Can you have a one party tyranny in a parliamentary system, especially one in which you have competing Islamist parties? The answer maybe a decided yes, when it comes to Turkey. The actions over the past few months, bespeak of the Jeffersonian definition, “Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry.”
Since December 17, 2013, Turkey has been wracked by corruption revelations that have reached the Premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family. Note this from a McClatchy Newspapers dispatch, “Corruption accusations threaten Erdogan’s legacy as Turkey’s modernizer”:
Purported wiretaps leaked to Turkish reporters suggest that Erdogan, his 19-year-old son, Bilal, and his top aides had facilitated the rezoning of valuable tracts to the benefit of contractors profiting from the country’s construction and economic boom. Videos show “bagmen” delivering purported cash bribes to a private foundation connected with Erdogan’s family.
Something in excess of 2,500 members of the police and prosecutors have been reassigned. The AKP Justice Minister has introduced legislation that would eviscerate the independence of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) responsible for appointments and changes in the makeup of the country’s judiciary. Today’s Zaman cited the ruse behind the bill:
The proposal, according to its critics, seeks to subordinate the HSYK to the government by boosting the dominance of the justice minister over the HSYK and thus curbing the authority of the board. The bill will give the government a tighter grip on the judiciary, according to critics.
Naturally, the independent Turkish judiciary and prosecutors object to that. Ironically, the country’s President, Abdullah Gul has threatened to exercise his veto powers to defeat such legislation preferring a Constitutional Amendment. A China News report cited “Mustafa Unal, a long-time observer of Turkish politics who said the president is not expected to approve a bill that is in breach of constitutional articles. His meeting with political leaders “means he does not want to see the bill ending up on his desk in the current form,” Unal said.
91 persons have been detained by police and prosecutors for investigation in activities involving bribery, payoffs for transportation and construction tenders, illegal gold trading with Iran through the state-owned Halk Bank and alleged money laundering to al Qaeda through Muslim charities. Two sons of Cabinet Ministers have been arrested, three cabinet ministers have resigned and Erdogan has reshuffled 10 cabinet posts. The Premier’s son Bilal was accused of working with shadowy Saudi billionaire Sheikh Yaseen Al Qadi and Osama Qtub laundering funds to Al Qaeda Fronts. According to Hurriyet Daily News, Erdogan’s embattled Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told a parliamentary commission that no warrant had been issued for Bilal. In late January Bilal’s lawyer told Turkish media that his client would provide testimony in the graft probe.
Today’s Zaman cited Erdogan’s questionable support for Saudi financier al-Qadi despite the US Treasury listing al –Qadi as a “specially designated global terrorist.”
Amid the allegations of Erdogan having close links to al-Qadi by Turkish and international media, Erdogan has said: “Yasin al-Qadi is a Saudi businessman who loves Turkey and wants to invest in this country. He has no connection with al-Qaeda. He has been acquitted of all accusations made against him. Is it a crime to meet with this person who wants to make a huge investment in Turkey?”
As we will see latter the Al Qaeda connections have come back to disrupt Erdogan’s Syrian Islamist policies.
The heedless acrimony between former allies, AKP Premier Erdogan and Sheikh Gulen, reclusive head of the Hizmet movement residing in the US, reached an acute stage given accusations in the Turkish media by the former and an interview in the Wall Street Journal by the latter. In mid-January Erdogan launched a vicious campaign against Gulen and Hizmat calling them “Assassins” and giving rise to accusations in both Turkey and in Europe that this was “hate speech.” Today’s Zaman observed:
The prime minister, addressing a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) meeting on Jan. 14, compared members of a certain group to “hashashin (assassins)”. [They] were terrorists who were famous for committing assassinations under the influence of opium.
According to Dr. Günal Kursun, president of the Human Rights Agenda Association (IHGD), Erdogan’s remarks are an example of “hate speech” since it leads people to hatred and animosity against others. According to Kursun, although Turkey does not yet have a hate crime law, article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) has a clause that is close to the definition of hate speech.
“The prime minister’s hashashin remark is definitely discriminatory,” said Dr. Kursun, as he said that Erdogan tries to distance certain people due to their belonging to a group.
