Dismissal of Turkish Navy chief said to reflect power struggle within the army

Some in Greek media went so far as to talk of an aborted coup.
Friday 22/05/2020
A file picture of Rear Admiral Yayci. (Credit ahvalnews.com)
A file picture of Rear Admiral Yayci. (Credit ahvalnews.com)

PARIS--The demotion and subsequent resignation of Rear Admiral Cihat Yayci, chief of staff of the Turkish Navy, came as a surprise to Turkey watchers and fuelled speculation about what is happening behind the scenes of Turkish politics.

Yayci was demoted on May 15 by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and resigned a few days later.

He was said to have felt “unfairly treated” as he faced an investigation accusing him of mismanaging the acquisition of a torpedo weapons system for the Turkish Navy.

A file picture of Rear Admiral Yayci. (Credit ahvalnews.com)
A file picture of Rear Admiral Yayci. (Credit ahvalnews.com)

“According to the allegations, the reason given for the change in his post is quite strange: Having rigged a tender,” wrote Hurriyet columnist Nedim Sener.

Yayci felt the Turkish president owed him as he played a major role in the crackdown against Erdogan’s rivals during the 2016 coup attempt attributed to loyalists of US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Ruling party sympathisers credited him with a special technique that was used to identify members of the Gulen network.

The former Navy chief is also considered the “architect” of Erdogan’s Libya policy and his expansionist plan in the Eastern Mediterranean.

He was known to be a staunch advocate of the “Blue Homeland Doctrine,” which promotes Turkish control of the Mediterranean Sea, Aegean Sea and Black Sea in the spirit of Ottoman conquest.

The doctrine was a driver of the controversial agreements signed November 27, 2019 between the head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj, and Erdogan that created an “exclusive economic zone” for Turkey that extends from the southern Mediterranean shore to Libya’s northeast coast. Turkey is expected to start drilling for gas off- Cyprus in July.

The deal also paved the way for direct military involvement by Turkey in Libya, where Ankara is supporting militants and militias loyal to the GNA with military equipment and mercenaries in their fight against the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Explanations about the reasons for Yayci’s fall from grace included speculation about an aborted coup attempt, especially in Greek media.

Some foreign reports talked of friction and unbridled ambitions within the army.

Quoting military analysts, the French daily Le Monde said “the dismissal of the rear-admiral reveals internal divisions and an ongoing struggle for power within the Turkish army.”

The newspaper described the decision to ease Yayci of his position as head of the Turkish Navy as a signal to senior ranking officer within “the Eurasian camp” of the military, that had become too ambitious after what they considered the success of Turkey’s interventionist strategy in Libya.

The newspaper was referring to the pro-Russian and anti-Western “Eurasian camp,” epitomised by Yayci.

Some were also expressing wariness in the Turkish political and military establishment over the undue challenge which ambitious senior cadres were posing to Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, added Le Monde.

Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz is escorted by Turkish Navy frigate TCG Gemlik (F-492) in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus. (AFP)
Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz is escorted by Turkish Navy frigate TCG Gemlik (F-492) in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus. (AFP)

The demise of Yayci was a message for “them to sit still,” commented Yavuz Baydar, editor of the news website Ahvalnews.com, which specialises in Turkish affairs.

Sener summed up the former navy chief’s punctured claim to political fame: “Yayci is known with FETÖMETRE, the memorandum signed between Libya, along with his work that strengthens Turkey’s thesis against the demands of Greece on the issue of the Aegean, and is known as someone who works for the interests of Turkey.”

But with hostility and wariness accruing from many sides outside Turkey’s borders, the strategy advocated for by Yayci might have gone too far.

“Of course, what he has done and wrote has disturbed countries such as the US, EU, Greek Cyprus, Greece and Israel,” Sener noted.