Author: Selahattin Yüzbaşı
Images flooding the social media depicts a very gloomy picture of the Turkish Military. Unfiltered pictures remind not of the Army of Ataturk, the modernizing force and the guardian of the Republic, but that of Ottoman Era bandit-militia, the Bashibozouk.
Apparently, without an efficient leadership in the forced absence of the Officer Corps, uncontrolled soldiers started to behave as they wish and with no code of ethics. What makes the matter worse is the complete lack of a STRATCOM policy or oversight on the dissemination of information in the public domain. As Generals seem to be busy with building their political connections, the prospect for theTurkish Military looks very grim, to say the least.
No need for long sentences and fancy intros: Alarm bells are ringing for Turkish Military. Images flooding the social media show a Military in disarray; replete with indiscipline, insubordination showing signs of severe lack of oversight and as a result, demonstrating unacceptable forms of conduct. Apparently they also lack even a basic STRATCOM capacity to manage the image of the Turkish Military. This is a very slippery slope, the end of which leads to nothing short of military disaster on a biblical scale and/or accusations in the ICC. I hope this piece serves as a way belated wake up call for military authorities and they get their act together.
Take a look at this video for example:Who are these guys? Who is the leader of these bandits? What kind of a commander lets his subordinates to shoot aimlessly in a combat zone on this scale? And more worryingly, how can troops be allowed to salute with ultra-nationalist greywolf sign and shout slogans? This is not the only video. Political and/or xenophobic messages, salutes are all over the social media.(Here, here) One wonders, whether they have started allowing-or even promoting- neo-fascist tendencies as well? Have they not learned their lessons from all this FETO debacle? On top of debates about the politicization of the military, clashing cliques (pro-Russian vs. pro-Erdogan Islamists), this addition of ultra-nationalist flavor is very bad. Last thing we need is proxies of a ultra-nationalist (at times racist) political party in uniform, swinging their weapons, chanting racist slogans, drawing racist graffiti in operational areas.
Lack of oversight and lawlessness seems rampant. Subordinates seem unleashed, behaving as they see fit, releasing pictures or videos from wherever they want with total impunity. (Here, here, here and here) Apparently mostly NCO’s (and enlisted) release images of captured terrorists and videos from makeshift interrogations, full of signs of mistreatment. Disturbing images of enemy losses are not even news anymore. These are not even the worse: Social media is full of videos showing Turkish Soldiers mistreating people (here, here), beating civillians (here).
Allegations of Civillian Casualties
Let me put this into context, adding another dimension: Allegations of civillian casualties against Turkish Operations in Syria are ever increasing. There are more and more reports about civillian casualties resulting from Turkish activities in Syria. These are not mere anonymous reports, they come from the most serious sources available, like the UN. For example based on the data from December 2016 through February 17th 2017, Matthias Behnke, head of OHCHR’s Syria Team said the team “received reports that about 300 civilians have been killed so far as a result of the offensive to retake al-Bab, primarily due to airstrikes but also from improvised explosive devises (IEDs).” There are also a lot of media showing massive destruction in Al Bab.
Now, consider all of the above together: Unleashed members of Turkish Military shouting racist slogans, mistreating people, releasing media from devastated combat zones and on top of all that, grave allegations of civilian casualties. This is a seriously dangerous combination. Like International Criminal Court (ICC) serious. And if Turkish Military hopes that their dull press releases with no meat will quiet things down (and replace the overwhelming media released by renegade soldiers) they have another thing coming.
On top of all this s..tstorm, we are now watching this insubordinate Turkish pilot’s selfie in the cockpit, as he bombs Al Bab, on the very same day a scathing news report and social media allegations about civilian casualties! Now, this guy’s affection for cheap pop culture is his problem, as long as he keeps his low taste out of flight missions and his cell phone1 out of the cockpit. But Turkish Military would better be preparing its response when (not if) people start putting pictures of dead children and this slick pilot side by side, claiming the joy he is taking while he is killing civilians! It doesn’t matter if that is the case, it is all about perception and Turkish Air Force by allowing such outlandish irresponsible actions playing into the hands of their opponents.
Do the Generals Even Care?
The alarming thing is that, Turkish military authorities do not seem to be bothered by any of these disturbing images. Not only they apparently have a total collapse of discipline within the service but also a lack of even a basic STRATCOM strategy. Sensitive information is being disseminated unchecked. No control over how the once mighty Turkish Military is portrayed in the media whatsoever, nor is there any check or policy on members of the Military’s social media releases. Even though sharing pictures in uniform on the social media is illegal and punishable by up to 2 years of jail sentence, no Commander seems to care. It is very remarkable to see going from a very strict control on media policy (even though it was still very ineffective) just several months ago to a complete hands off approach.
Turkish Generals either think that, irresponsible chauvinist displays of military hardware or pictures from occasional visits of Gen. Akar with service chiefs is good enough as media policy. Let me tell you, it is not! What people see as the Turkish Military is what I show above, the preposterous display of the Turkish Military by several social media accounts. Nothing more. (I should also mention that, the anachronistic military doesn’t even have official Twitter or Facebook accounts, at this day and age.)
Where are the Officers?
Two final observations: First, all over the social media I see NCO’s even enlisted men running a wild show in uniform. I showed many examples above. Then, I have to ask, where are the Officers? Who is leading this Army? Do they even hold any of the subordinates accountable? Let me tell you what I think; in my opinion officers are scared to lead and they lost control. Their wings are clipped, after being constantly portrayed as villains and traitors.2 Turkish Officers are rumored to hesitate to discipline their subordinates for fear of being snitched out as “anti government” which would result in immediate dismissal and maybe prison.
They have to put officers back in charge, yesterday!
My second point is that, it looks like the overall climate of lawlessness and violence in Turkey affected the Military. The Minister of Interior proudly defends torture of civilians by the Military, for God’s sake! Well, that is still not an excuse for an organization claiming to trace back its origins to times before history. They should know better. At the end of the day, while the correlation between the unlawful conduct of politicians and that of the military is obvious, the results will unproportionately be different for men in suits and men in uniform. At the end of the day, it will be the perpetrators, especially the officers on the bench, not the politicians.And thanks to the very effective (!) control on the dissemination of battlefield imagery, future prosecutors will have little difficulty building a case.
If the Turkish Military does not put its house in order and establish the chain of command as well as control the messaging in the media soon, not only will there be more of the disastrous battlefield losses but also even Erdogan’s Generals may not be able to find troops that will listen to their orders.
1 I hope that is a cell phone not the cockpit camera. That would have been much worse!
2 After the botched coup, only one soldier was portrayed as a hero: Omer Halisdemir, the NCO who shot the “alleged*” putchist General Terzi and was assasinated by alleged FETO officers afterwards. There were also many officers who fought against the alleged coup plotters and got wounded even lost their lives. The most important of them is Colonel Sait Erturk, who was killed by the allegeed putchists. However, his name -like any other officer’s- is deliberately left out of official discourse, which portrays the officer corps as traitors and terrorists almost as a whole.
* Because of the ongoing judicial process, the so-called coup plotters are referred to as alleged.