A New Year and Turkey is Still in Turmoil

I had a conversation this morning with a confidential European source and keen observer of the Turkish scene.  Some of his astute observations were covered in the January NER, article, “Could the Crisis in Turkey Impact US Policy in the Middle East?”  It was prompted by a Gatestone Institute article, published today, “Where is Turkey Going?” by Veli Sirin, who is German director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. Sirin is another worthy observer and author of analyses on what is occurring in Turkey. He was discussing further developments with regard to the public wrangling between two former Islamist allies, Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and expatriate Turkish Sheikh Mohammad Fethulleh Gulen, which we have covered in our NER article.

Sirin discussed Turkish press coverage of the recent pleas by imprisoned military leaders requesting new trials. This in the wake of the release by the judiciary of secularist,  pro-American and pro- Israeli Gen. Cevik Bir that we noted in our NER article. The irony is that these Turkish alleged plotters were tried and convicted for conspiracy following second term sweep by Erdogan and the AKP in the 2007 parliamentary elections. My source observed that the purge of presumably secular Turkish military has left it in control of senior officers on the general staff beholden to Erdogan.

Sirin observed in his Gatestone article:

Erdogan was confronted on January 1, 2014 with a petition by the former army general staff chief, Gen. lker Babug, that Babug be released from a life sentence handed down against him on August 5, 2013, in the “Ergenekon” conspiracy trials, in which the Islamist government accused members of the secular military of supposedly trying to bring the government down. As described in the leading national media platform, the Hurriyet Daily News, Ba?bug was one of 275 suspects charged in the “Ergenekon” affair; other high military officials, journalists and academics were subjected to “aggravated life sentences,” which replaced death sentences, in the “Ergenekon” proceedings.

As noted in the same Hurriyet article, Babug based his demand for exoneration on Erdogan’s claim that “gangs within the state” and “members of the parallel state” had penetrated the judiciary, police, and other official structures. Erdogan’s chief advisor, Yalçin Akdogan, implied that members of the judiciary had “framed” military officers in the “Ergenekon” case.

Senior AKP legislator Mustafa Elita? told Hurriyet Daily News that Turkey could change laws to allow a retrial of the military officers convicted of plotting to overthrow Erdogan. According to that Hurriyet Daily News account, Elita? said of the army defendants, “We will, if necessary, make new legal arrangements to stop people’s unjust treatment.”

At the same time, and as reflected in the same Hurriyet Daily News post of December 31, former army General Çetin Dogan, accused and convicted of a similar plot in the “Sledgehammer” trial of military leaders, which ended in 2012, is preparing a complaint against a 20-year prison term imposed on him.

Erdogan’s chief advisor, Akdogan, then reversed course. In a press statement quoted by Today’s Zaman, Akdogan declared, “It is wrong to the utmost degree to use my previous writings to say that I have called some trials ‘false,’ ‘baseless,’ ’empty’ and ‘fabricated.’ Just as prosecutors need evidence to issue criminal charges, the defense, believing the evidence presented is false, needs to provide its own evidence to support its argument.”

Ironies abound in the current Turkish turmoil. Erdogan and AKP were widely reported to have mounted the “Sledgehammer” and “Ergenekon” proceedings in a long-term Islamist bid to cut down the influence of the secularist military. London Guardian correspondent Simon Tisdall, noted on September 25, 2012 that Turkish military commanders had carried out three coups, between 1960 and 1980 (including a full-fledged takeover in 1971), and had forced AKP out of power in 1997.

The  source observed that there is an emerging internal revolt within the AKP that could result in a splinter party being formed for future parliamentary elections.  That political division of the AKP would throw into considerable question Erdogan’s nominations for the March 2014 municipal elections.  Moreover, that might raise doubt about a projected June national referendum on changes to the Turkish Presidency authorities abetting creation of a virtual Islamist Caliphate in Ankara coveted by Erdogan.  A number of those dissident AKP members in Parliament may be Gulenists.   He raised questions about where President Abdullah Gull, himself a Gulenist, stood relative to the current crisis in Turkey.  Gul apparently has the authority to authorize a comprehensive investigation of the graft charges. Gul, according to a Today’s Zaman article ,warned against intervention in the  judiciary investigations and deliberations.  Moreover, despite the Presidency being largely a ceremonial post under Turkey’s constitution, apparently Gul has the power to call for new parliamentary elections.  Turkey’s parliament elects the Premier.

I brought up the prospect of a Gulenist/Secularist effort to topple Erdogan raised by Harold Rhode in our NER article.   The source pointed to a comment in a Hurriyet Daily News report  by Kemal Kilicdaroglu,  head of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP),  about the sudden disappearance of Erdogan’s son, Bilal and why he didn”t testify in the graft investigations.. As we wrote in our NER article, Bilal   was alleged to be part of an Istanbul prosecutor’s investigation of money laundering to Al Qaida militias in Syria via charities and funds controlled by shadowy Saudi billionaire Yasin al-Qadi.  The source indicated  that Bilal Erdogan may have taken a powder to one of the Central Asian ‘stans until the current brouhaha blows over.  He noted that the opposition Republican Party follows in the Ataturkist secular traditions.  Sirin, author of the Gatestone article, may  apparently be an Alevi and  likely an Ataturkist follower as well.

Another related matter affecting  this imbroglio is the sudden breakout of what appears to be  possible virtual autonomy in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region of Turkey. That is evidenced in flouting of Kurdish national flags and  tolerance of the Kurdish language. The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) has called on followers in Turkey to remain neutral in the current dispute between Erdogan and the Gulen.  That may be a reflection of an opportunistic strategy by Erdogan to placate the restive Kurdish irredentism to achieve access to oil from both halves of Kurdistan. This would include the Syrian western half  or  Rojava, in the northeastern area of the country, and the adjacent Iraqi eastern half, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).  Ironically both Kurdish areas have staved off the intrusion of Al Qaida militias now ravaging major towns in the largely Sunni Anbar province of Iraq and adjacent areas of Eastern Syria. The Erdogan deal would involve transmission of Kurdish regional oil via Turkish pipelines to terminals on the Mediterranean coast, which may afford some diversion for profit taking. Then there are the billions of construction project tenders in the KRG dominated by Turkish construction firms. We would not be surprised to see a pardon granted by Erdogan for former PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, now imprisoned on an Island in the Sea of Mamara. He had given his assent to a cease fire deal with Erdogan. Moreover, Today’s Zaman has reported rumors of a general amnesty for the PKK.

Lastly,  we mused on the silence from the Obama White House about accusations of American involvement in fostering the Turkish public prosecutors’ graft investigations  with implied  threats to expel the US Ambassador.  Those accusations were vigorously denied by the US Ambassador Francis T. Ricciardone.  Could it be the alleged graft investigation directed by public prosecutors against the core of AKP in the regime of Turkish Premier Erdogan is an embarrassment to the Administration that touted him as a partner for peace in the Middle East?  Just look at the exchange  regarding the turmoil in Turkey with State Department  Deputy Spokesperson  Ms. Marie Harf in today’s State Department Press Briefing.  In May 2013 when Premier Erdogan visited the White Rose, President Obama said in a rainy Rose Garden setting, “I value so much the partnership that I’ve been able to develop with Prime Minister Erdogan”.  Stay tuned for developments.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.