Ankara shakes up military, closes media outlets in bid to purge Fethullah Gulen’s influence.
Turkey’s top military commanders will decide on Thursday on one of the most radical shake-ups in the history of the country’s armed forces, as authorities shut down dozens of media outlets in a widening crackdown after a failed coup.
The government ordered the closure of a total of 131 newspapers, TV channels and other media outlets as well as the discharge of 149 generals—nearly half the armed forces’ entire contingent of 358—for complicity in the putsch bid.
The July 15 rebellion, which saw plotters bomb Ankara from warplanes and wreak havoc with tanks on the streets of Istanbul in a bid to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has sparked a backlash affecting all aspects of Turkish life. So far almost 16,000 people have been detained in a crackdown—the magnitude of which had caused international alarm.
The hastily convened meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAS) in Ankara will bring together Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the land, sea and air force commanders, along with other top figures untarnished by the attempted power grab.
Eighty-seven land army generals, 30 air force generals, and 32 admirals have been dishonorably discharged over their complicity, a Turkish official said, confirming a government decree. In addition, 1,099 officers and 436 junior officers have received a dishonorable discharge, according to the decree.
The council is due to start at 0800 GMT after paying homage to Turkey’s modern founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at his mausoleum. It will decide on the personnel changes required after the coup, with lower-ranking officers expected to be fast-tracked to fill gaps in top positions.
In a symbol of the military’s waning power, the meeting will be held at the Cankaya Palace of the Turkish premier in Ankara and not, as is customary, at military headquarters.
In the wake of the coup the military has already lost control of the coastguard and gendarmerie, which will now be the responsibility of the interior ministry.
The army said Wednesday that 8,651 of its military personnel had been involved in the rebellion—1.5 percent of its total number—along with 35 planes, 37 helicopters, 74 tanks and three ships.
The military has insisted that only a tiny proportion of the total armed forces, which number around three quarters of a million, the second largest in NATO, after the United States, participated. But 178 generals have been detained, with 151 of them already remanded in custody.
Erdogan, who survived the biggest threat to his 13-year domination of the country when supporters countered the plotters on the streets, has blamed the attempted overthrow on U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gulen. Turkey says the radical measures are needed to eradicate what Erdogan describes as the “virus” of Gulen’s influence across all Turkish institutions.
Meanwhile, three news agencies, 16 television stations, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishers were ordered to shut down, the official gazette said. It did not give the names of the media outlets to be closed, but according to a list obtained by the CNN-Turk channel they include mainly provincial titles as well as some well-known national media.
These include the Cihan news agency, the pro-Kurdish IMC TV and the opposition daily newspaper Taraf. Also to be shut are the Zaman newspaper and its Today’s Zaman English language sister publication which, like Cihan, were part of a holding linked to Gulen until being put into state administration earlier this year.
Authorities handed out arrest warrants for 42 journalists earlier this week and on Wednesday issued another 47 for former Zaman staff.
Both the discharges of generals and the newspaper closures are being enforced under a three-month state of emergency, which was declared by Erdogan to the alarm of the European Union. Gulen, who says he runs a peaceful Islamic movement, has denied he was behind the coup and expressed hope that the United States would not give into Ankara’s pressure and extradite him.
Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law, said a major army shake-up had been planned just before the putsch—suggesting elements in the military made the dramatic move because they knew they were about to be purged.