The YAŞ meets twice a year, in August and in December, under the chairmanship of the prime minister whose presence used to be symbolic until 2010 when the political authority began exerting its legal power, to a certain extent, over the YAŞ's decisions on the promotions and retirements of generals. During the August meetings, the YAŞ decides over the promotions and retirements of generals and service commanders as well as promotion of colonels to the rank of generals. In December, the council takes a decision about the 10-year-long arms procurement plans that are revised every two years. In both meetings, the YAŞ also elaborates on the general security situation in Turkey and its environs.
Why does the YAŞ, staffed by generals, take decisions on issues such as the promotions of generals, including service commanders and the chief of general staff, as well as on arms procurement matters which should all fall under the responsibility of both the government and Parliament? There is a simple answer to that question, which is that the military has not yet come under full civilian control.
It is not only the YAŞ's membership composition -- which is overwhelmingly represented by senior uniformed men -- but its status as well which is problematic. Retired military judge and a former politician Faik Tarımcıoğlu recalls that the YAŞ was established in 1971 soon after the military issued a memorandum that led to the resignation of the government at the time. Exploiting its then political power, the military junta within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) which issued the 1971 memorandum, imposed on Parliament a law that allowed the creation of the YAŞ. The law was designed in a way that that has prevented the elected authorities from intervening in its decisions over the promotions and retirements of generals and admirals, as well as the chief of general staff and service commanders in addition to its decisions on buying arms.
It was only in 2010 that the prime minister and chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as President Abdullah Gül both began using their legal powers to interfere in the YAŞ's decisions. This has, however, sparked a strong resistance from the politically meddlesome military.
The 2010 and 2011 August meetings of the council also coincided with the promotions and retirement decisions on the generals who were among the 404 retired and active officers from various ranks jailed over charges of plotting to overthrow the government. In both the YAŞ meetings, the political authority could not break, to a large extent, the military's resistance against retiring all the active generals and admirals in jail, despite the fact that Article 65 of the TSK Personnel Law allows this decision to be made.
But at this year's YAŞ meeting which ended on August 3, a day earlier than planned and which took place without any crisis contrary to earlier meetings, 40 generals and admirals who were in jail over coup charges but were awaiting promotions this year were retired, even though there are approximately 60 active generals and admirals, including those 40 officers, from various ranks who are currently in jail.
Tarımcıoğlu is of the opinion that the government made “a little concession instead of a big one,” at this year's YAŞ meeting by not retiring all the approximately 60 active generals and admirals. Still, he says, the retirement of 40 generals and admirals out of 60 via the influence of civilian authority as well as President Gül -- all civilian political authorities -- can be described as a purge of a coup mentality from within the TSK which staged two military coups and a postmodern coup while issuing two memorandums against the previous and the current governments between 1960 and 2007.
Political authority has succeeded, to a large extent, in cleaning from within the TSK those brought up by an education that the TSK can stage coups when it deems it necessary in accordance with its self-designed threat perceptions by retiring the 40 arrested generals and admirals awaiting promotions. It has also influenced generals at the YAŞ by promoting the more liberal thinking generals to higher ranks assumed to be respectful of civilian governance. However, the YAŞ remains one of the important tools for the military to continue its privileged status which require changes in laws to end its political power.