Turkey has overhauled the top ranks of its military, appointing new army commanders in a move that underlines the government’s control over armed forces.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chaired the Supreme Military Council which made Saturday’’s appointments.
The council decides on promotions and retirements of top officers every year at its three-day August meeting and had been expected to make major changes at this week’s gathering.
The Council’s decisions were announced after approval by President Abdullah Gul.
The most unexpected of the council’s decisions was the forced retirement of paramilitary gendarmerie force commander General Bekir Kalyoncu, who had been the leading candidate to take over land forces.
Media reports said top officials were opposed to Kalyoncu leading the country’s land forces as he was regarded as a government critic and his name had cropped up in testimony in the trial of the alleged Ergenekon conspiracy against Erdogan’s government. A verdict on that trial is scheduled for Monday.
Instead, General Hulusi Akar was given the job and, according to custom, would be expected to replace General Necdet Ozel as overall head of the armed forces in 2015.
The General Staff also announced on its website the appointment of Vice-Admiral Bulent Bostanoglu as commander of the navy, Lieutenant General Akin Ozturk as head of the air force and General Servet Yoruk as commander of the gendarmerie.
The new appointments come as NATO’s second-largest army is facing multiple challenges in neighbouring Syria’s civil war, which has spilled across the border.
Turkey has also been involved in a peace process with Kurdish fighters that looks increasingly fragile.
Although the military once dominated Turkey’s political life, Erdogan has eroded the army’s power since his Islamist-rooted AK Party first came to power in 2002.
The secularist military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pushed the first Islamist-led government out of office in 1997.
Two years ago, a major upheaval in the military – when the chief of staff and three other generals quit – allowed Erdogan to install a chief of staff of his choice, General Ozel, and relations between government and military have since improved.
A series of judicial investigations of military officers have undermined morale in the Turkish armed forces in recent years.
Last September, a Turkish court sentenced more than 300 military officers to jail for plotting to overthrow Erdogan almost a decade ago in the so-called Sledgehammer plot.
Among defendants facing a verdict in the Ergenekon trial on Monday is retired General Ilker Basbug, chief of staff between 2008 to 2010, who is accused of being among the leaders of what prosecutors say is a shadowy arch-nationalist group.