The Sick man of Turkey

16th March 2014 – By . The Turkish Medical Association (TTB, or “Türk Tabipleri Birliği” in Turkish) released a statement Saturday passing considerable judgment on PM’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s controversial reactions over the past year. For those familiar with events since the start of the nationwide anti-government protests of 2013, the 60-year-old independent trade union — covering 80% of Turkey’s medical professionals, & recognized by the World Medical Assoc. — just questioned the mental health of the Turkish prime minister. The full English translation of their 15 March press release reads as follows:

“The interest lobby provoked the Gezi events.”
“They drunk alcohol in the Dolmabahçe Mosque.”
“They attacked my headscarved sisters.”

We, as doctors, have been watching with anxiety the polarisation, the marginalisation, and divisive rhetoric Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been using since the Gezi resistance. We were terrified when we listened to what he said about Berkin Elvan at the Gaziantep election rally yesterday. Normally, nobody would try to steer two families who lost their children against each other. Normally, nobody would declare a child aged fifteen who was hit in the head [with a teargas canister] by the police on his way to buy bread and who died after fighting for his life for 269 days, a terrorist. Normally, nobody would distort the truth about marbles put in a child’s grave and call them “steel balls.” Normally, nobody would get a mother — who lost her child only two days ago — booed at an election rally. We are doctors. We know about thousands of different states of mind and the emotional states of a human being. We are worried about Prime Minister Erdoğan’s emotional state. We are extremely worried. We are worried for him, for the people around him, and for our country. We are sharing our concern with the public. – The Central Committee of the Turkish Medical Association
In other words, (if the EU or U.S. are watching) the most authoritative medical body in the land just affirmed what at least 50% of Turkey already believes: that the emperor has no clothes.


The End of Erdogan

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.


Corruption or noble cause?

Postmodern theories suggest that there are no facts, but only “competing narratives.” We may disagree with the ultimate rejection of claims of reality, but cannot dismiss the importance of “narratives” for understanding politics. It may sound odd, but the recent political crises in Turkey are indeed a very good case of “politics as competing narratives.” The recent grand corruption case is not a corruption case in the minds of many in Turkey, not because the ordinary supporters of the government are fanatics and/or fools and not because PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the ultimate manipulator or a kind of snake charmer. In fact, he is, but that is not and cannot be the whole story.

The PM and his party are currently trying to manipulate public opinion by presenting the corruption case as an attack against not only himself and even his government, but as an assault or plot against Turkey. It sounds and indeed it is the ultimate chutzpah, but after all, it works, and we need to understand how it works to be able to make sense of politics in Turkey. I am not sure if it was hypocrisy on behalf of the founders of the governing party to denounce their Islamist past and to redefine themselves as conservative democrats that they turned their back on their Islamist roots when they felt powerful enough, or whether it is because the AKP could not cope with the challenges of governing Turkey and foreign policy, leading it to seek to take refuge in its previous, simplistic, Islamist understanding of politics. No matter which version is true, it seems the AKP turned to base its politics on an Islamist-nationalist mission at some stage, and the PM and his close circle is not only trying to manipulate public opinion, but genuinely believes what he says in terms of his new Islamist discourse. 

According to this discourse, there is no corruption but there is a wicked plan to ruin “the finances of the noble cause.” “The noble cause” is assumed to be rescuing the Islamic world from deprivation and submission to the West under the leadership of Turkey, with Erdoğan as its leader.  

It is now clear that it is not secular law and justice or even jurisprudence, but Islamic law that is of relevance for Erdoğan and the leadership of the party, as well as for many of his supporters. In their eyes, “the deals with businessmen” are legitimate, since the corruption probe has been denounced by the Islamic scholar (who is accepted as a religious authority by Erdoğan) on Islamic grounds that “financial help from businessman can be accepted for the public good even if it is offered for financial deals.” Nevertheless, it is not only that the PM, the government and many AKP supporters are Islamists and, being so, do not genuinely acknowledge just a secular law, as well as a secular political system and institutions, but also believe in Islamic legitimacy.

