In an interview with Radikal's Ömer Şahin published on Thursday, Çelik shared his evaluations with the increasing civilianization of Turkey's politics, saying Turkey still needed more drastic changes in how the relationship between the military and the civilian authority has been structured. In fact, Turkey has recently seen major changes in this area.
Radikal also quoted Çelik as saying that the Aegean Army, or the 4th Army, of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), established in 1975 at a time of heightened tension with Greece over the Aegean Sea, is no longer necessary, but Çelik released a statement in the evening denying he called for the abolishment of the 4th Army. The statement said Radikal's report made it sound as if he was presenting a government action plan, adding that the views he expressed were a mere attempt at opening the sensitive issue to discussion.
In the last Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting in early August, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the sole head of the YAŞ meeting, where top military brass discuss promotions and dismissals, in stark contrast to previous YAŞ meetings where heads of the General Staff are always seated next to the prime minister. This year's YAŞ also saw the first time civilians had control over the appointments decided on by YAŞ.
Similar changes were observed in the seating arrangement during a recent National Security Council (MGK) meeting, with the generals and civilian members of the council sitting together as opposed to previous meetings where civilians and military officers were seated on opposite sides of the table. Another recent change was the removal of a memorandum issued against the AK Party government in 2007 from the military's website last week.
Çelik said Turkey needed to go one step further and abolish Article 35 of the TSK Internal Service Law which provided a legal basis for many coups d'état in the past, and even opened to question the existence of the 4th Army as well as the 1st Army, which was also formed against a perceived threat from the Balkans. He also said further public debate was needed on the education of TSK personnel.
Referring to a voice recording that was posted online two weeks ago in which former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. Işık Koşaner is heard offering self-criticism of the TSK, complaining that the military was not well equipped to fight separatist terrorism, Çelik said the recording was further evidence that the TSK was structured and functioning according to Cold War-era circumstances, noting that although other NATO countries have been able to modernize their militaries after the end of the Cold War, Turkey had failed to do so. “If the legal regulations needed for change and if a … renewal don't take place, the organism will self-destruct,” he said.
The AK Party deputy chairman recalled that the AK Party's election manifesto promised further democratization and the de-militarization of politics. “We promised and advanced democracy for the public. If that is the promise, can we possibly structure civilian-military relations like backward nations? These [changes] have to be made. If this can be done, doubts over the military will disappear and it will become stronger. The General Staff itself will do this reorganizing. I say all these things as a party administrator. I can't really speak on behalf of the government or the defense minister,” Çelik said.
Çelik said Turkey needed a change in “mentality.” He also criticized the system of military academies and schools, saying the education offered in these institutions lagged behind international standards and was compatible neither with global realities nor with those of Turkey. “The education system absolutely has to be revisited,” Çelik told Radikal.
He noted that international freedom rating agencies still rated Turkey as “partially free,” adding his opinion that more democratic steps were needed in order for the country to be considered completely free. Çelik said national security classes often taught by retired military officers in Turkish schools also have to be done away with. “They make [students] memorize military ranks. Both the format and essence of these classes are just foul,” he added.
Çelik also told Radikal that other reforms, including restructuring the gendarmerie command and its duties, shortening the duration of compulsory military service and changing the names of gendarmerie barracks named after such individuals as Mustafa Muğlalı -- a general who was sentenced to death after killing 33 Kurds in the Southeast -- and questioning the existence and function of the Turkish Armed Forces Assistance Center (OYAK), a company that is active in a wide range of areas from construction to finance and owned by the military, were necessary.