An Admiral and a Gentleman

In 2007, the current political party in power in Turkey, called the Justice and Development Party (also known as AKP or AK Party), began bringing active and retired Turkish military officers to court on charges of treason stemming from alleged plans of coup d’état in 2003. In the recent years, as many as four hundred of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to fifteen to twenty years behind bars. CBK sat down with Orta Anadolu CEO and retired three star admiral Atilla Kiyat to talk about the current state of Turkey and his views on the incarceration of his Turkish Armed Forces comrades.

Story by Icarus Blake - icarus.blake@citizenbrooklyn.com Photos provided by Attila Kiyat and Icarus Blake
Photo © Icarus Blake

Mr. Atilla Kiyat Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK: Mr. Kiyat you retired from the navy as a three-star Vice Admiral in August of 1999.
Atilla Kiyat: Yes it was late August, 1999.

CBK: It was the peak of your career?
AK: Yes, I was commander of several areas: the Black Sea and the Northern Aegean Sea and I was on track to receive my fourth star, but, unfortunately, that did not happen. I don’t know. In Turkey, a military board decides who should receive promotions between possible candidates. At the time, I was one of two candidates and the other person received the four star promotion. Now I am relieved, but also sad because the person who went on to receive the promotion is in prison.

CBK: There have been many articles about you and they all shared the point of view that you faced difficulties in your career because you always told the truth.
AK: The second part of your statement is true, but I don’t believe that is the real reason for the difficulties in my career. Even though I did not receive my fourth star, I do think the military has a good system in place by using a military board to make decisions about advancements. The military board consists of fourteen and fifteen generals and admirals, and also the prime minister and defense minister, and this one board works all year. I look at it as family—the four star family who decides who will be the newcomers to their family. If they do not think someone will be a good fit with the current members then they will stop the person’s advancement.

CBK: So this is the reason you retired, but you were not forced to retire?
AK: Right.

CBK: You decided you were no longer interested in a career in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK)?
AK: Yes.

Photo from the archives of Atiila Kiyat

Photo from the archives of Atilla Kiyat.

CBK: Moving on, in 2003 the Justice and Development party of Turkey (also known as AKP) claimed they uncovered a coup d’état plot by the Turkish Military called Operation Sledgehammer. The result of this was over four-hundred military personnel, including four top commanders, being jailed and most of them were recently found guilty of treason. What was going through your mind in 2003 when this started?
AK: 2003 was my fourth year of retirement, and there was strategizing going on about war operations in the first army. There were rumors that that these war strategies were actually covers for a rehearsal coup d’état, but I do believe they were genuine war strategies the military were involved in. Nothing happened that year. But, in 2007 the AKP started taking military officers to court for the alleged coup d’état plots back in 2003.
I did many television interviews during this time and I always said that I do not believe the military personnel were involved in a plot to overthrow the AKP. They were engaging in standard military exercises. I was willing to go into court and testify to this and prove it, but nobody called me, of course. I repeated many times not only in Turkey, but in Nato communications that I participated in over fifty military exercises/strategies or war games, and I can easily understand if what these men were involved in was standard military planning or not. However, no judge without military experience would be able to view these war game scenarios and know whether or not they are standard practice. I think this was an international attack on the Turkish Army.

CBK: International?
AK: International, yes. It did not just come from the Turkish People. I don’t want to say the Turkish government because I do not think any government wants to have a weak military force, but I think they are influenced by international forces. I believe this because of how they specifically went after the Navy. The Turkish navy at this time was really improving, especially at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and we were among the first ten or fifteen countries to design and build their own ships. We had one of the best navies in the world and, after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, we were really the only strong navy in the Black Sea. I believe the strength of the Turkish navy was seen as a threat, especially with the government in power at the time frequently announcing that they were going to rebirth the Ottoman Empire and become a world superpower. These proclamations made many countries want to curb the power of the Turkish military, starting with the Turkish navy, and they used people internal to Turkey who were unhappy with the history of the TSK to accomplish this.
In the 1980, there was a revolution in Turkey and the army took power. And, on February 28th of 1999, the military and the president worked together to get the government to make laws that the Islamic fundamentalists felt were aimed against them. External forces that wanted the Middle East designed in a specific way used this internal tension in Turkey to destabilize the military forces and used the court system to sentence almost four-hundred generals, admirals and captains in every rank to sixteen – twenty years in jail. They are appealing to the supreme court, but it will be about eight months before their cases are revisited. I believe these are all innocent people in jail.

Photo from the archives of Atiila Kiyat

Photo from the archives of Atilla Kiyat.

CBK: But isn’t Turkey is supposed to be a democracy?
AK: Yes.

CBK: Going back to the year 2000, do you think, objectively, that the military was too powerful for a democracy?
AK: Yes, it was too powerful, but there was no real democracy in Turkey in 2000 or even now. But, compared to other democratic countries the Turkish military was very powerful and they had influence over the government.

CBK: Too much influence?
AK: Yes, too much influence on the government. But, this was not just fault of the military because throughout our recent history politicians have relied on the opinions and direction of the military to make decisions. I remember asking the government for direction and them saying “Vice Admiral, if you write something, I will sign it.” That was the situation.

