In two recently leaked voice recordings, former Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Isik Kosaner is heard commenting about the ongoing "Sledgehammer" case, in which several Turkish military officers have been accused of plotting a coup. On the tapes, Kosaner also bluntly questions the effectiveness of the Turkish armed forces in their fight against the separatist Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK), labeled as a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the U.S. Critics of the military's traditionally strong role in Turkish politics immediately highlighted the news, speculating on Kosaner's integrity and mental health, the military's alleged hidden political agenda and the now supposedly proven substance of the Sledgehammer charges.
Much commentary on the case has focused on the lack of self-criticism within the Turkish armed forces. In fact, self-criticism is central to the debate on the current status of Turkish civil-military relations. In contemporary Turkey there is plenty of room for open debate about the military; the trick is getting the military itself to actively participate in the discussion. Moreover, it is difficult to know what happens when officers meet behind closed doors. Secrecy needs notwithstanding, this is a problem when -- as is often the case -- those discussions shape the bigger picture of security and military issues in the country.
Kosaner's leaked comments are emblematic: It took illegal voice recordings posted online for the country to finally hear frank self-criticism on a 30-year counterinsurgency campaign that, despite having claimed about 40,000 lives, is far from over. In fact, because of the recordings, Kosaner was forced to publicly confirm a covered-up case of friendly fire from 2010 that he openly mentioned on the tapes. Without the recordings, the incident, in which a Turkish soldier was killed by gendarmerie units that mistook him for a PKK fighter, would have remained only rumor.