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Turkey Purges Army of Islamists, Terrorism and Military Buildup Continue

August 9, 2005


( Research Service)- It was always meant to be the bulwark of the modern-day Turkish Republic’s secular state and, since the time of founding father Ataturk, the military has lived up to this creed, exercising inordinate power in Turkish politics and society. It has helped to propagate the ubiquitous cult of Ataturk, and demanded the suppression of leaders deemed too Islamic for the good of the state.

Quietly, however, the Turkish military has been ridding itself of individuals deemed untrustworthy due to perceived religious affiliations. The threat of Islamist elements in the army was discussed by top generals together with the prime minister, Recip Tayip Erdogan – the same politician who was banned in 1997 for being too pro-Islamic.

A Changing of the Guard

“Streamlining the Turkish military” was the topic of a high-level three-day meeting in Ankara that concluded on Thursday (August 4).

According to the Turkish Press, citing Anadolu News Agency, shakeups in the top brass are imminent: “these changes would affect the military leadership over the upcoming 10 year period.” But none of these were stated as having to do with Islam, however.

Among the officers on the block are Admiral Ozden Ornek, head of the navy, and commander of the air force General Ibrahim Firitina. They were, according to the report “asked to retire after completion of their term of service.”

The pair will be respectively replaced by Admiral Yener Karahanoglu and General Faruk Comert. As for the army, the retiring General Hilmi Ozok will probably be replaced by General Yaser Buykamit.

The article gave no reason for any of the replacements on an individual basis.

Of higher interest than this bureaucratic reshuffle, however, was another topic that was addressed in last week’s conference. According to Turkish Press, “the meeting reviewed connection of some in the military with unsanctioned religious fundamentalist groups and suggested the expelling of some others for “improper conduct,’ which is a code term for being involved in Islamist activities deemed extreme and undesirable.

Since the accession to power, the ruling party has expelled 47 members of the military for conduct unbecoming. Turkish law does not allow appeal for decisions made by the high military council.”

Given the size and power of the Turkish military, it would be an alarming thought indeed if this massive machine fell into the “wrong hands.’ Although it is highly unlikely that this would happen, there is always the possibility of weapons and weapons technology being “shopped around” by untrustworthy individuals with ties to terrorism. The latest issue of Vanity Fair, featuring FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, gave ominous testimony to the shadowy world of such trafficking between governments and unscrupulous individuals. Among the other disclosures in the article, it cited the contents of several wiretapped phone conversations Edmonds had processed while at the FBI. These calls involved Turkish suspects, ostensibly governmental – though that’s not all.

What sends chills down one’s spine is the following revelation:

“Yet another [phone conversation] implied that Turkish groups had been installing doctoral students at U.S. research institutions in order to acquire information about black market nuclear weapons. In fact, much of what Edmonds reportedly heard seemed to concern not state espionage but criminal activity. There was talk, she told investigators, of laundering the profits of large-scale drug deals and of selling classified military technologies to the highest bidder.”

Talk of “the highest bidder’ is not reassuring. If not bin Laden himself, is it beyond possibility that such foreign terrorists were finding ways to procure secret American weapons technology, from corrupt officials in the US government itself?

If this is the case, one can only imagine what is happening in Ankara- and with whom.

New Protective Purchases for the Military

The Turkish purges of suspected Islamists come just as the Kurdish PKK is stepping up its new campaign against the government. The long-standing truce has been broken for many reasons, but partially as a result of the US war against Iraq – which gave Kurdish groups there new ambitions towards creating an ethnic “Kurdistan.’

Of course, the Turkish government loudly warned America in advance that such an outcome was likely in case of war against Saddam, and they continue to do so. However, it is also likely that with secret military incursions into northern Iraq, a dedicated intelligence presence there as well as a ramped up military presence in the Kurdish southeast, the Turkish military has only inflamed the tensions. But they have little other choice faced with a resurrected insurgency.

On 24 July, Turkish newspaper Zaman reported that the military is taking “new precautionary measures against increased attacks using remote controlled mines and C-4 plastic explosives by the terrorist organization Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK)/Kongra-Gel against Turkish military troops in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia within the last year.”

According to the report, Turkey has purchased around 30 Cobra type anti-landmine-armored vehicles also protected against C-4 plastic explosives – at a cost of $150,000 each.

The Cobras will be transferred to military convoy routes in the southeast such as Sirnak, Bingol, Tunceli, Siirt, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Agri, Cizre, Hakkari, Igdir and Van provinces, “where ambushes by remote controlled bomb traps mostly occur.”

According to the report, “terrorists exploding the remote controlled anti-personal mines and C-4 plastic explosives planted in or near convoy routes by wireless or mobile phones have killed or severely injured many Turkish soldiers.” The same tactics have been employed by the increasingly sophisticated insurgency in Iraq.

The Cobra APCs (photos here) are manufactured by a Turkish company, Otokar, which is “the leading brand” in Turkey’s defense contracting industry and a subsidiary of Koc Holdings, one of the biggest companies in Turkey. The Cobra creation came as ” a joint development with AM General of USA [which] utilizes many common parts with HMMWV [the Humvee].” Since inventing the Humvee in the early 1980’s, AM has been awarded a continuous series of multi-million dollar contracts from the Pentagon.

Otokar: Moving From Strength to Strength

On 12 July, Otokar General Manager Kudret ˆšÃ‰Â¬Ã±nen hailed “the largest abroad defense industry order we have ever received until today.”

The company states only that the $88.4 million contract for 600 vehicles came “from abroad.”

Some 573 of the 600 vehicles ordered will be Armored Personnel Carriers. The remaining 27 units will be Land Rover Defender tactical wheeled vehicles. Otokar has been licensed to producer Defenders since 1987 and points out their usage by the Turkish military.

The company expects delivery of the orders to start in the last quarter of 2005 and continue throughout 2006. With this one huge deal, attested the general manager of Otokar will produce at one fell swoop almost half of the total number of armored vehicles it has sold for the last 15 years combined.

No wonder that he cheerfully states, “we are advancing in this aspect [export market] with great velocity… our goal is to grow with the products for which we hold the intellectual property rights and to increase the share of the defense industry in our total turnover from the rate of 15% in 2004, to 30% in 2005.”

The export market for Turkish military contractors continues to gain attention. A conference in Turkey from 9-11 June on the topic of “Democracy and Global Security” provided a handy pretext for the Turkish defense industry to hawk its wares before a deep-pocketed foreign clientele.

According to Otokar, among the many foreign ministers who arrived was Bahrain’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Lieutenant General Rashed Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, who arrived a few days before the conference specifically to inspect the Otokar plant in Arifiye (in northwestern Anatolia). Bahrain, a tiny and relatively liberal Gulf state, is a close ally of the US and a preferred place of residency for many Western oil workers.

Another important military trade fair is to take place in the end of next month. IDEF TURKIYE 2005, the 7th International Defense Industry, Aerospace and Maritime Fair, is scheduled to be held from September 26-30. According to one promotional page, “IDEF is among one of the top 10 events of the world defense, aviation and maritime industries. IDEF brings together senior military and civilian defense officials and key decision-makers from 50 countries.”

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