ANKARA: Hulusi Akar: Reformist Or Pragmatic


Today’s Zaman, Turkey
Aug 5 2013


The main reason that Turkey’s civilian leaders, in the latest meeting
of the Supreme Military Council (YAÅ~^), tapped Gen. Hulusi Akar
as commander of the Land Forces and the prospective leader of the
Turkish military two years from now is Akar’s perceived commitment
to civilian supremacy over the military in a democratic country.

His wealth of expertise in foreign postings and his international
contacts, as well as his ability to work with the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AK Party) government without much hassle, made
him a good candidate to lead the Turkish army. The government, with
Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s veto threat, had to throw the door
wide open for Akar by retiring a controversial figure, Gendarmerie
Commander Bekir Kalyoncu, who was lined up for the post according to
unwritten — yet unbinding — military tradition.

Akar, a 61-year-old man, is the protégé of Chief of General
Staff Gen.

Necdet Ozel, who has been carefully, and successfully, navigating
the Turkish military through troubled waters over the last two years
as dozens of senior generals found themselves on the wrong side of
the law. Some have already been convicted and others are detained
pending trial for attempting to overthrow the democratically elected
government in a country that saw four successful military coups and
many more foiled ones. That is why the mindset and character of a
prospective leader of the Turkish military weighs heavy on the minds
of political leaders who were recently shaken by the ouster of the
first democratically elected president of Egypt by military force.

Akar’s record and background suggest that he has been ambivalent
about the military’s role in politics at times, yet he also proved to
be a very pragmatic and practical man despite the fact that he is a
product of the military guardianship regime. That probably explains
why he has been reluctant to yield to civilian rule in the past
and gave a conflicting account of how an army general should behave
in a democratic system. After all, he served as chief of staff to
İsmail Hakkı Karadayı while the latter served as both Land Forces
commander and the chief of General Staff. Karadayı has now been named
as the number one suspect in an indictment against the Feb. 28, 1997
military coup, which ousted a civilian government. The intervention,
often called the postmodern coup, dealt a fatal blow to fundamental
rights, the rule of law and freedoms in Turkey, leaving Ankara with a
rap sheet of violations at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Akar was mentioned as critical of the AK Party government in a 2005
meeting that was cited in coup diaries written by neo-nationalist
Cumhuriyet newspaper’s former bureau chief, Mustafa Balbay, who is
currently standing trial in the Ergenekon case, accused of conspiring
with generals to overthrow the civilian government. Balbay observed
that during a lunch Akar, then commander of the military War Academy,
hosted for the participants of an international symposium he organized
at the academy, a group of generals, including Akar, openly criticized
the AK Party government. This may not be significant by itself,
however, because the same year Akar was severely criticized by the
ultra-leftist and neo-nationalist Labor Party (Ä°P) when he introduced
EU education and youth programs in the academy as part of education
exchanges within the scope of the Socrates and Erasmus programs. The
Ä°P accused him of eroding the rigid Kemalist tradition in the Turkish
military by opening up the academy to EU culture.

Akar’s behavior while he served in Ä°stanbul as the 3rd Army Corps
commander, with jurisdiction over the Hasdal Military Prison — where
members of the military who are accused of having plotted coups d’état
are being held — raises red flags on his democratic credentials. He
reportedly ordered prison guards to give privileged and preferential
treatment to detained officers. What’s more, he paid a personal visit
to Hasdal in February 2011 in the company of his commanding officer,
1st Army Commander Gen. Hayri Kıvrıkoglu. Considering that all the
force commanders followed suit, including Chief of General Staff Gen.

Necdet Ozel, in November 2011 and that those who refused to visit
Hasdal were most likely stigmatized by their peers, one might argue
that he had no other option but to go with the flow in the military
culture of the time. These visits were severely criticized by the
public as institutional support for coup plotters and as an attempt
to influence and pressure the judiciary.

Akar’s turning point appears to be August 2011, when he was promoted
from lieutenant general to full general and appointed as deputy chief
of General Staff. He worked as current Chief of General Staff Gen.

