16th March 2014 – By Henri J. Barkey. It is hard to imagine how in any society a Prime Minister caught on tape firing journalists because he does not like their point of view or instructing television stations to stop the broadcasting of an opposition leader’s speech in parliament could survive. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of corruption allegations that have been leveled at this particular PM’s ministers, their families, and most critically at him and his own son.
Welcome to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey. While he’s indirectly conceded the interference with the freedom of the press, the Prime Minister and his stalwarts have engaged in a scorched-earth strategy of blaming a vast conspiracy for the attacks against him. Never mind that ministers have lost their jobs and their sons have been arrested (along with a state-owned bank CEO). Never mind the millions of dollars worth of cash found in houses owned by all these figures, or the taped conversations leaked to the public, mainly through social media outlets, revealing that judicial investigations have been ongoing for sometime. Forget all that: It is not the alleged thieves, crooks, and their enablers who are at fault, but the accusers. So goes the logic in Erdogan’s Turkey. There’s nothing wrong with having millions of dollars and euros stashed at your home or office or elsewhere, and sweetheart deals with shady businessmen are perfectly okay. It’s questioning these practices that is the real threat to the nation.
At the heart of the conspiracy, it is claimed, is a “parallel state” led by Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive cleric who sought refuge in the United States in 1999 when he was persecuted by the then-dominant Turkish military establishment. Gulen and Erdogan had earlier formed an alliance against this common enemy. But now, with the military forced back into its barracks, they have turned on each other. For Erdogan and his supporters this vast conspiracy, instigated by Gulen and his presumed followers in the judiciary and the police force, is aided and abetted by a slew of villains. These include, Americans, Jews, Israel, Germans, neocons, CNN, Financial Times, a variety of international and domestic banks, the Council on Foreign Relations. Even the Queen of England, if you can believe it, has nothing better to do with her time than plot the downfall of the Turkish Prime Minister and his supporters. Why, exactly, would all these people have it in for Erdogan? It’s a mystery, of course.
But let’s set aside these fantasies, at long last. The truth is that Erdogan is the principal and lead actor in his own demise. As good a politician he has been up to recent times, these allegations somehow caught him by surprise. He has been the unchallenged leader of Turkey for a decade. No one has dared cross him, and no one has figured out how to beat him. The opposition has been weak, and the resources he has marshaled have enabled him and his party, the Justice and Development Party, AKP, to build a formidable patronage network that encompasses a vast segment of the Turkish press, business groups, lots of NGOs, think tanks, and segments of the bureaucracy. The money that he and his family members have allegedly collected has not merely gone toward self-enrichment, but also toward financing and building a monumental network of individuals and organizations whose only loyalty is to Erdogan.