Turkey: The Repression Continues

AKP Keen to Polarize Turkey Further

By Peter Edel

After the occupation of Istanbul’s Gezi Park had been ended by the riot police most of the traces were removed.  All that remained was a small corner where the victims were commemorated with photographs and texts. However, this memorial site now belongs to the past as well. 

When an anti-capitalist Islamic organization wanted to break their fast with a meal in the vicinity of the Gezi Park last week, the police interfered. While at it, the memorial site was taken care of. The Turkish news channels were showing it. Can you imagine what it must feel like for a parent to see the picture of a deceased child being thrown in a garbage truck? It is significant that even a public memorial of victims had to be wiped out. Apparently their death did not matter for mayor Topbas of the ruling Justice- and Development Party (AKP). But doesn’t every human being, regardless of what he or she has done, deserve the right to be memorialized by family and friends?

Topbas probably explained the demolition of the small corner in the park by calling it a disturbance of public order. But in fact it was nothing but the umpteenth attempt of the AKP to polarize Turkey further. PM Erdogan could not care less; keen as he is on escalation of differences and conflicts- escalation of conflicts with surrounding countries, the EU and the US, but certainly also those within Turkey. 

Koc

Meanwhile the AKP continues its revenge for the protest that first emerged on May 31. For instance, students who demonstrated are not entitled to a student loan. However, the higher regions of Turkish society will not escape Erdogan’s wrath either. Take the Divan Hotel in Istanbul, which opened its doors for wounded protesters. A humanitarian act? Not the way Erdogan sees it.

The Divan Hotel is part of holdings owned by the Koc family, the richest family in Turkey.  Recently the Turkish tax service paid a visit to several Koc enterprises, among them the oil company Tüpras. Seemed like a routine procedure, but the sequence of events was more than a little suspicious. The government denies any connection with the decision of the Divan Hotel to receive wounded protesters, but at the same time the (secular) Koc family most certainly does not belong to the (often religious) entrepreneurs protected by the AKP. Consequently many reporters indeed recognized Erdogan’s revenge in the campaign of the tax service against the Koc holding company.  

Reporters who come to such assumptions have to tread warily in Turkey, a country that is high on the list of countries where journalists are persecuted. A consequence of the repression against the media is that many newspapers are censoring themselves to a large extent. For the tax service may ring the doorbell at any time. Some years ago the Dogan media conglomerate went through this experience after its newspapers criticized the government. 

Milliyet and Sabah

Milliyet knows what self-censorship is.  A few months ago the editorial board of this newspaper dismissed the prominent columnist Hasan Cemal for his criticism of the government. Recently journalist Can Dündar had a similar experience, after it appeared that his vigorous articles about the protests concerning Gezi Park did not find favorable reception in Ankara.

Because of its political position, the pro-AKP newspaper Sabah has severe problems with criticism towards the government as well. This was emphasized when the respected journalist Yavuz Baydar was dismissed after he had put some awkward questions in a New York Times article about the reluctant stance of the Turkish media during the Gezi Park protests.

Kiniklioglu

The criticism of the Turkish government is increasing. Not only abroad, but despite all the (self) censorship of the media and other repression, also in Turkey itself. Nowadays a critical attitude towards the AKP can also be found in Zaman, and the English language Todays Zaman, newspapers belonging to the movement of the US residing imam Fethullah Gülen. Not too long ago the Gülen movement cooperated in several ways with the government. At the time Zaman and Todays Zaman praised the AKP and PM Erdogan without any criticism. After Gülen entered a conflict/power struggle with Erdogan, much has changed.

Recently the column ‘We had a dream’ of Suat Kiniklioglu appeared in Todays Zaman. Some years ago Kiniklioglu was a deputy of the AKP in the Turkish parliament. Not just any deputy, for at one point his name was even mentioned as a future Minister of Foreign Affairs. Those days have gone, because presently Kiniklioglu is sick and tired of PM Erdogan.

After the political landslide in 2002 leading to the first AKP-government, Kiniklioglu belonged to those who hoped that the AKP would open the way to a more democratic and righteous Turkey. Over the past few years he has been brought down to earth with a shock. Kiniklioglu saw the storm coming, but the Gezi Park protest became the turning point for him:

‘We have become a much more charged, tense and polarized country than we were prior to the morning of May 31, 2013.’

The way Kiniklioglu sees it Erdogan missed a rare chance to unite Turkey. It’s clear that he’s going for President Abdullah Gül now, who also happens to be the first choice of Todays Zaman ‘source of inspiration’ Fethullah Gülen. Kiniklioglu:

‘The Justice and Development (AK Party) was an important democratizing force from 2002 to 2010. It managed to overcome many difficult hurdles until 2010. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan enjoyed unprecedented power and popularity that he could have employed to truly unite this country. He could have moved the party further to the center and also embraced those who did not vote for him. Instead, he chose to revert back to his (islamist- P.E.) roots. Given the fact that Erdogan does not have an internal balancing factor, something Abdullah Gül has, he has turned around.’

