Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has publicly criticized the long detention of army generals, saying it may be having an adverse effect on the fight against terrorism.
“There are currently 400 retired commissioned or non-commissioned officers. Most of them are detained … If the evidence is indisputable, [the court should] give a verdict. If you consider hundreds of officers and the [former] chief of staff to be members of an [illegal] organization this would destroy the spirits of the armed forces. How will these people be able to fight terrorism?” Erdoğan said, responding to journalists’ questions in a live television interview on the private 24 news station.
He complained that because of the long detentions, there were few officers left in the command structure in the fight against terrorism.
Erdoğan also said that thanks to the recent reform package, which also enabled legal defense in Kurdish, suspects suffering from an aggravated illness could be freed. “There are detainees who have to feed themselves with baby food,” he said, emphasizing the poor detention conditions of some of the retired Generals.
The latest episode bringing to light the discontentment of senior officers was the resignation of Navy Adm. Nusret Güner. According to his wife, Güner’s resignation was a reaction to the ongoing investigations into unfair arrests, spying and blackmailing inside the Turkish Navy. Other reports have claimed that Güner and his family members were among the victims of a gang that collected information on several high-ranking soldiers for blackmailing purposes.
Message on the Kurdish peace process
During the two-hour-long television interview, Erdoğan also touched the peace process currently ongoing between the Turkish government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan.
“We are currently engaged in a process for a solution. We are ready to use any instrument in our hands,” he said, responding to criticism that the peace process had recently stalled. “I always say, [if the PKK lays] down its arms, this will mean the end of [military] operations.”
Optimism for the resolution of the nearly four-decade-long conflict grew after talks with Öcalan were opened. Following the intensification of the negotiations, the killings in Parisof three Kurdish women, one of them the co-founder of the PKK, also seemed to have no negative effect on the process.
Erdoğan said Kurdish citizens should not feel as if they are the target of military operations, saying that the targets were terrorists, not civilian Kurds. “We are bombing terrorists because they target our police. We want all arms to be buried,” he said.
The prime minister also touched on Jan. 24’s surprise Cabinet reshuffle. Noting that some ministers’ productivity tended to slow down after they had taken office, Erdoğan said a new process would be launched with new ministers in four departments.
The appointment of Muammer Güler, the former governor of Istanbul but a native of the southeastern province of Mardin, as the new interior minister, in place of İdris Naim Şahin, who was strongly criticized during his tenure for his nationalistic comments, has been interpreted as a change designed to lend impetus to the peace process.
After serving as Istanbul governor, Güler was named the public security secretary, an office that was founded as part of the government’s Kurdish initiative strategy in 2010, and which is affiliated with the Interior Ministry.
‘Invite us to the Shanghai Five, we’ll forget the EU’
Regarding Turkey’s slow European Union accession process, Erdoğan made assurances that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was not disregarding accession negotiations, adding that EU Minister Egemen Bağış was making presentations on the matter at every Cabinet meeting.
However, Erdoğan also joked that Russian President Vladimir Putin once poked fun at him by asking, “What business does Turkey have in the EU?”
“I responded to him, saying, ‘Accept us into the Shanghai Five, and we’ll forget about the EU,’” said Erdoğan.