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Turkey has been under a perpetual state of emergency since 20 July 2016, just five days after the bloody coup attempt that claimed over 240 lives. While initially this state was declared for a single 90-day period, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has faced few complications in extending this period past its intended expiration. Although nothing, or nobody, can seemingly stop the bombs and the terror raging through Turkey, the powers of the state of emergency have yielded dozens of decrees concerning the reform and refurbishment of specific branches of the Turkish security sector. Such reforms initially targeted the Turkish Armed Forces (Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri, TSK) but have since widened their gaze over other security sector actors. While the elimination of the Gülenist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) was prioritized following the July 15 coup attempt, Turkey has been forced to bring into focus the binary, and arguably more tangible, threats within and outside its borders: the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

July 15 ushered in a new era of reform in what the authors have called ‘revolutionary civilianization.’

The reforms affecting Turkey’s security sector after July 15 have been extensive in both scope and scale. However, how effectively and efficiently these reforms have been implemented remains questionable amidst the growing crisis in security and constant threat of attack. July 15 ushered in a new era of reform in what the authors have called “revolutionary civilianization.” As we have seen, one of the ways in which the putschists harmed the Turkish state the most was by disrupting the will and the capacity of Turkey’s security sector, particularly the TSK, to continue with its ongoing institutional transformation. In contrast to the pre-July 15 setting, the security sector has been at the helm of the political debate surrounding the Turkish response to security measures since that fateful summer night. Now, instead of adapting more gradual institutional changes, the security sector must adapt to the new hard and fast rules of the post-July 15 game, in which actors must balance security priorities with the government’s political objectives.

Of concern is how close many of these security institutions have been positioned relative to the power of the presidency, which wielded many executive decrees under the state of emergency and adopted many parliamentary powers. While to an extent the purges have been justified by the government’s fear of an active “parallel state,” the aftereffects of such an extensive purge are being observed in Turkey’s ability to respond to immediate threats – most recently in the negligible response of security forces to the Reina nightclub attack in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. Despite the extensive reforms and efforts of many actors to securitize the state, around 500 civilians (including 40 foreigners) and 400 security forces (soldiers, policemen, and village guards) were killed in 2016.[1]

Conceptual Framework: Understanding the Tenets of Security Sector Reform (SSR)

Timothy Edmunds defines the security sector as “those organizations that apply and manage coercive force for collective purposes.”[2] One may break up the security sector then into three components. The first component is the security forces, which include the regular armed forces, police, paramilitary formations, and intelligence agencies. The second component is the civil structure overseeing the security sector, including government ministries, government leadership, and the parliament. The third component is civil society, i.e. nonstate actors who engage with defense and security issues, which includes academia, media, and security-related NGOs (such as think tanks).

Edmunds defines SSR as “the provision of security within the state in an effective and efficient manner and in the framework of democratic civilian control.”[3] Within this framework, SSR is not only concerned with democratization and civilian control but also ranks “effectiveness,” the capacity to implement the policies formulated with the desired results, and “efficiency,” the achievement of the maximum output with the minimum inputs (resources) such as personnel, cost, and equipment, as central to a total SSR effort. SSR is enacted through two phases, or generations. First generation SSR includes establishing the basic principle of civilian control over the security sector, creating an appropriate institutional structure for its further consolidation and democratization, and removing the most obvious partisan elements from the security sector itself. SSR is dependent on a culture that accepts subordination of the security sector to civilian control and is widely accepted by both sides (civilian and security). Second generation SSR aims to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of policy implementation in practice and to consolidate, strengthen, and widen existing procedures and capacities for democratic oversight and accountability.

According to Edmunds, professional security sector organizations are defined as “those which are capable of undertaking their activities in an effective and efficient way in a framework of democratic civilian control, and whose organization and internal structures reflect these assumptions.”[4] He then cites “partisan elements” within any security sector as the most significant obstacle for SSR. For Edmunds, “departification,” or “eliminating the most rapaciously partisan aspects of the civil-security sector relationship and separating party affiliation from security sector execution and personnel actions,” is the most significant factor for the achievement of the institutional transformation of the security sector.[5]

For the authors, the almost exclusive focus on civilian control of the military in Turkey is a significant impediment to understanding the larger and more complex relationships concerning democratic governance of Turkey’s security sector. Civilian control of the security sector by itself is no guarantee that civilian policymakers will make good decisions or implement policies in such a way as to result in democratic, effective, and efficient outcomes generating social and legal legitimacy on security issues. That is why this article seeks to propose SSR as the holistic conceptual framework for the transformation of Turkey’s security actors. Thus, a much-needed general analysis of the impact of the July 15 coup attempt on multiple actors within the Turkish security sector follows. Thus, the need to go for a more holistic analysis is the reason the authors have penned this follow-up article after earlier discussions concentrating on the impact of July 15 on the nature of Turkish civil-military relations (CMR) and the strategic identity of the Turkish military.[6]

