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Turkish military chiefs resign in protest of generals’ arrests

Move may signal end of institution’s role in politics

By Gul Tuysuz and Sabrina Tavernise
New York Times / July 30, 2011

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ISTANBUL - Turkey’s top military commanders resigned en masse yesterday, a move without precedent in Turkish history that many analysts considered a failed effort by a beleaguered institution to exert what is left of its dwindling political power.

In the surprising series of events, Turkey’s top commander, General Isik Kosaner, together with the leaders of the navy, army, and air force, simultaneously resigned in protest over the sweeping arrests of dozens of generals over the past year as suspects in conspiracy investigations that many in Turkey have come to consider a witch hunt.

Hours later, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accepted the resignations and elevated his own choice to become the senior military commander: General Necdet Ozel, who is now commander of the military police. The decision stamped Erdogan’s civilian authority on the country’s military, which has long regarded itself as a protector of Turkey’s secular traditions.

The news stunned Turkey and left many people wondering whether they were witnessing the end of the power the military has long exercised over the nation’s political system.

“This is effectively the end of the military’s role in Turkish democracy,’’ said Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for the Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet. “This is the symbolic moment where the first Turkish republic ends and the second republic begins.’’

Erdogan has rolled back the military’s political power substantially since he took office in 2002, in part through legal overhauls that assert civilian control. But the biggest blow to the military’s clout has been a sprawling series of investigations and trials in which a number of senior military commanders, as well as journalists and others, were charged with conspiring to overthrow Erdogan’s government.

The resignations were the culmination of a year of frustrations, in which more than 40 generals - roughly a tenth of the senior military command - were taken into custody, an assault that has infuriated the military but left it essentially helpless to fight back.

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