This is the first time ever in Turkey of so many top commanders wanting to step down together [EPA]
General Isik Kosaner, the head of the Turkish armed forces, has quit along with the heads of the ground, naval and air forces.
The country’s state-run Anatolia news agency said the military chiefs have asked to retire because of tensions with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the recently re-elected prime minister.
Anatolia reported Kosaner as resigning “as he saw it as necessary”.
This is the first time so many top commanders in Turkey have stepped down at once.
In the first official reaction, Binali Yildirim, the transportation minister, said “the state would continue to function”.
“The information I received is that they have asked for their retirement,” Yildirim told the Associated Press news agency.
Al Jazeera Turk’s Elif Ural said the prime minister will be releasing a written statement soon.
Ural said Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul and Kosaner met for 15 minutes on Friday morning and some tensions arose between the government and the military during the meeting.
The mass retirement notices came hours after a court charged 22 suspects, including several generals and officers, with carrying out an internet campaign to undermine the government.
The unprecedented departures come ahead of the annual spring meeting scheduled for August 1, where leaders of the government and the military come together to discuss key appointments for the next year.
Reports say Friday’s news signal a deep-rooted rift between the military and the government, amid an ongoing trial accusing dozens of generals and officers for plotting to overthrow the government.
In a 2003 case called the “Sledgehammer”, 17 generals and admirals in line for promotion have been jailed along with nearly 200 officers on charges of plotting to over throw the government.
More than 400 people – including academics, journalists, politicians and soldiers – are also on trial on separate charges of plotting to bring down the government.
That case is based on a conspiracy by an alleged gang of secular nationalists called “Ergenekon”.
The government denies the cases are politically motivated and says it is just trying to work to improve democracy.
Military vs. government
Erdogan’s ruling AK party, which won a third term in elections on June 12 in a landslide victory, has said its key goal is to replace a military-era constitution with a more democratic one.
But critics say AK has a secret Islamist agenda, an allegation it denies.
The Turkish military has staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and forced the country’s first Islamist-led government out of power in 1997.
Coup leaders drew on the support of Turks who saw them as saviors from chaos and corruption, but they were often ruthless.
In the 1960 takeover, the prime minister and key ministers were executed and in a 1980 coup, there were numerous cases of torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killing.
Such intervention is no longer regarded as feasible, as the power of the military has been curbed sharply under reforms carried out by Erdogan’s government.
Kosaner, who took over as head of the armed forces in August 2010, is regarded as a hardline secularist, but he has kept a lower profile than previous chiefs of the general staff.
The announcement comes amid an upsurge in fighting in southeast Turkey between the military and the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party guerrillas.