Turkish Armed Forces

The reforms that have taken place within the TSK following July 15 – with particular emphasis on the meeting of the Supreme Military Council (Yüksek Askerî Şûra, YAŞ) on 28 July and the purges of 27 July, 31 July, 2 September, and 7 September – have been the government’s largest recourse for action against the attempted military coup. The reforms can be summarized and placed into four categories: reforms in military education, reforms in the military judicial system, reforms ending the military’s privileged domain, and reforms in the military-government relationship, which has been the most extensive area of reform thus far. Speculation has been rife on how these purges have affected the TSK’s combat effectiveness and on whether there will be problems filling critical posts.[7] Thus, which posts and which units have been most affected by the purges will also be detailed.

Reforms on military education began by shutting down all military schools in Turkey. A new inclusive National Defense University was founded in their place.[8] As of February 2017, around 16,500 military cadets from the army, air force, and naval academies and military high schools had been expelled.

Reforms in the military judicial system require discipline of military judges and personal transactions to go through the Ministry of Defense (MoD). Disciplinary action will go to the MoD’s authority. This arrangement may, in a second phase, result in the complete removal of the military justice system, which had already been affected by multiple EU-inspired reforms over the last decade and a half.

The depletion of personnel has adversely affected the combat strength of the TSK, but it is generally felt that the high motivation of the remaining personnel can make up for the numerical decline.

Reforms ending the military’s privileged domains first hit the military’s hospitals then focused on its economy. On 31 July, the Turkish government followed through on its radical decision to totally dismantle the military medical network of about 900 doctors and more than 4,000 military nurses and paramedical personnel.[9] Furthermore, shipyards, factories, and industrial establishments in the hands of the TSK connected to the MoD were also dismantled.

Reforms in the military-government relationship were first seen with the announcement that the annual meeting of YAŞ, previously scheduled for the first three days of August, would be moved up to 28 July and condensed within one day. The annual meeting of the council is designed to foster the discussion on the promotions and the retirements of military personnel, a particularly fateful subject on the heels of an attempted coup. A symbolic change in its location took place; instead of convening the meeting at its traditional location, at the headquarters of the general staff, which had been compromised during the coup, the meeting was held at Çankaya Palace, the residence of the Prime Minister, a mark of civilianization. Further, the Gendarmerie Command and the Coast Guard Command came under the control of the Interior Ministry, and the army (land forces), the navy, and the air force have been brought under the control of the MoD. The structure of YAŞ will now include a greater number of civilian representatives, deputy prime ministers, and the ministers of foreign, justice, and interior affairs, while dismissing a number of military officers.[10]

Prior to the meeting, purges in the TSK began on 27 July under a state of emergency decree law in the Official Gazette. With the dismissal of 1,684 ranking officers,[11] nearly 44 percent of the land force generals, 42 percent of air force generals, 58 percent of naval admirals, and around 30 percent of the staff officers in charge of concept development and planning in strategic headquarters such as the Turkish General Staff and force commands were formally discharged.[12] On 2 February 2017, the official website of the Chief of the General Staff provided a breakdown on the TSK’s personnel changes. According to the figures given, today, about 359,273 personnel are serving in the Turkish army, navy, and air force: 203 generals, 26,768 officers, 67,999 noncommissioned officers (NCOs), 47,570 specialist soldiers, 16,149 contracted soldiers, and 204,074 conscripts.[13] Accordingly, 43 percent of the TSK are professional soldiers, while 57 percent are conscripts. When we compare these numbers with the March 2016 figures, we see a 38 percent reduction in the number of generals, which then numbered 325 across the three branches, and an 8 percent reduction from the total 32,451 serving officers. There were no major changes in other ranks. In February 2017, the total number of soldiers dismissed reached 3,939, and the number of soldiers of various ranks detained – mostly conscripted privates – stood at around 8,000.

In short, the depletion of personnel has adversely affected the combat strength of the TSK, but it is generally felt that the high motivation of the remaining personnel can make up for the numerical decline. It is also important to note that among the TSK personnel now detained, there are scores who were not involved in the coup attempt. Concluding their investigations could further increase the number of available officers. Although the TSK appears to be coping with the effects of the dismissals, no one can deny that the Special Forces units, Navy’s underwater assault teams, and TAF Search and Rescue teams will need at least a year – for the TAF, a minimum of two – to restore their personnel numbers to pre-July 15 levels.