A former European Parliament member, Joost Lagendijk, said that although it is a difficult call to make, when one thinks about the definition of hate speech, Erdogan’s remarks come very close to it. “We do not need to discuss that it is awful,” he said in reference to Erdogan’s likening and added that hate crime causes others to hate the object, which in this case is the Hizmet movement.
Given the fallout between Turkey’s Premier Erdogan and Sheikh Mohammad Fethulleh Gulen the Wall Street Journal published an article and companion interview with Gulen, “From his Refuge in the Poconos, A Reclusive Imam Roils Turkey”. (See the transcript of the WSJ interview, here).
Revealed in the WSJ article was evidence of the broad presence of the Hizmat movement in Turkey’s business community and the Judiciary. Among examples of the movement’s power in Turkey were:
Mr. Gulen has an estimated two million disciples and a further two million sympathizers at home and abroad. Many of them occupy senior jobs in government and law enforcement in Turkey.
His followers also run one of the biggest Turkish business organizations, Tuskon, which represents more than 55,000 companies, and publishes Zaman, the largest-circulation daily
The imam gained a broad following for his moderate sermons in the 1960s and ’70s. He benefited from Turkey’s economic liberalization in the 1980s, which allowed his followers to found companies that have become among the country’s largest.
In the WSJ interview, Sheikh Gulen countered Erdogan’s accusations saying:
“Turkish people…are upset that in the last two years democratic progress is now being reversed,” Mr. Gulen said in emailed answers to questions—his first such exchange since a corruption probe plunged Mr. Erdogan’s government into crisis last month.
“Purges based on ideology, sympathy or world views was a practice of the past that the present ruling party promised to stop,” he wrote.
The WSJ noted the possibility that Gulen might urge Hizmat followers to join up with the secular Turkish opposition:
“When the opportunities come, Cemaat (Hizmat) participants, just like any other citizen will make their choices based on their values,” the cleric said in the interview. “It is possible that people who share core values will make choices along the same lines.”
It is ironic that the Wall Street Journal article referred to a meeting that occurred in Manhattan in December 2013 between representatives of Hizmat and a delegation of the secular opposition in the Turkish parliament, the People’s Republican Party. My how the worm has turned splitting the alliance between the two Islamists: Gulen a Sufi exponent of ‘civil Islam’ and Erdogan, a proponent of ‘political Islam’.
Protests Roil Istanbul over Draconian Restrictions
Several thousand protesters took to the street in Istanbul in late January. They were reacting to a draft law granting extraordinary censorship power to the Turkish Communications Ministry and its monitoring directorate (TIB) over the internet. Euro News noted the draconian provisions affecting internet service providers in Turkey and potential EU human rights abuses:
Under the draft provisions, web hosts would be obliged to store all information detailing users’ online activities for up to two years and to provide this information to officials in Ankara upon request.
Officials could order access providers to block online content deemed illegal or to be “violating privacy” of a person, within only hours and without a court decision.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Turkey’s current internet law is against Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority.
Erdogan is also asserting control over electronic journalists. Turkey is the World leading offender jailing journalists, according to the most recent report of the Committee to Protect Journalists; more than Iran and China. According to a Washington Post report Premier Erdogan is attacking TRT, the Turkish national TV system. It noted:
Five department chiefs were fired at the Telecommunications Directorate, a body that carries out electronic surveillance as well as serving as the country’s telecom regulator, and a dozen people were fired at Turkey’s state channel TRT, including department heads and senior news editors.
Pictures of money-counting machines and reports of cash stacked in the homes of people linked to the graft investigation have caused uproar among the Turkish public. TRT was told to reassign upwards of 70 journalists and staff in a thinly veiled attempt to prevent any news and videos being distributed about the swirling corruption investigations and related matters.
New Turkish Law violates Human Rights and Hippocratic Oath
A new law was adopted in Erdogan’s Turkey that violated the ancient Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians and surgeons around the globe. In an email from a group called “Erdogan Failures,” we received this jolt.