As for Islamism, it is not a religious narrative with reference to politics, but a political narrative with reference to religion, while there is not one but many Islamist narratives. The new AKP version is based on a narrative of “a success story of the new Turkey and its great Muslim leader who is being targeted by global powers and their native collaborators.” 

Finally, the corruption case is no corruption case, but a confrontation of competing narratives in today’s Turkey. Turkey managed to overcome some aspects of the democracy deficit resulting from the politics of “secularism at the expense of democracy” under AKP rule, but now it is time to overcome the politics of “democracy at the expense of secularism.”

You see, after all, postmodern theorists have a point: Unless we agree on a narrative (a “secular democracy” narrative in this case) we cannot even define corruption as corruption!


Nuray Mert, Hürriyet Daily News

Turkey – a failing state? – developments most peculiar


You may remember the operation against corruption on 17th December 2013. It’s been widely discussed that the operation has been instigated by the followers of Fethullah Gulen against the followers of PM Erdogan. In that operation US$ 45 million was found stashed in shoe boxes in the GM of a public bank. The operation reached as close to Erdogan as possible: his son Bilal Erdogan. It stopped / was stopped there as part of the battle for power between Erdogan and Gulen.

Yesterday, a recording of phone conversations that allegedly took place between PM Erdogan and his son Bilal Erdogan on 17th December – the conversation is about how to get rid of the cash they have. The conversation is translated into English here:

There is no evidence that this conversation is genuine as far as we know. But as you can imagine there is a storm on the social media, and twitter reports at least two separate occasions where elderly people put their mobile phones on speaker and played the recording on public transport…difficult to censor that kind of dissemination.

The office of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said alleged leaked conversations of him discussing hidden funds are fake — a denial that was ignored by opposition leaders who called for his resignation. Read this news here:

Unrelated (or related?) to this, the EU is surprised that the AKP government did not keep their promise to suspend the new law about the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors. For Turkish:

The EU is concerned that the new arrangements for the Supreme Board will mean it is heavily under the influence of the political power – which is against the Copenhagen criteria that underlies the communication about Turkey’s membership. Funny that – promises can be ignored…a bit naive of the EU!

Developments from the US are not so naive….this article is rather worrying, especially the reminder of Iraq

In the meantime, Deputy PM Bulent Arinc was in London last week. A group of only 20 protesters were outside the Chatham House where he was speaking on Thursday…the topic, you ask? But why, of course, what he knows best: democracy…The faces of his entourage were worth seeing…so worried, so, yes, even scared, of the 20 people (who to give them credit, did make a hell of a racket)…one really has to have loads to hide, to be embarrassed about, to be so scared of 20 people.

Here is an overview of some of these recent developments from a veteran journalist, Firdevs Robinson, in her blog:

We must not forget: Gezi and the following is not only (maybe even not at all) about PM Erdogan or even his party AKP. It is about basic freedoms and whoever opposes them.

Turkey’s Gul seen approving tighter control of Internet, courts

18th Feb 2014 – (Reuters) – BY NICK TATTERSALL. Turkey’s president has signaled he will approve new laws tightening controls over the courts and the Internet, bolstering embattled Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan but deepening concerns about free speech and the rule of law.

The two bills, passed by parliament this month and awaiting President Abdullah Gul’s approval, are seen by Erdogan’s critics as an authoritarian response to a corruption inquiry shaking his government, a bid to stymie court cases and to stop leaks circulating online. The new law on the judiciary will give the government more influence over the naming of judges and prosecutors, while the Internet bill will enable the authorities to block access to web pages within hours without a prior court order.The moves by Turkey, which has been seeking membership of the European Union for decades, have raised concern in Brussels, which fears it is shifting further away from EU norms, and unnerved investors in a country whose stability over the past decade has been based on Erdogan’s firm rule. The government says the laws will further democracy by taking back control of a judiciary it sees as in hock to a powerful but unaccountable cleric bent on unseating Erdogan, and by protecting individuals’ privacy on the Internet.