National Intelligence Agency

After news broke that Hakan Fidan, the chief of the National Intelligence Agency (Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı, MİT), did not inform Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of coup-related intelligence on the night of July 15 – citing a sorry excuse that the president was on vacation – it seemed clear that in any other administration Fidan would be sacked within a week. However, not only has Fidan maintained his top position within the security hierarchy today, his powers have been strengthened and his cronies invited to join in on Turkey’s ever-widening quest for more efficient intelligence. Excluding Fidan, key changes have been made to the intelligence structure within Turkey since July 15, although lacking the swiftness and bravado of those made within the TSK after the fateful coup attempt. As of October 2016, MİT had dismissed 87 staff on the grounds of links to FETÖ,[14] while dozens more were detained – among which, allegedly, were several high-ranking intelligence staff.[15] According to a high-ranking official in Ankara, as of February 2017, around 300 MİT employees, mostly from the electronic and signal intelligence departments, have been purged from MİT’s total staff of 3,000. Although the number has increased since the immediate aftermath of the coup, the number of those purged still pales in comparison to the dismissals in the TSK’s senior cadres.

While major changes were made to the civil-military power balance in Turkey almost immediately, little was done within MİT in direct response to the intelligence failures preceding July 15. A bureaucratic split between foreign and domestic intelligence was announced after a meeting of ministers on 1 August, but it was unclear what larger structural changes were to come, aside from speculation that MİT would draw closer to the office of the presidency.[16] 

It was not until November 2016 that concrete structural reforms were detailed. According to the new structure, MİT is now organized into six departments, a major expansion since Fidan’s ascent to office in 2010.[17] One may then deduce that there are three major changes to MİT’s structure showing the agency’s capacity for change.

The full civilianization of MİT and more transparency of the intelligence sector in Turkey have yet to be seen as it lays waiting for a clear answer to the constitutional referendum on the presidential system. It is likely to suggest that this gap will not be resolved until the president has achieved his fait accompli, i.e. the shift to a presidential system. Meanwhile, Turkish citizens wait. It remains to be seen how the domestic gap will be filled – maybe even with the creation of an entirely new intelligence agency. With over notable five terror attacks in major cities since these November changes and more internalization of ISIL activities – with the increasing visibility of the transnational ISIL-linked networks in Turkey – the efficiency and effectiveness of this waiting period is called into question. One might say that the cautiousness taken in these reforms to the intelligence structure have been far more prudent than those immediately enacted after the coup. However, in absence of further and clearer hindsight, one also cannot be sure of these reforms without having been tried and true.

Security Forces Under the Ministry of Interior (after July 15)

Executive Decrees 670, 672, and 677 drastically changed the structure of the Turkish security sector as a whole.[18] Among those purged were 21,384 officials from the National Police (Emniyet Genel Müdürlüğü, EGM) and around 2,000 personnel from the Gendarmerie Command (GC). Further examining this widening gap, it is easy to draw links between the weakened security apparatus and the rise of terrorist attacks. Together, EGM and the GC operate Turkey’s two-headed counterterrorism design in urban and rural areas, respectively.

National Police Force

Changes, or rather lack thereof, to the EGM after July 15 have been a source of controversy in Turkey. There exists many claims that the thin line between “what is bureaucratic” and “what is political” vanished after the mass purges and that the replacements taking place after the purges were not based on merit but on party loyalty, particularly when picking high-ranking officials in the police force. There are also some claims that the arrests of 41,000 people, which involved extensive work by police officers, weakened the security services of Turkey in their fight with ISIL and the PKK. The mass detentions of Gülenists after the coup deeply detracted from the police forces’ effectiveness and efficiency.

Not only has Hakan Fidan, chief of MİT, maintained his top position within the security hierarchy today, but his powers have been strengthened.

The police force is perhaps the most fluid portion of the security sector, having undergone major political purges multiple times over the past three years. Thus, in theory, the police forces should have already been cleansed of the politically rogue elements necessitating further purges to the EGM directly after July 15. However, despite taking endless precautions against FETÖ within the police force, the EGM became the source for the second terrorist attack allegedly staged by the Gülenist movement in 2016: the assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov. On 19 December 2016, a member of the Turkish police force, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, assassinated the very person he was charged to protect as a police officer. The killing was a huge source of embarrassment to the police force as one official said: “We have problems... We still have not been able to cope with the fact that the killer who assassinated the ambassador was a member of the Turkish police force.”[19] The New Year’s attack on Reina, an Istanbul nightclub, is another case in point of the police forces’ daily ineffectiveness. However, in contrast to Altıntaş’ killing by police, the live capture of the Reina attacker also showed what the Turkish Police can do if provided resources and initiative and are supported by the political will of the government.

