The “dismissal” of Akar, one of the keystones of a unique political order (the beginning of which was marked by 15 July), contains both clues about the future fiction of this new political order—which is represented by Erdoğan but not limited to him—and lessons about the fate of those who would eagerly jump on the Sultan’s boat.
If we rewind to the past a little, we can easily recall Akar’s rather controversial career story. While he was the commander of the 3rd Corps, he was appointed as the second chief of General Staff in 2011 thanks to the arrest of Korkut Özarslan in the so-called “Sledgehammer Case.” He became the Commander of the Land Forces in 2013 without serving as an army commander, contrary to the customary practices of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).
Lieutenant General İsmail Hakkı Pekin and Lieutenant General Korkut Özarslan were ahead of Akar when he became the Commander of the Land Forces. Akar would perhaps not have found himself in third place if it hadn’t been for Özarslan’s trial and Pekin’s arrest in the Ergenkon Case.
In the 2013 Supreme Military Council, the most striking detail was the retirement of General Bekir Kalyoncu, the Commander of the Gendarmerie. Had he not retired, he would have been the strongest candidate for the post of Chief of General Staff – after Necdet Özel. His retirement also paved the way for Akar.
After the 2016 attempted coup, the TSK was completely in Akar’s hands. He collaborated with various retired and active soldiers in the reorganization of the TSK cadres. At the same time, Akar established his communication and sympathy with both the AKP base and the Islamist line within the army.
Following his statements that he “performed ablution and prayed two rak’ahs before he was taken into custody” on the night of the coup, news circulated that he visited Islamist writer Nuri Pakdil, fundamentalist Akit daily’s writer Mehtap Yılmaz, and [jihadist] Salih Mirzabeyoğlu’s grave, and that he donated 3 million liras to the mosque built in his name in Kayseri.
These news items helped to deepen his relations with the aforementioned groups. He was on his way to becoming one of the idolized figures of the AKP’s nationalist-conservative base.
After such a success story, Akar was not at all prepared for his dismissal. No matter how hard he tried to suppress it, the dismay was easily understood from the tension in his facial expression and body language when he handed over his post to the new Minister of National Defence, Yaşar Güler.
“Thank God, we have tried to perform our duty diligently without causing any trouble to our honorable President who entrusted us with this duty,” he said at the handover ceremony.
Indeed, unlike [ex Minister of Interior] Süleyman Soylu, Akar had never had any known friction with the President, had shown his loyalty to him at every opportunity, and had stood by him on all contentious issues ranging from policy in Syria to the sale of the tank pallet factory. He had equated the interests of his country with those of the President, and had pushed the capacities of the institution he headed as far as he could in line with these interests, bringing it to almost the tearing stage.
In his farewell speech, Akar was probably trying to ask why the President had made such a fuss at the last moment, when he [Akar] had never given him any trouble.
In my opinion, there were three possible reasons for the “trouble” that led to Akar’s dismissal.
First, Akar’s loyalty, harmony with, and devotion to Erdoğan was too good to be true, and Erdoğan, with his political astuteness, smelled the synthetic odor in it.
How did he smell it? This relates to the second reason.
Second, while Akar was making displays of loyalty and devotion to his boss on the one hand, he was weaving his own cocoon and engaging in mind games to guarantee his position on the other.
The most revealing of these was the amendment to the law in June 2022, which allowed the age limit of the Chief of General Staff to be extended up to five years.
As we can now easily guess, this “legal invention” was Akar’s idea, and the purpose of it was to get rid of the pressure that a possible problem arising from the promotion or retirement of Yaşar Güler, the Chief of General Staff, might put on him.
To put it more precisely, thanks to this invention, Yaşar Güler would be able to continue as Chief of General Staff for five years, and thus Akar would be able to remain as the Minister of National Defense for this period. Akar was, in other words, planning five years ahead.
We can guess that when he presented this idea to his boss, Erdoğan was able to think deeply about what Akar was intending to do.
In other words, Akar’s efforts to consolidate and centralize power in the army, which he succeeded in achieving especially after 2016, failed at the very moment when he was closest to success.
Third, the exclusion of Hulusi Akar from the cabinet must also be related to paving the way for the inclusion of another very important name.
Instead of the high-profile Akar, portrayed in some US media as a “presidential candidate for the post-Erdoğan era”—a kind of heir apparent—it must have been preferable for the low-profile Güler to take part in the executive ranks, in order for the new Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan’s plans to function under more favorable conditions.
It would be appropriate to consider this together with an article published in Foreign Policy magazine in 2021. The magazine wrote that Akar could become the strongest candidate for the presidency if Erdoğan were to resign due to health problems, and that there was such an expectation in the corridors of the US State Department.
The article argued that Akar played a key role in the reshaping of the armed forces after July 2016, which put the military in a position to play a political role in support of Akar.
In the end, with his choice, Erdoğan sent Akar off to the Bodrum military camp [for retirees], freeing him from the world of speculation shaped by complex relationships.
But there, this time, he will have to face his comrades-in-arms.
This article was originally published by Politikyol and has been shortened translated by FTP.
The views and opinions expressed above are the author’s and do not reflect those of the Free Turkish Press.