The Erdogan Failures email had a brief article from the Saudi Gazette courtesy of Agence France Presse (AFP):
SOURCE: Saudi Gazette 19 Jan.14: Providing first aid now a crime in Turkey
SUBJECT: Turkey: Illegal for doctors to provide emergency first aid
ISTANBUL: A controversial medical bill that makes it a crime for doctors to provide emergency first aid without government authorization came into force in Turkey on Saturday [18 Jan.] despite an outcry from rights groups.
Under the legislation that was approved by President Abdullah Gul on Friday [17 Jan.], those convicted could be imprisoned for up to three years and face fines of nearly $1 million.
Critics fear it could be used to bar doctors and medical workers from treating protesters wounded in anti-government demonstrations as reportedly happened during mass street protests in June last year.
The US-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) slammed the legislation as another attempt by the government of Prime Minister Erdogan to quash dissent. Passing a bill that criminalizes emergency care and punishes those who care for injured protesters is part of the Turkish government’s relentless effort to silence any opposing voices, PHR senior medical adviser Vincent Iacopino said.
At least six people were killed and some 8,000 injured in the unrest that swept the country in June, according to the Turkish doctors association, which repeatedly accused the government of preventing medics from treating those hurt.
Denial of first aid to protesters by attending physicians and emergency medical personnel is a violation of basic human rights under a UN treaty that Turkey signed. PHR in a news release about the law signed by Turkish President Gul drew attention to these violations, “Turkish President Signs Bill that Criminalizes Emergency Medical Care”.
PHR, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, the World Medical Association, the British Medical Association, the German Medical Association, and other leading medical groups have all criticized the bill, which could compromise everyone’s access to emergency medical care in Turkey.
The legislation conflicts with Turkey’s own laws, and must now be blocked through Turkey’s constitutional court.
New Law is Pretext for attacking Leading Turkish Business Group
When we spoke with a knowledgeable European source on these developments in Turkey, he revealed another plausible reason why Erdogan wanted to enact this travesty; an attack on Turkey’s richest family, the Koç family (pronounced “Koch” in English). Last summer there were violent protests against an order by Erdogan to cut down trees in Gezi Park in Taksim Square. Six were killed; thousands were beaten and arrested by riot police. Erdogan you may recall wanted to develop a memorial to the Ottoman Caliphate in the recreation of Janissaries barracks that once stood at the site. He wanted to develop the structure into an indoor mall as a testimony to a new emerging Caliphate.
Those Gezi Park protesters, both wounded and not, ran into the Divan Istanbul Hotel, next to Taksim square to seek refuge. The riot police came in after them beat up and arrested many. The managers of the Divan hotel called in emergency doctors from the American Hospital to examine the wounded and treat them as much as possible. The Divan Istanbul Hotel is the flagship property of a chain of luxury hotels in the Divan Group owned by the Koç Holding A.S., the only Turkish company listed in the Fortune 500. Founded in 1926 by Vehbi Koç, Koç Holding A.S. is the largest industrial conglomerate in Turkey and one of the largest companies in Europe. The current honorary Chairman of Koç Holding A.S. is John Hopkins University graduate, Rahmi Mustafa Koç, son of the founder. The American Hospital in Istanbul and others in a health network throughout Turkey have been endowed by the Koç family.
The Koç family has an estimated fortune in excess of $8 billion with wide ranging investments throughout the Turkish economy. The Koç children have all been educated in local western preparatory schools and received university and college educations in Turkey for the daughters and in both the US and UK for the sons. They are exemplars of a self made fortune, secularism and conducting business activities without the taint of corruption of the type currently roiling the Erdogan government.
Following the putdown of the Gezi Park protests, Erdogan went after the Koç family as they had criticized his actions. He used the Turkish equivalent of their Internal Revenue Service to go through the Koç Holdings financial books with the proverbial fine tooth comb. They imposed less than $100,000 in questionable fines, as a result of this clearly punitive investigation.
Thus, in order to get back at the Koç family and their endowed chain of hospitals, whose professional medical staff adheres to both the Hippocratic oath and UN human rights standards, was the travesty of this questionable law. President Gulen who signed the new emergency medical treatment law is both a co-founder of the AKP with Erdogan and a follower of Gulen.