Ozel’s right-hand man and became a key interlocutor between the
military and the civilian government. He has worked with the prime
minister and the president on many occasions and on different issues,
giving the impression that he is subordinate to civilian authorities
and that he is easy to work with. Akar became a liaison general who,
along with Prime Minister Erdogan’s confidant and National Intelligence
Organization (MÄ°T) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, started to attend
high-level coordination meetings on the terror threat that have been
chaired by Erdogan since 2011.

He also began to accompany senior government delegations on foreign
trips, benefiting from past experience he gained on overseas postings.

He served two terms at NATO’s Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH)
in Italy (renamed in 2004 as the Allied Joint Force Command Naples),
first as intelligence officer and later as the head of the Plans and
Principles Department. He also served in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where
Turkish troops played a key role in the international peacekeeping
mission. Akar made a strong impression on Erdogan when he accompanied
the Turkish prime minister in September 2011 at a meeting with US
President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the opening of the 66th
regular session of the UN General Assembly. He was one of the select
few to join the Turkish delegation at the meeting with Obama. Two
months later, in November 2011, he also joined Gul’s entourage on
a visit to the UK during which Akar signed a military cooperation
agreement with UK Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond.

Again, in March 2012, Akar joined the Turkish prime minister on a
visit to South Korea to attend a nuclear security summit in Seoul. On
the way back, when Erdogan stopped by Tehran, Akar was also there.

Building on their developing trust, Erdogan also kept him by his
side when the prime minister was briefing opposition leaders on a
June 2012 incident in which Syria shot down an unarmed Turkish jet,
killing two crewmembers and sparking public outrage.

As number two in the Turkish military, Akar has also developed a good
repertoire of military-to-military relationships with our allies,
including the US. When the vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs
of Staff, Adm. James Winnefeld, arrived in Ankara in October 2012
to meet with Turkish military and government officials for talks
on security issues that mainly focused on Syria and the terrorist
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Akar was the first person Winnefeld
met. Both men discussed contingencies regarding Syria, including the
establishment of a buffer zone. A year earlier, in October 2011,
when US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security
Affairs Alexander Vershbow led an interagency delegation to Ankara
to discuss ways to improve US-Turkey cooperation against the PKK,
Akar was one of the few senior officials Vershbow talked with.

In a sign of his moving away from the status quo, Akar has sent
signals that he supports change in the military. For example, in
January 2012, Akar met officials from the Court of Accounts to review
the authority granted the court by a recently amended law allowing for
greater civilian oversight of military spending. He reportedly said
to the auditors, “We’re ready; you can come and start any sort of
inspection you want,” making it clear that the military would abide
by the changes in the law. This was a significant departure from the
past tradition of secrecy in military spending, as auditors weren’t
even allowed to enter military bases to review budgetary expenses
when former Chief of General Staff Gen. Ä°lker BaÅ~_bug, who is now
on trial on charges of trying to overthrow the government by means
of an anti-government Internet campaign, was leading the military.

Another example of Akar’s commitment to reforms happened on Jan. 16,
2012, when he issued a circular canceling differential treatment at
military bases’ Officers Clubs and at recreational resorts belonging
to the military. In the past, higher ranks received preferential
treatment over the lower ranks. He did away with that practice with
his boss’s blessing. It is also noteworthy that he showed up in April
2011 for a rare official military ceremony at the Surp Vartanants
Armenian Church for a 25-year-old Turkish-Armenian soldier who was
accidentally killed at an outpost in Batman province during his
military service. That was a kind of taboo-breaker in the military.

Akar is a man who observed the damaging impact of the military’s
meddling in politics over his long career. He was personally targeted
for profiling by the military when Maj. Gen. Bulent Dagsalı,
responsible for army intelligence under BaÅ~_bug, then Land Forces
commander, secretly collected information on Akar’s personal life
between 2006 and 2008, including his hospital records. All this
must have taught Akar a bitter lesson and brought him agony and pain
that he probably does not want to see future cadets experience. In
all likelihood, despite the ambivalence he has shown, he will be
a pragmatic general who will push for more reforms in the military
whenever and wherever he sees room to maneuver.

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