Presently, the Turkish police are in a volatile position in which they must not only protect others but also themselves. As a primary target for the PKK/TAK, who are engaged in a war against the security forces, civilians in cities and crowds actively avoid contact, even proximity, with the police forces as attacks against them are thought to be imminent. The attacks in Ankara, the Vezneciler and Beşiktaş neighborhoods of Istanbul, and across Southeast Turkey may have aimed to target police forces. However, these attacks have also heavily contributed to the civilian death toll from terror across Turkey. The Turkish police are not perceived as a source of a security but as a target, which is a dangerous case in a developed security sector.


With around 7,000 officers and a total of 150,000 personnel, the Gendarmerie Command (GC) is in charge of law enforcement in Turkey’s rural areas – constituting around 80 percent of Turkey’s geographic territory – and is the prime security actor in charge of the fight against the PKK in Turkey’s south east. The GC’s separation from the Turkish security hegemon, the office of the General Staff, has been one of the largest institutional transformations since July 15. No longer under the rule or functioning modus operandi of the TSK, the gendarmerie has had to reshape both its outlook and its institutional identity against the backdrop of a chaotic security environment.

The shift of the gendarmerie under the Ministry of Interior (MoI) was conceived as part of the civilianization process of the TSK after July 15. However, despite this change, there is still a four-star general commanding this institution, and the staff at GC command headquarters largely hails from military backgrounds. Given this rhetoric-implementation gap, it should be asked whether the GC is still a military institution or a civilian one after July 15. Although in theory such a move toward civilianization ought to be applauded, the answer to the former question cannot be wholeheartedly “civilian.”

Amidst the GC’s search for a new civilian identity, there have been several discussions relating to possible institutions that could be designed to advance the gendarmerie’s capacity. One such discussion centers on the creation of the Gendarmerie Academy as the university-level education institution for the Gendarmerie officers who once had been educated at the Turkish Army’s War Academy. This would certainly extend the force’s capacity and become the hallmark of the gendarmerie’s civilianization process. However, such a project has yet to yield tangible results.

Village Guards

In order to thwart PKK-initiated violence in Turkey’s Kurdish-populated south east, the state initiated the village guard system in 1986.[20] As of February 2017, the size of the village guard forces has reached almost 65,000, accounting for almost one-fourth of the armed forces in the Kurdish region.

Since July 15, the Turkish state has declared that it will recruit up to 5,000 village guards across 22 provinces, replacing the title “village guard” with “security guard.”[21] The controversial village guard system recruits un(militarily)trained civilians as militia forces to fight the PKK in conflict-prone villages in the Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey. Despite the fact that this system has been active for three decades, its previously temporary status changed after the coup attempt under Executive Decrees 674, 676, and 680, becoming a permanent entity within the Turkish security apparatus. These new and improved village guards will be supplied with heavy armaments, and will not just be isolated in villages but will also operate in urban areas of Turkey’s majority Kurdish south east.[22] There is now a Department of Village Guards within the MoI charged with organizing this sector of Turkish security forces.

One may then suggest that that the upcoming changes in the status and the number of village guards will increase tensions between village guards and villagers. Given the controversial nature of the village guards and their frequent and personal run-ins with pro-PKK villagers, village guards may be likely to use their newfound weapons to resolve personal altercations.[23] On one side, proponents of the village guard system see the tasks of village guards as intrinsically connected to the success of the battle against the PKK in the south east. Security forces recruit village guards strictly amongst ethnic Kurds, who volunteer for the service. Over 25,000 have joined the ranks of the village guards, and the proponents of the system use this as proof of success.

Private Security Companies

Another arm of the Turkish security apparatus that has been widely discussed in post-July 15 Turkey is the private security sector. Private security has become one of the fastest growing sectors in Turkey. Newspapers are filled with thousands of ads from state institutions, municipalities, universities, private firms, malls, and airports that offer security jobs. The state is the leading buyer of private security services, which procured nearly one billion dollars between 2009 and 2015. Roughly 300 million dollars of that amount was spent in 2015 alone. There has been an incredible boom in the number of private security services in Turkey, from only 21 in 2004 to some 1,500 in 2015. Today, more than 300,000 armed or unarmed private security personnel are standing guard at malls, patrolling parks, providing crowd control at concerts and sports venues, and running airport security checks.

Although private security companies are often considered to be one of the least effective actors in the Turkish security sector, the government has responded to public pleas following the Reina attack to further arm and outfit these actors. Shortly after the Reina attack, a statuary decree with new adjustments to private security companies and their employees was released. The authorities announced that the decree has nothing to do with Reina and is only about strengthening security; however, the memory of the recent attack, including the killing of an unarmed guard at the club’s entrance, could not be erased. With Executive Decrees 679, 680, and 681, private security guards – with the exceptions of guards who work at schools, health facilities, private meetings and demonstrations, game halls, and alcoholic entertainment venues (thus excluding the guards at Reina) – were authorized to use guns, yet only at their specific posts while on duty.

As of February 2017, around 300 MİT employees have been purged from MİT’s total staff of 3,000.