When the current government took power in the early 2000’s most of the generals and admirals felt that fundamentalist Islamist would now be the governing power of Turkey and probably discussed how they should proceed like: should they write them a letter, or invite them to meeting? Of course that happens, that always happens in Turkey and someone is probably talking about this now, but in terms of the real issue, were they planning military strategies or exercises against the government? No, this was standard military discussion.

As for some of the top generals who are in jail now, back in 2003 the current government promoted one to commander of the air force, promoted another to commander of the navy, and another was a three star general who was promoted to chief officer of the Turkish Army with four stars and then went on to become the commander of the first army before his retirement. After his retirement, they accused him of plotting a coup d’état back in 2003. If they knew he was involved in this, why did they promote him and send him all around the world? There are a lot of questions and I hope the decision from the supreme court will be a good one.

Photo from the archives of Atiila Kiyat

Photo from the archives of Atilla Kiyat.

CBK: In international news, there is a lot of talk about the Syrian government and that if president Bashar al-Assad loses power, maybe the Kurdish will be able to establish a sovereign Kurdish state. What do you think?
AK: Yes, of course. But, regarding Syria, I believe it is also related to external forces wanting to design the middle east in a certain way. They were not happy with Assad or the existing borders in the Middle East. The governing rules of democratic superpowers are that if another country has a government that is in favor of them then that country is considered a democracy in their eyes, but if a country opposes the superpower then they are not considered a democracy. The demonstrations in Syria were instigated by this external forces for their own purposes, they were not the actions of people as part of the Arab Spring. All of sudden Assad, who succeeded his father after his death whom everyone has known for years, became a person who wants to kill his own people.
The Kurds who live in Syria, Iraq and Turkey do deserve to have rights, and Turkey as a member of Nato feels an obligation to handle the Kurdish in a peaceful manner using the political process, but this was not a possibility in Syria and Iraq, so things unfolded differently.

CBK: So do you think the Syrian war could be a solution to the Kurdish problem?
AK: No… no, I don’t.

CBK: Why?
AK: There is still a Kurdish government in the northern part of Iraq and, after the first US led Iraq operation in the nineteen-nineties, they never asked to be recognized as a nation by the United Nations because they knew the current borders were not big enough for them and they know that in the twenty-first century it is impossible to extend their borders through war or the invasion of another country. They will not ask to be recognized until they feel they have enough area, this is the game, and they think it is a good game to play in Turkey. So the Kurdish groups in the northern parts of Iraq and Syria will unify with Kurds in Turkey and become a federation in Turkey. When they feel they have enough area, they will separate from Turkey. This is how the Kurdish will extend their borders, this is the big picture. I think the US wants a Kurdish pro-American state in the middle of the middle east and these are the steps it will take to get there, it will not happen overnight.

Photo from the archives of Atiila Kiyat

Photo from the archives of Atilla Kiyat.

CBK: Do you think the result for Syria will be similar to Egypt in that they will end up with a fundamentalist government?
AK: Yes, unfortunately you have to look at Sudan, Libya and Egypt and see the pattern. This is no coincidence, and at the end of this uprising a fundamentalist Islamic government will be in place in Syria.

CBK: So this would a big problem for Israel and the US.
AK: Yes, but in the case of Libya, Egypt and Sudan, Russia did not intervene. After the collapse of the Warsaw pact, Russia lost a lot, they lost the Balkans and the Middle East. When Russian president Vladimir Putin started the recovery of the Russian economy, he returned the focus to the Middle East, both Iran and Syria are considered allies to Putin, so Russia has a stake in the future of Syria. If America succeeds in taking control of Syria and attacks Iran, Russia will not have any power in the Middle East, so it is not going to be as easy for the US as it was for them with Egypt, Sudan and Libya.

CBK: If the Syrian uprising is successful and Syria elects a new fundamentalist Islamic government, then Turkey will be the only secular Islamic country in the area. This could give Turkey a lot of power.
AK: Yes, we would be the only secular, but not democratic, country. However, we cannot be an example to other Islamic countries by being both secular and democratic because Islamic fundamentalist do not recognize democratic countries since democracy does not mean anything to them. They follow the rules of the Koran, religion and democracy are not really compatible.

CBK: Thank you for the interview.
AK: You’re welcome.

5 Responses to “An Admiral and a Gentleman”

  1. Dani says:

    This was a very interesting article, very articulate. A very nice interview and like the story but I really love the discussion at the end of the interview. It is very rare to hear an opinion from someone so influential on such a hot topic.

    I have a few questions to pose. With the rise of fundamentalist Islamic governments, will Islam see a change in its image and political views? With so many practicing Islam in a fast changing world, do you think Islamic leaders will adapt to its voice of youth?

  2. Marco says:

    I love this interview. beautiful.

  3. Cristina says:

    Very interesting insight. I wish the press was so honest and sharp.

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  5. SECDER AKINCI says:

    Daha ne yazılacak ki……Ama bizler kendısını Deniz >Kuvvetleri Konutanı olarak
    görmek isterdik.
    saygı ile……..