ideologies, beliefs, culture, and form of education is very, very dangerous. […]"

In an article titled "Politics Meddle with the Military," columnist Ali Sirmen of the center-left, secular daily Cumhuriyet wrote: [9] "[…] It is well known that in the process of re-shaping Turkey according to its own ideology, the AKP government is targeting the military [...] Gen. Kemal Yavuz once clearly said, 'The military has always been the ultimate target of any government that based its existence on religion.' [...]

"Let me underline some strange coincidences. It is well known that the AKP government is not pleased with universities, especially Yuzuncu Yil University at Van and its rector, Yucel Askin. Therefore, Van prosecutor Ferhat Sarikaya appears onstage and prepares the indictment [against Askin], which was rejected by most legal authorities. […] Everybody also knows that some circles close to AKP feel uncomfortable with [future chief of general staff] Gen. Buyukanit […]. [So, again, prosecutor] Sarikaya prepares a terrible indictment against Buyukanit […]"

The Behind-the-Scenes Role of the AKP and Islamists

The question of who is behind the efforts to block Gen. Buyukanit from the top military post has been on the Turkish media agenda since the Semdinli indictment became public in early March 2006. The following are excerpts from articles by Turkish columnists on this question:

"AKP Members are Overjoyed"

"Some AKP members were overjoyed with the Van prosecutor's indictment [of Gen. Buyukanit], which he [i.e. the prosecutor] sent to the military prosecutor of the Office of General Staff for examination and investigation.

"The AKP MP from Adiyaman, Faruk Unsal, said: '[…] The indictment prepared by the office of the Van prosecutor has done what we were unable to do.'

"The AKP MP from Manisa, Hakan Tasci, said: 'What we left unfinished is now completed by the Van prosecutor.[…] He is right." [10]

"The AKP and the Turkish Military"

"[…] Prime Minister Erdogan says, 'This is a matter between the military and the judiciary, to which the AKP is not a party in any way.' […] In reality, statements by AKP MPs show that AKP sides with the indictment and with the prosecutor [who prepared it], and that they are happy about the charges [against Gen. Buyukanit]. It would seem that anything that wears down the armed forces makes the AKP happy. […] The reason the Land Forces commander's name appears in the indictment is the testimony before the parliamentary investigation commission [investigating the Semdinli incidents] by Diyarbakir businessman Mehmet Ali Altindag. [11] Altindag was invited to testify before the commission by AKP MP Cavit Torun of Diyarbakir. Cavit Torun was also formerly Altindag's attorney [when Altindag was accused of affiliation with Hizbullah].

"When the [Van] prosecutor demanded [only] the records of Altindag's testimony before the commission [out of the testimony of some 40 witnesses], it was again an AKP MP, Musa Savcioglu - chairman of the Semdinli Commission - who [secretly] sent the confidential records to the Van prosecutor [without informing the rest of the commission].[…]" [12]

Is the Investigation Against Gen. Buyukanit an AKP Retaliation for His 1983 Action [Against Islamist Leader Fethullah Gulen]?

"In 1983, [then-] Colonel Yasar Buyukanit was commander of the Kuleli Military High School. [At that time] the newly organized community of [Turkish Islamist sect leader] Fethullah [Gulen] - which is now very widespread - managed to infiltrate [the Kuleli School, enrolling] 80 of their students in it. These students would have become future commanders! [...] A disciplinary committee, of five officers headed by Buyukanit, expelled all 80. [...]

"Now, after the Van indictment, one cannot help asking: 'Is this retaliation [for Gen. Buyukanit's 1983 action], by some Fethullah followers who have been placed in high public positions by the AKP?'" [13]

"Fethullah Followers Who Targeted Gen. Buyukanit are Under AKP Umbrella"

"What could be the aim of the circles that want to wear down Gen. Yasar Buyukanit? To create confusion in public opinion about Buyukanit, who is a follower of [the principles of] Ataturk and a patriotic soldier…[…]

"The plot was led by Fethullah's daily newspaper Zaman, and religionist [i.e. Islamist] and divisive [separatist] websites… […] Some years ago, Fethullah Gulen targeted [another military leader,] Air Force commander Gen. Ahmet Corekci - because Gen. Corekci had identified, one by one, Fethullah's officers and NCOs in the Air Force… […]

"In those days in the residences of the Air Force base at Eskisehir, NCO wives were wearing black burkahs, and a lieutenant colonel was kissing the hands of his NCO because of the latter's high position within the [Fethullah] sect… Later it was Maltepe Armored Corps commander Gen. Silahcioglu's turn to be targeted.; Fethullah's Zaman had reported [falsely] that 'Commander [Silahcioglu] destroyed the minarets of the mosque…' Gen. Silahcioglu was a follower of Ataturk, and a patriotic soldier… Therefore, Fethullah [followers] were uncomfortable with him.