The decrees stipulate that nonmilitary private sector facilities that could have bearing on the national security, economy, and public order will be considered “strategic locations and facilities.” When local administrators declare locations such as nuclear facilities, airports, sports, and other venues for mass events as strategic locations and facilities, then private companies can be employed to provide security. In other words, if a governor feels that the police and gendarmerie cannot provide sufficient security for a facility or an event, he can call on private security services. This will be a form of outsourcing for local administrators, who sometimes say their official law and order resources are stretched thin in their struggle against the PKK and ISIL. With the PKK and ISIL stepping up terror acts in major cities, making public security and order a priority, the availability of private sector resources will be indispensable.

Naturally, the private security sector is pleased with the increasing demand as this represents a new wave of employment in the sector. The current private security corps could increase considering the government’s attempts to empower the agency of private security companies within the security sector. Even before July 15 and the subsequent string of terrorist attacks, according to Serdar Gökhan Arıkan, the head of the board of the Private Security Services Association, the sector was expected to grow by 15 percent by the end of 2016, reaching 350,000 personnel – even before July 15 and the subsequent string of terrorist attacks.  It is likely that the private security sector will play a more active role in public order and security in cities. This means even faster growth of the sector. However, with growth comes questions about the quality of the sector and its potential dangers and detrimental effects on basic human rights and freedoms once the sector is equipped with police and gendarmerie powers.

Balancing Security Sector Reform (SSR), but How?

To ensure the balanced success of SSR, civil and democratic control, effectiveness and efficiency, social legitimacy, and the credibility of the security sector must be guaranteed. We have previously applied these principles as policy suggestions for reforming the TSK.[24] We will discuss these four democratic preconditions in relation to our suggestions for taking a holistic approach to Turkish SSR.

Civil and Democratic Control

It seems that the rapid civilianization process implemented across the security sector after July 15 has come to a halt. In the heat of more and more terrorist attacks from the PKK/TAK and ISIL, as well as domestic political debate on the constitutional referendum, the prolonged state of emergency attached to the office of the presidency has debilitated further democratization of the security sector. Many institutions continue to remain bolted to the presidential palace – whether officially or unofficially – and it is unclear when they will be granted any independence or their responsibilities will be tied to other civilian-controlled institutions. Civilianization cannot lead to monopolization. In the literature on SSR, the link between a sound constitution and institutions with a strong security sector is validated. But, what happens when constitutional change leads to the concentration of power in the hands of a single executive office? These pros and cons eventually become a zero sum game, and we arrive back at the present state of insecurity in which Turkey is living. The opposition (namely, the Republican People’s Party, CHP) has predicted that the constitutional changes will increase polarization within Turkish society – a claim that the AKP denies.[25] In a full-fledged democracy, constitutional change that deals with shifts in presidential versus parliamentary systems should never be the guarantor of SSR. Successful security sectors exist in both presidential and parliamentary states alike. Support for a political system change should not indicate whether or not one supports the fight against terrorism.[26] This is, arguably, civilianization (transfer of power from military elites to the civilian elites) but not democratization (distribution of power among civilian actors such as an elected president, elected government, parliament, and civil society actors such as media, academia, NGOs, and think thanks so as to enable checks and balances, oversight, and accountability in civil-security sector relations) of SSR.


The effectiveness and efficiency of not only the TSK but also the security sector as a whole is of utmost concern in Turkey amid a three-pronged battle against terror. Although within the literature on SSR there are studies on a security sector’s capacity to purge massive personnel numbers, such moves are largely based on the age and rank of officers, not strictly on politics.[27] Thus, when we examine such cases in comparison to the Turkish case, the fact that many officers after July 15 were dismissed or jailed on politically related terror charges must be kept in mind during analysis. Moves that purge a large amount of staff within SSR are designed for the sole purpose of sparking innovation and institutional transformation that older cadres had opposed. These moves should not negatively alter the security forces’ effectiveness or efficiency on the ground.

The police force is perhaps the most fluid portion of the security sector, having undergone major political purges multiple times over the past three years.

In Turkey, the security sector’s effectiveness and efficiency after July 15 has been hotly discussed with little positive outlook. As previously stated, it is estimated that the TSK alone will take nearly 1.5 to two years to recover to pre-July 15 capacities; the time and date the capacities of MİT, the National Police Force, the Gendarmerie Command, the private security sector, or village guards will be stable and effective remain to be estimated. With the latest wave of terror across Turkey in 2017, the government has boasted of its capacity to detain and arrest foreign and domestic terrorists. But, how security forces will effectively keep these terrorists at bay in the future is an oft-asked question with no answers, at least within the public dialogue. At the end of January, the MoI claimed that they had managed to arrest 980 terrorists within that month: 625 affiliated with FETÖ, 328 affiliated with the PKK, and 26 affiliated with ISIL.[28] Every day there are reports of large numbers of detained terrorists like these. One should specifically note, for example, the first week of February 2017, in which authorities claimed to have arrested 820 ISIL-affiliated suspects.[29] However, with every number of reports like this, there are several reports that these same terrorists have been released and then re-arrested. Security is tight these days, and prisons are packed after July 15, but this should not be a reason to release potential threats out into the public space. Thus, we see the capacity of security forces to retain terrorists as a major problem for the efficiency and effectiveness of the security sector.

