- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The Turkish army, NATO’S second-largest military force, plans to downsize its cumbersome divisions in favor of smaller and deadlier guerrilla-type combat teams.

The idea, according to Turkish sources, was born of the experience of fighting Kurdish guerrillas in the southern region of the Anatolian land mass as well as other low-intensity wars that have followed the end of the Cold War.

Its author is Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, 66, who this week takes over as head of the Turkish General Staff with a mandate to finish the drawn-out rebellion led by the Kurdistan Workers Party.

He is on record as urging stronger anti-terrorist measures against the Kurdish “peshmerga” (fighters) and their supporters in the savage wind-swept mountains along the Iranian and Iraqi borders.

In April, a public prosecutor accused Gen. Buyukanit of fomenting unrest in Kurdish areas and of setting up anti-terrorist commando teams said to be illegal.



The prosecutor, Ferhat Sarikaya, was subsequently dismissed, showing the continuing importance of the Turkish military, sometimes referred to as “an interest group with heavy weapons.”

Although Turkey’s application for European Union membership has somewhat reduced the military’s political role, a general continues to sit in the powerful National Security Council though he no longer presides over it.

Turkish newspapers often refer to the armed forces as the country’s most respected institution, untarnished by scandals or graft. Between 1960 and 1980, the military carried out three coups, stopping the country’s slide toward anarchy.

After periods the military referred to as “national cleansing,” the army returned to barracks but continued to watch over squabbling politicians, regarding itself the key guardian of the secular system imposed in the 1920s by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Today, Turkey’s armed forces comprise a half-million men, matched by an equal number of paramilitary troops. They have no parallel as a popular national institution.

According to British historian David Hotham: “The army takes peasants from remote villages, feeds them, clothes them, teaches them to read and write, instructs them in trade, brings them to the cities.”

Mehmet Ali Kislale, a Turkish political analyst, said: “In Turkey, the army is more than a branch of state. It is a unifying and to some extent a civilizing force.”

The army has unquestionably influenced Turkey’s opposition to a solution in divided Cyprus, where about 35,000 Turkish troops are deployed in the north of the island, considered by the military as strategically essential.

In one of his last public statements, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, outgoing chief of the General Staff, rejected any idea of Turkish withdrawal from Cyprus, as well as proposals for a national apology for the deaths of more than a million Armenians in World War I massacres by the Ottoman Empire.

Yesterday in the popular Mediterranean resort town of Marmaris, a bomb blast blew apart a minibus, injuring 21 persons, including 10 British tourists, according to reports from the state-owned Anatolia news agency and the Associated Press.

There were two other bomb blasts at the same time in garbage cans on the main boulevard in Marmaris, an area is lined with bars, clubs, cafes and restaurants. Kurdish guerrillas have in the past carried out such attacks against tourist resorts.

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