"Aren't all the followers of the religionist baron [i.e. Fethullah Gulen] who targeted Land Forces Commander Gen. Buyukanit - with no evidence - under the umbrella of the AKP government? The Fethullahists have the political power to influence the judiciary, direct the media, and even intimidate bank owners by threatening that their followers might withdraw all their funds from their banks… It is a fact that Fethullahists know how to use their political and economic power very well. They are experts in inserting their influence into the judiciary, the police, politics and the economy [of the country] […]" [14]

Opposition Leader Baykal: "This Operation [Against the Military] was Planned at the PM's Office by his Staff Director"

"At a press conference, CHP (Republican People's Party) Chairman Deniz Baykal was asked to evaluate rumors that Omer Dincer, the staff director of the office of Prime Minister Erdogan, was behind the Semdinli indictment [i.e. of Gen. Buyukanit]. Baykal said: 'The mentality of the staff director of the Prime Minister's Office is not one that respects Turkey's secular, democratic republic - as evidenced by his own publications and acknowledgement. For some time in Turkey, there has been an intentional and ongoing assault against the Republic's institutions and achievements. This operation is being planned at the offices of the prime minister and his staff director.' [15]

Justice Ministry for Disciplinary Action Against Prosecutor

"Justice Ministry inspectors sent to investigate Van prosecutor Ferhat Sarikaya following his allegations against Gen. Yasar Buyukanit have completed their report. The inspectors have called for disciplinary action against Sarikaya, noting that his charges against Buyukanit 'did not have the required basis.'" [16]

[1] (meaning in Turkish:

[2] In Turkey, no member of a non-Muslim minority serves in uniform, either in the military (beyond compulsory military service) or in any security or police force. No non-Muslim is a member of the judiciary (such as prosecutors, judges etc.) or holds any high-ranking position in any government ministry (Eg. there is not a single non-Muslim Turkish diplomat).

[3] PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), a separatist Kurdish organization which is listed in the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Turkey's fight against PKK terrorism during the last three decades has resulted in the death of over 30,000 Turkish citizens. Recently the PKK violence has escalated in many towns in the mainly Kurdish Southeast of Turkey and in Istanbul resulting in daily casualties.

[4] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1014, "The AKP Government's Attempt to Move Turkey From Secularism to Islamism (Part I): The Clash With Turkey's Universities," November 1, 2005, The AKP Government's Attempt to Move Turkey From Secularism to Islamism (Part I): The Clash With Turkey's Universities .

[5] Fethullah Gulen is known to be a sworn proponent of shari'a and a caliphate in Turkey, but has in recent years been a relatively moderate voice advocating for interfaith dialogue (which is regarded as taqiyyah by Turkey's secularists and by many Western experts on Islam). Following his indictment in Turkey for Islamist activity against the secular regime, he fled to the U.S., where he has lived since 1999. His sect owns many media organs in Turkey, including Zaman, Samanyolu TV, many magazines, and radio stations. Many of his followers occupy positions in Turkish government ministries, police, and military. There are thousands of Islamic-Turkish Fethullah Gulen schools in Turkey and hundreds more in over 70 countries worldwide, including Ukraine, Indonasia, South Africa, Sudan, Australia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Europe, Russia, and the U.S.; the schools are built by his many foundations and the source of their funding is unknown. In March 2006, two additional schools were opened, one in Argentina and the other in Sudan; AKP Cabinet Minister Kursad Tuzmen attended the inaugural ceremony in Sudan. It is believed that during the last years of the communist Soviet Union, Fethullah Gulen supporters created unrest in the Muslim communities in the north of the Black Sea, against the Soviets.

[6] Hurriyet (Turkey), March 7, 2006.

[7] Hurriyet (Turkey), March 6, 2006.

[8] Aksam (Turkey) March 6, 2006.

[9] Cumhuriyet (Turkey), March 7, 2006.

[10] Hurriyet (Turkey), Mehmet Yilmaz, March 7, 2006.

[11] According to the Turkish media, the charges against Gen. Buyukanit were based solely on Mehmet Ali Altindag's testimony for the parliamentary probe of the Semdinli events. Altindag (AKA "Hadji"), a businessman from Diyarbakir owns a local newspaper and a local TV channel, and has many times been charged for his alleged ties first with the terrorist organization PKK and then with the Islamist Hizbullah. He has been called Hizbullah's "financier." He has also won many government tenders for multi-million government projects (see reports in Hurriyet, March 20, 2006; Cumhuriyet, March 7, 2006).

[12] Yenicag (Turkey), Umit Ozdag, March 11, 2006.

[13] Hurriyet (Turkey) Emin Colasan, March 12, 2006. The article also said: "Their investigation revealed that all these students had been educated in Fethullah's 'houses of light,' and while the brightest were directed to universities to study law and political sciences to become future judges, prosecutors, and bureaucrats, others were sent to military high schools with the goal of [eventually] holding positions in the Turkish Armed Forces. The Kuleli [School] then determined the addresses of the said 'houses of light' and informed the police; the police took no action. (Today, there are tens of thousands of such houses of light all over Turkey. They house and feed their students, [and] assign them 'mentor brothers' to educate them. All for free. Their source of funding is unknown!)

"Then the investigation also showed that the students whom they [i.e. the Fethullah followers] sent to [entrance] exams at Kuleli had each been instructed to memorize five questions to be added to a question bank, for future use by student candidates [taking entrance exams for military schools ]."

[14] Cumhuriyet (Turkey), Hikmet Cetinkaya, March 7, 2006.

[15] Hurriyet (Turkey), March 25, 2006.

[16] Hurriyet (Turkey), March 29, 2006.

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