Social Legitimacy

SSR necessitates a long-term change in the professionalization of security forces, which is nearly impossible to achieve with a politicized and weakened security apparatus devoid of institutional transformation within its own cadres. Within a democratically oriented SSR process, the social legitimacy of security forces is an essential element in achieving cooperation between security forces, the government, and civil society.

As the authors have discussed in their prior paper, the strategic identity of the TSK itself is skewed. On the one hand, the Gülenist political elements have been purged from the TSK. On the other, this has made room for Eurasianist camps within the TSK, and the army’s once pro-NATO, pro-Western cadres have been diminished. With the rising tide of popular anti-Americanism, this has proved an effective strategy for appeasing the nationalist majority of the population; however, creating a temporary scapegoat for the nation’s security problems does not contribute to universal social legitimacy of the government’s security measures within Turkey.

The Credibility of the Turkish Military in the Global Security Environment

As the authors have previously maintained, the implications of the July 15 failed coup attempt are much bigger than the repercussions within Turkish domestic politics. The reality in the post-9/11 era is that armed forces are central actors in many developed democracies and are involved in many different roles: they engage in peacekeeping missions, reinforce the police in fighting crime, support civilian authorities in dealing with natural disasters, conduct search and rescue missions, provide humanitarian assistance, contribute to nation and state-building efforts in host states, and fight against terrorists. Modern militaries are diverse, just like the democracies they serve. Although their micro and macro structure may vary around the world, they are called to maintain their multi-faceted character, no matter their internal crises.[30] Faced with a number of threats and challenges, from battling ISIL and the PKK to securing its borders and managing the security of nearly three million refugees, the Turkish military and security sector’s engagements have ballooned from local to global conflicts. As a member of NATO and other international bodies, it is critical that the Turkish military in particular continue to fulfill its international engagements while implementing democratic norms at home. It cannot withdraw and shirk its international duties, for any reason, in the midst of global crises. Turkey’s break with the West, particularly its contentious ties with NATO and remarks concerning a potential move toward the Shanghai Five, has overshadowed Turkey’s efforts in this regard. The Turks still have a reputation for being combat-proven soldiers, but the government’s politics now overshadow discussions on international military cooperation.

Discussion: Democratizing Security or Securitizing the State?

There are many questions relevant to the transformation of Turkey’s security sector that have yet to be answered. For example, how can we institute democratic and civilian control over the military? Are Samuel Huntington’s concepts of objective and subjective control relevant and applicable for Turkey today, or should we look toward Morris Janowitz’s more subjective paradigm?[31] How can we apply institutional control mechanisms, oversight mechanisms, and professional norms, which are three components of civilian control? As a step toward the institutionalization of an oversight mechanism, what could be the role and mission of a defense commission within the Turkish parliament?

Private security has become one of the fastest growing sectors in Turkey.

Our overwhelming emphasis on SSR in Turkey asserts the essentiality of not only civilian control but also democratic control, effectiveness and efficiency, social legitimacy, and the credibility of the Turkish military in the global security environment. Three levels of analysis, therefore, should be carried out in order to analyze the case of Turkey: analysis at the political level, which, for the authors, has been overemphasized through the rhetoric of civilianization but lacks democratization; analysis at the organizational level, which implies the establishment of an effective and efficient security sector; and analysis at the international level, implying the Turkish military’s credibility in the international arena. 

The political level includes the struggle to ensure the security sector is dissuaded from using its unique coercive advantage to influence the civilian government, either at its behest or that of civilian groups. At the political level, the authors suggest that the most significant obstacle to SSR in Turkey is excessive politicization within the sector and increasing number of partisan elements blocking the achievement of the institutional transformation of the security sector. In accordance with Edmunds, the separation of party affiliation from security sector execution and personnel actions (i.e., departification) is, therefore, the most significant factor for the conduct of a successful SSR process. Once initial control is established, the political level addresses legislative and documented plans to ensure a long-term framework within which civilians can execute control and oversight of the security sector – both civilian leadership of the sector and parliamentary oversight and funding. Unfortunately, when reviewing the current state of Turkey’s SSR, one may easily notice the absence of parliamentary institutions’ involvement in more effective oversight. It is likely to suggest that parliamentary oversight has lacked the expertise and capability to even provide enough staffers to execute the prescribed oversight roles. As such, most parliamentarians have been content to take direction on defense and security matters either from the security sector ministries themselves or from their party hierarchies. This limits the level of oversight when those being overseen are providing the guidance. At the political level, another deficiency is the absence of an overarching-agent in charge of the prevention of duplications among all actors, coordination of efforts, and synchronization of timing and pace of the reforms. In fact, the Parliamentary Defense Commission would fill this deficiency, this has not been the case yet.