Police fired teargas to disperse demonstrators protesting against the Internet law in Istanbul this month, and parliamentarians debating the judicial reforms came to blows on Sunday, leaving one with a broken nose. Erdogan’s opponents have called on Gul, who co-founded the ruling AK Party with him in 2001 but is generally seen as a more conciliatory figure than the combative prime minister, to use his powers to veto the bills. Speaking to reporters on a trip to Hungary late on Monday, he gave little sign he would do so. “As the president I cannot put myself in the position of the constitutional court. But in a very general way, I can make my objections concerning the points I see,” he was quoted as saying by the Hurriyet and Haberturk newspapers.

Gul pointed out he had raised concerns about the AK Party’s first draft of the judicial reform bill, which had since been amended, and that the opposition had already indicated it would in any case appeal to the constitutional court.

“That is our tradition. Presidents before me would say ‘the constitutional court decides on the subject of laws in which there are arguments for and against’,” he was quoted as saying.

Gul has also said there are “problems” with some elements of the Internet law, which the country’s communications minister was quoted on Tuesday as saying may still be amended.


Gul has made little secret of his desire to return to mainstream politics and is seen as a future leader of the AKP, an ambition his critics say leaves him too wary of conflict with Erdogan to act as an effective check on his power.

“Gul wants to serve as president for a second term and has the desire to chair the AKP after Erdogan, so even if he does not fully agree, he is approving controversial regulations from the party,” Turkish political analyst Atilla Yesilada said in a report.The battle for control of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which appoints senior members of the judiciary, lies at the heart of a feud between Erdogan and influential U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Gulen, whose followers say they number in the millions, is believed to have built up influence in the police and judiciary over decades and leads a powerful worldwide Islamic movement from a forested compound in the United States. Erdogan blames Gulen, a former ally who helped cement AK Party support over the past decade, for unleashing the graft investigation, which he sees as an attempted “judicial coup” meant to undermine him in the run-up to local and presidential elections this year. The cleric denies any such role. Gul is seen as enjoying more support from Gulen’s network of sympathizers, who view themselves as pro-democratic and reformist, then Erdogan, whose views on issues from abortion to alcohol they see as unnecessary interference in private life.

But Gul has also been critical of the cleric’s influence in state institutions in recent months, appearing to close ranks with Erdogan and echoing the prime minister’s warning that a “state within the state” will not be tolerated. In the eyes of Turkey’s opposition, too weak in parliament to stall AKP bills, that opens the way for Erdogan to impose an increasingly authoritarian rule.

“If the president approves the HSYK law, the judiciary will be bound completely to the government. The separation of powers will be completely shelved,” said Devlet Bahceli, head of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). “I fear that Prime Minister Erdogan will sit at the top of the judiciary as the chief judge.”

(Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir and Daren Butler; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)


Turkey’s internal strife is endangering external security

“As the vicious struggle for domination between Turkey’s Justice and Development Party government and its one-time ally Fethullah Gulen camp intensifies, the  serious consequences for the national security of this enmity is becoming clear to everyone, except the two squabbling sides.”

says Firdevs Robinson in her blog Firdevstalkturkey.

For the full article:

More arrests as power struggle racks Erdogan government in Turkey

21st Dec 2013 – Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) — Fourteen people have been arrested by a Turkish court on Saturday following a corruption probe that led to the detention of more than 50 suspects close to the ruling Justice and Development party and sent shock waves through Turkish political circles.

Those arrested by the court in Istanbul include the sons of the interior minister and economy minister as well as the head of state owned Halkbank, according to the semi official Anadolu news agency. Nineteen people have been released including the mayor of Fatih Municipality in Istanbul. The latest arrests bring to a total of 24 people arrested within the scope of this corruption probe.

The corruption raids on Tuesday and the removal of police commanders from their posts on Wednesday were seen by many as part of a political reckoning in Turkey between Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and an Islamist movement believed to control portions of the judiciary and the police.