Cömez

Apparently Kiniklioglu has been developing such ideas for some time. For it is difficult not to relate them to the earlier decision of the AKP-leadership to pass him by for further membership in the parliament. It’s clear that criticizers within the AKP are getting the bill presented. 

Still, Kiniklioglu can consider himself lucky (probably because of his connection with the Gülen movement, which is powerful within the Turkish Justice Department). Former AKP-deputy Turan Cömez was less fortunate. He permitted himself to criticize Erdogan’s autocratic tendencies within the AKP and was accused shortly after - on very dubious grounds - of being a member of Ergenekon, an alleged conspiracy against the AKP and the Gülen movement (which at the time was still a successful combination). Contrary to other Ergenekon suspects Cömez did not wait patiently for his arrest, but escaped to London, after which very little was heard of him. 

Ergenekon

Wherever he’s hiding, Cömez must have followed the news from Turkey with great attention over the last week. For this week, six years after its beginning, a judge finally came to a verdict in the controversial Ergenekon procedure. A verdict with very few surprises, for beforehand there was little doubt that many would receive long prison terms; that some would get life was no less than expected.

Let there be no misunderstanding: there are more than a few extremely unpleasant people among the Ergenekon suspects. A prime example is Veli Kücük, a former general who used to be in charge of JITEM, the intelligence outfit of the gendarme which has been considered by many as an illegal entity and an important element of the Turkish ‘deep state’.

Kücük was responsible for numerous extrajudicial executions in the nineties, while he has also been mentioned with respect to the drug trade. His name came forward after the so-called Susurluk incident, a car crash in the Turkish town of Susurluk in 1996 which showed the entanglement of politics, state security services and (far right) organized crime in Turkey. Enrichment through the drug trade was one of the objectives of the ‘Susurluk-gang’.

Kücük is among the Ergenekon suspects who got life and many in Turkey will agree that he deserves nothing less. However, the tricky aspect in all of this is that Kücük was not punished for his deep state crimes. Instead, he was sentenced for his involvement in an organization that allegedly wanted to free itself of the AKP and the Gülen movement through a conspiracy including false flag operations to discredit both.

Indictment

The evidence in the Ergenekon indictment that such an organization was in fact ever founded is doubtful to say the least. For instance, in many cases the accused are merely portrayed as suspicious because they know each other, or have been in contact only once or twice. Evidence that several assassinations over the last decade of non-Muslims in Turkey were false flag operations perpetrated by Ergenekon, is insufficient or simply absent.

Independent observers who took upon themselves the task of reading the many pages of the indictment came to the conclusion that it has more of a wild conspiracy theory than a serious accusation based on decisive evidence. Add to this the many irregularities in the procedure, as well as the indications of false evidence, and it’s hard to believe that this has been a fair trial. The wide involvement of hardly impartial followers of Fethullah Gülen within the justice department is another indication towards this conclusion.

Democracy Down the Drain

All in all it is understandable why many secular Turks believe that the suspects in the Ergenekon case were not sentenced for their involvement in a conspiracy, but for their critical stance towards the AKP and the Gülen movement and/or the nationalist ideology they embraced.

That any ideology may give reason to criticism does not matter here. Adhering to whatever ideology should not be reason for prosecution in the democracy Turkey is supposed to be. That this ideology was the backbone of the not-so-democratic-either political establishments in Turkey until the rise of the AKP can’t be reason for prosecution within a democracy either (earlier I mentioned this aspect as the ‘paradox of democracy’ on this website).

Does this matter to the AKP and the Gülen followers in the justice department? From the way it appears, not in the slightest little bit. What matters for the current power elite in Turkey is that opposition, whether it consists of remnants of the previous political establishment, or of hippie-like Gezi Park youngsters, has to be neutralized in ways as efficient as possible. That democracy will go down the drain in the process is of no concern here. That means, not as long as a majority in parliament is maintained.

PM Erdogan’s notion of democracy ends with the majority stronghold. Or with what he brings forward as the majority. For the surplus of seats in parliament by which the AKP governs certainly does not relate to a corresponding percentage of voters. The Turkish voting system with its ten percent threshold takes care of that.

Economic chaos

In all likelihood the protest emerging from the real majority will remain, and may very well even accelerate in the near future, leading in its turn to more aggressive and violent suppression by the government. That this may cause serious political chaos goes without saying.

In the slightly longer run, as more foreign investors withdraw and exports tumble, this situation can easily evolve into economic chaos, which as history shows is the main reason for political parties to lose power (meaning: lose votes) in Turkey. The AKP is very well aware of this. This explains why columnists sympathizing with Erdogan are putting the blame for disturbances of economic growth in Turkey already on external factors like ‘the interest lobby’ and ‘the Jewish Diaspora’. Some of them show themselves faithful readers of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code when they accuse almost imaginary entities like Freemasonry, the order of the Illuminati and Opus Dei of obstructing the Turkish economy...  

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Peter Edel is an analyst and investigative journalist based in the Netherlands. He is a regular contributing correspondent to Boiling Frogs Post.

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