The organizational level is concerned primarily with how security sector organizations adapt to changing organizational circumstances such as the downsizing of the security sector and transition from a conflict-affected organization to one operating in a post-conflict and ultimately peacetime environment. Additionally, this level of analysis allows an assessment of the professionalism of the new or transformed security organizations, measured by role, expertise, professional and ethical norms, and responsibility. Particularly, the nurture of professional norms regarding the way of doing things and ethical norms regarding the way of thinking through things within the security sector is a must for any actor within the sector so as to form a “bureaucratic” and somewhat politically autonomous institutional culture. At the organizational level, the current move toward assigning officials whose political loyalty prevails their qualifications has led to the politicization, and to some extent “partification” – the opposite of Edmunds’ “departification” – of the sector. This trend has not only been blurring the thin line between what is “bureaucratic” and what is “political” within the security sector but also leads to questions about effectiveness and efficiency of the sector as this trend demolishes decentralization of the decision making, initiative taking, empowerment of middle-level/local decision makers, and contingency planning, transparency, and accountability within the sector. The trend of excessive centralization of decision making within the security sector, which has currently been fighting against three violent non-state actors – FETO¨, the PKK, and ISIL – organized and operating as compartmentalized actor-network assemblages, may be dealt another setback, which is, in fact, the consequence of partification of the sector.

The effectiveness and efficiency of not only the TSK but also the security sector as a whole is of utmost concern in Turkey amid a three-pronged battle against terror.

Finally, the international level assesses SSR driven by external actors – other nations or international organizations. On this level, particularly the nature, characteristics, and evolution of Turkey’s relationship with NATO in general and the Turkish military’s relationship with NATO in particular would matter a lot. If Turkey continues to care for its relationship with NATO, it can copy and paste NATO’s transformation efforts to reform its security sector, particularly the military. If Turkey decides to follow a more nonaligned course within NATO, or even strategic preferences independent of NATO’s course, then Turkey should be able to foster its national SSR process so as to update its security sector.

One should also note that Turkey faces second-generation SSR problems at the moment. Limited expertise in government ministries and parliament mean limited ability to exercise control and oversight. Intelligence reform remains elusive as central control resists oversight. Civil society involvement shows limited chance for success and is largely restricted to Ankara. As with the government, civil society faces resistance from within the security sector itself. Media has no oversight capacity or qualified security experts/analysts. There has been limited growth of NGOs and think tanks studying security issues; those that do exist have extremely politicized stances and thus cannot provide unbiased technical insights.


The changes and reforms to the Turkish security sector following July 15 have thus far been a patchwork response to both new and preexisting problems. There has been little time or concern for reflecting upon the implications and possible future challenges such breakneck changes will precipitate. As Turkey moves on from the immediate aftermath of July 15, knee-jerk reactions since as mass purges and arrests, institutional change for the sake of change, and prioritizing civilianization over democratization – however justified these actions may be perceived to be by the public or politicians – are not part of a successful recipe for holistic and effective SSR. While there may one day be an expiration date for the state of emergency in Turkey – or perhaps a constitution change instead – the consequences of an executive-dominated transformation will need to be dealt with beyond the present cumulative 90-day periods.

Reforms to the security sector should be approached in a pragmatic and holistic manner that reinforces not only the stability of operations on the ground but also the apolitical nature of security itself.

It is imperative to reiterate that a healthy approach to Turkish SSR is one that is well-regulated and transparent. Civil and democratic control, effectiveness and efficiency, social legitimacy, and the credibility of the Turkish security sector in the international security environment are at risk of falling apart if the present political polarization continues to affect Turkish SSR. Given the present state of the political environment in Turkey, which has over-politicized the security sector much to its detriment, changes must be seen in these areas in order to achieve democratic civilianization of security rather than pure civilianization, which is not necessarily democratic.

Reforms to the security sector should be approached in a pragmatic and holistic manner that reinforces not only the stability of operations on the ground but also the apolitical nature of security itself. The response to Turkey’s post-July 15 security deficits should not entail the creation of further challenges to stability and democracy. Rather, a proper security sector reform process will not only stop bombs but will also inculcate further democratization, good governance, economic development, professionalism, conflict prevention, and integration with international institutions.


