One of the most important communication endeavors for the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) was conducted in 2013 by the Anadolu Agency (AA). This project is the book titled, “Ocak, Mehmetçiğin Dünyası.”
Then Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel for one year granted special permission to the AA’s experienced editors, journalists, photo-journalists, and cameramen so they could conduct a recording in the TAF’s most important, most exclusive and never before entered units.
The TAF’s exclusive project
What made the project special was, in addition to portraying the TAF’s military power, was that it shared with the public the humane aspect of the members of the military; their tears, their joy, and the time they spent with their families.
The footage was presented to the media and these extremely moving visuals were used quite widely. Today, those visuals are still frequently used by the media for image/photographic purposes.
The project was adapted and published as a book, in both English and Turkish. It was presented to the public via an exhibition that commenced on the anniversary of the Gallipoli victory, with the attendance of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and sold at all bookstores.
During the process of that project I frequented the General Staff for meetings. At that time, I had the opportunity to meet at length with both Özel and the current Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar – who was commander of the ground forces back then.
When the work was complete, Özel Pasha invited me and personally thanked me on behalf of the TAF for this project that had great impact on the perception and image of the TAF. Even though I expected to be presented with something like a “War of Independence Medal,” this project was very educational and rewarding for both AA and myself.
AA Director Ertuğrul Cingil, Editor Fırat Yurdakul and TAF Communication President Brig. Gen. Ertuğrul Özkürkçü’s great efforts in these projects are noteworthy.
Civilian communication consultant for the military
One of the subjects we discussed most with Özel and Akar was the military’s communication efforts and its image. During a discussion about activities which will be conducted in this area, I had said that these should be supported not only by the human resources within the military but also by expert teams, including civilians
Back then the chief of General Staff was planning to employ civilian consultants for himself. As a matter of fact, he has also asked me to suggest names that could be his consultants. I suggested someone I trusted in this area (don’t worry, I didn’t propose myself).
Back then I saw that Akar also paid special attention to these subjects. As a matter of fact, he established certain units in relation to communication, brainstormed and was happy with the results.
The military image attacked by the coup
The greatest harm to the TAF in the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, I guess, was to its perception, image and brand value. Despite being a soldier-spirited community, people’s view of soldiers and the military, unfortunately, was severely affected because of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).
In post-coup discussions, I sadly see that this increases. In media and social media discussions regarding what happened on the day of the coup, before it and after it, criticism regarding military superiors, primarily Chief of General Staff Akar, are sometimes bad enough that they push the limits.
There are subjects that are inexplicable and raise suspicions regarding that night and the aftermath of it, some questions that are left unanswered, subjects on which people are not completely satisfied. This is what people are questioning.
Unfortunately this topic is currently being utilized abroad as FETÖ’s most prominent tool of propaganda. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu conceptualized this, striking the biggest blow in terms of the image of both politics and the military by saying it was a “Controlled coup.”
I can argue that there is “negligence” at the end of all mistakes, deficiencies, errors or failures, but following this path to come up with a “controlled coup” is irrational and unscrupulous.
Why is there no communication effort?
We can criticize those who defend FETÖ, the CHP or their theories in this regard. But I just cannot understand why the TAF, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), and the government do not carry out a communication project that will end these discussions, eliminate these ambiguities.
If a policy such as "Let's not get into these topics, don't let the argument spread," is followed, know that the arguments have not died down at all. As a matter of fact, they increasingly continued. Hence the policy followed is not right.
The National Defense Ministry, gaining prominence with the latest changes, is probably a circumstance that will make things easier. A civilian defense minister making a statement instead of soldiers might even be more beneficial. However, the ministry isn't working on any projects either.
The longer we wait and the more the ambiguities are left to fluctuate, the argument, unfortunately, further strengthens the "controlled coup" perception. Some columnists write about nothing other than this issue; they talk about that night in the form of series. A book on it will also be out soon.
The TAF carrying out no work to solve its own image problem is not the issue. I guess the government's greatest weakness at present is communication. The government seems to pay no attention to national and international communication efforts. Yet this is the area from which it receives the most blows. Particularly the state of certain media outlets that say they are defending the government now does more harm than benefit.
I think that all copies of the "Ocak, Mehmetçiğin Dünyası" book are sold out. If you find it, make sure to read it. Then you will once again feel that the TAF is one of us, representing us all.
I hope a project is launched to overcome this chaos; that our military's image is repaired and that the AA publishes new books.