Turkey’s EU Accession impasse
Premier Erdogan traveled to Belgium on the weekend of January 19, 2014 for two days of meetings with the European Union, European Council and European Parliament leaders and representative. This was the first time in five years that they have met to discuss accession to membership. He had a busy schedule that began on Sunday, January 19, 2014 with a mass meeting of 10,000 Turkish ex-pats in the Flemish town of Hasselt. His entourage included Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, State Minister Said Yazicioglu, new EU chief negotiator Egemen Bagis and others in his delegation who met with EU officials.
Turkey applied for membership in the EU over 18 years ago. However, the objections raised by major EU members, German Chancellor Merkel among them, about Turkey’s human rights policies have slowed things done to a veritable halt. Then there is also the history of the July 1974 Turkish invasion and seizure of the northern area of Cyprus in reaction to the Greek coup overturning the Cypriot EOKA government led by Archbishop Makarios II. The coup was in furtherance of ENOSIS – Union of Cyprus with mainland Greece. The northern enclave was established following a UN cease fire becoming the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey. The southern Republic of Cyprus is an EU member.
Erdogan petulance about resolution of the long simmering dispute over Cyprus was evident in a report by the Cyprus Mail on his news conference with EU Parliament (EP) President Martin Schultz on January 22nd.
Speaking to reporters, Erdogan said during his visit to Brussels that he refused to listen to proposals for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus, noting that this was offered in the Annan plan ten years ago but was rejected by the Greek Cypriots.
He added it was a mistake to let Cyprus join the EU after the Annan plan rejection.
On the current peace talks, he claimed Turkey has always been constructive in its support to the Turkish Cypriots, calling on Greece to do the same with the Greek Cypriots.
“Our fundamental principle is a federal structure based on two founding states. The acceptance of anything outside this is in any case out of the question,” he was quoted by Turkish Cypriot media as saying. For his part, Schulz commented that the Republic of Cyprus joined the EU representing the entire island, and called on Erdogan to accept this situation.
Erdogan thought he had turned the corner and had momentum for EU accession. However, the trail of corruption and force majeure issues roiling Turkey domestically were front and center. A Reuters dispatch noted the acrimony at a joint news conference with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels on January 21st. The public exchange was nasty:
“It is important not to backtrack on achievements and to ensure that the judiciary is able to function without discrimination or preference,” European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told Erdogan at a joint news conference that respect for rule of law and independence of the judiciary were basic principles of democracy and essential conditions for EU membership.
“Instead of communicating this (criticism) through the media, we should handle this in our bilateral talks through our relevant ministers,” Erdogan said at the news conference.
Erdogan Faces Economic Headwinds
By late January the global financial markets were sending Turkey a warning. The WSJ reported:
Turkey, where a political corruption scandal and weak economic fundamentals have combined to punish the Turkish lira. The central bank has been unable to arrest its slide, and investors in Turkish assets are sitting on big losses. The lira slumped almost 2% Friday, to 2.34 per dollar. Turkish Bourse fell 4.4% in trading
Several big emerging-market countries, Turkey among them, are running large deficits with the rest of the world—on a broad measure they import more than they export. That makes them dependent on financing from abroad to make up the difference.
The Turkish Lira has suffered the worst trading loss relative to the US dollar since 2001. It lost 31.15% in value to the dollar over the past year going from 1.78 Lira to the dollar to 2.34. Moreover one third of that loss, 11.5 percent occurred since the uproar over the Turkish corruption probe went public on December 17, 2013.
Erdogan’s central bank may be faced with the daunting prospect of printing more money and thus creating significant inflationary problems in the economy. Foreign lenders will doubtless close up their purses and repatriate capital compounding Turkey’s difficulties and perhaps ending 11 years of economic growth under the AKP reign.
Today’s Zaman cited Muharrem Yilmaz, the President of the Turkish business industrialists association, TUSAID commenting:
….foreign investment will not be made in a country where there is no respect for the rule of law, where legal codes conflict with European Union rules, where public procurement lawshave been amended dozens of times and where companies are pressured through tax fines.