[1] Metin Gurcan, “Does New Year's nightclub attack signal tough year ahead for Turkey?” Al-Monitor, 8 January 2017,

[2] Edmunds (2007), p. 25.

[3] Edmunds (2007), p.12.

[4] Edmunds (2007), p. 38.

[5] Edmunds (2007), p. 39.

[6] Metin Gurcan and Megan Gisclon, “From Autonomy to Full-fledged Civilian Control: The Changing Nature of Turkish Civil-Military Relations after July 15,” IPC-Mercator Policy Brief (Istanbul: Istanbul Policy Center, August 2016); Metin Gurcan and Megan Gisclon, “What is the Turkish Military’s Strategic Identity after July 15?” IPC-Mercator Policy Brief (Istanbul: Istanbul Policy Center, September 2016).

In these pieces the authors assert that both the Turkish military and Turkish civil-military relations (CMR) are at a critical juncture after the military uprising on July 15. The post-July 15 setting shaped by concurrent military reforms and mass purges led to two paradigm shifts: first, in the nature of CMR, implying a transition from the Huntingtonian paradigm to the Janowitzian one; and second, in the Turkish military’s institutional identity emphasizing a transition from a monolithic identity to a polylithic one composed of many but separate micro-identities in terms of the military elite’s stance towards change and their world views.

[7] Metin Gurcan, “How the post-coup purges depleted the Turkish military,” Al-Monitor, 16 September 2016,  

[8] There is an ongoing debate on the status of the buildings and their incorporation into their environments as civilian establishments: “Future of army school by Bosphorus debated,” Hurriyet Daily News, 3 August 2016, 02; Sena Alkan, “Residents do not want to see military school in Kuleli, headman says,” Daily Sabah, August 3, 2016, 08.

[9] Metin Gurcan, “Turkish military faces new front as Health Ministry usurps medical system,” Al-Monitor, 5 October 2016,

[10] “Turkish government introduces new decree law to overhaul army,” Hurriyet Daily News, 31 July 2016,

[11] Metin Gurcan, “After massive purge, what’s next for Turkish Armed Forces?” Al-Monitor, 1 August 2016,

[12] “INFOGRAPHICS: Turkey’s coup attempt in numbers,” Hurriyet Daily News, 29 July 2016,

[13] Please see:

[14] Zübeyde Yalçın, “Reforms underway mull a divided, better-controlled intelligence,” Daily Sabah, 4 October 2016,

[15] “Police detain 55 FETO suspects in raids across Turkey,” Anadolu Agency, 5 October 2016,Ö-suspects-in-raids-across-turkey/658713

[16] “Details of expected reforms in Turkish intelligence revealed UPDATE,” Azernews, 2 August 2016,

[17] Pınar Tremblay, “Post-coup shakes up at Turkey’s intelligence agency,” Al-Monitor, 6 November 2016,


[19] Murat Yetkin, “Three big burdens on the Turkish police,” Hurriyet Daily News, January 16, 2017,

[20] Metin Gurcan, “Arming civilians as a counterterror strategy: The case of the village guard system in Turkey,” Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict, Vol. 8, No. 1 (2015), pp. 1-20.

[21] “Turkey to recruit 5,000 new ‘security guards’ for southeast,” Hurriyet Daily News, 21 October 2016,

[22] Gov’t decree no. 674,

   Gov’t decree no. 676,

   Gov’t decree no. 680,  

[23] “Bakan Soylu: Koruculuk kalıcı olacak, ağır silah verilecek,” Bir Gün, 24 September 2016,

[24] Gurcan and Gisclon (August 2016), p. 7.

[25] “Minister slames opposition for ‘threatening the public’ over Turkey’s charter changes,” Hurriyet Daily News, 31 January 2017,

[26] “Voting ‘yes’ in charter referendum could support Turkey’s anti-terror fight: Deputy PM Kurtulmus,” Hurriyet Daily News, 29 January 2017,

[27] Paul Jackson and Peter Albrecht, Reconstructing Security after Conflict: Security Sector Reform in Sierra Leone (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

[28] “Turkey holds more than 980 terror suspects in one week,” Anadolu Agency, 30 January 2017,

[29] “Turkey: 820 people detained in operations against Daesh,” Anadolu Agency, 6 February 2017,

[30] Paul Shemella, “The Spectrum of Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces,” in Thomas C. Bruneau and Scott D. Tollefson (ed.), Who Guards the Guardians and How: Democratic Civil-Military Relations (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006).

[31] Gurcan and Gisclon (August 2016).

Metin Gürcan
Metin Gürcan

Metin Gürcan is a columnist for Al-Monitor and a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University, Ankara.

Megan Gisclon
Megan Gisclon

Megan Gisclon is the Managing Editor and a researcher at Istanbul Policy Center (IPC).

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