Erdogan’s Al Qaeda Connection Turns Up
In early January, the al Qaeda connection surfaced in 13 arrests made after 25 suspects were apprehended by counterterrorism police in raids in six provinces. Among those arrested was Ibrahim Sen, an important figure in al-Qaeda, a former Guantanamo prisoner. According to a Zaman Today report, counter terrorism police in Adana province found weapons and ammunition onboard two buses of the largest Turkish Muslim Charity, IHH Humanitarian Relief. Turkish counter terrorist police raided IHH headquarters near the Syrian border. Six of the Adana counter terrorism officers involved in the episode were reassigned after photos of the caches were distributed to the media. CNN reported IHH Secretary General Yasar Kutluay, suggested during a press conference that the group was innocent and the police raid was perpetrated by “groups infiltrated by Israel.” According to the Long War Journal (TLWJ), IHH has been designated by Israel as a terrorist organization since 2008 and more recently the IHH branch was designated as terrorist group by Germany in 2010. The US has not designated IHH a terrorist group.TLWJ noted that IHH operates with a budget in excess of $100 Million in more than 100 countries and is an affiliate of the Saudi–backed Union of Good a US designated terrorist group. Muslim Brotherhood preacher, Yusuf Al Qaradawi is the Group Chairman. Union of Good purpose was to raise funds for Hamas.
IHH was involved with the May 31, 2010 Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara incident. During the Free Gaza Flotilla episode, eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish American were killed, 10 others injured when the vessel was boarded by Israeli Naval commandos while off Gaza. During a visit to Israel in March 2013 by President Obama he suggested to Israeli PM Netanyahu that he make an ‘apology’ for the Mavi Marmara incident to repair relations between Turkey and Israel. Despite Netanyahu calling Erdogan to apologize Erdogan gloated over the apology orchestrated by President Obama as a witness. Ryan Mauro of The Clarion Project observed:
Erdogan extended his time in the spotlight by demanding that Israel pay $1 million to each of the nine casualties’ families, ten times the amount Israel has offered. He isn’t yet dropping his case against the Israeli generals involved in the raid, nor is he fully restoring diplomatic ties with Israel. And he’s announced that he will visit the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in what is a thinly-concealed victory lap.
This despite evidence of collusion between Turkish Intelligence Service MIT and IHH charity facilitating such transfers. Jon Schanzer in a Foundation for Defense of Democracies Brief about recent investigations into IHH covert support for AQ terrorism noted, “The IHH enjoys significant support from the Turkish government”
The Geneva II Talks in Montreux reveal Erdogan’s covert Al Qaeda support
It was a short hop from Belgium to Geneva, Switzerland where a plenary session was started on January 22nd in the suburb of Montreux between all the parties of interest, the US, EU, Russia, the UN , the Syrian Opposition Council (SOC) and the Assad regime endeavoring to end the bloody 35 month civil war. Turkey has been accused of sending weapons to the al Qaeda (AQ) opposition, while the Saudis are allegedly backing the Islamic Front and perhaps the Free Syrian Army. Just as Geneva II was starting AQ affiliate Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) seized territory across from Turkish border crossings at Oncupinar, Karkamis and Akcakale. ISIS could be poised to conduct attacks inside Turkey where bases of Syrian opposing Islamist militias might be based. A-L Monitor’s Turkey Pulse cited the embattled Turkish Justice minister, Bodzag suggesting to the contrary in the Ankara parliament on January 22nd:
Turkey has always taken the stand that has to be taken against al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations and will continue to do so from now on. But if there are those who are trying to show that the Republic of Turkey is assisting terrorist organizations, they should know these are useless efforts, because it is out of the question that such assistance is provided.
Turkey’s covert supply of weapons to AQ affiliates was front and center in the vigorous exchanges at the Montreux sessions between Syrian and Turkish Foreign Minister Moallem and Davutoglu reported by A-L Monitor:
Arguing that his country’s neighbors were “backstabbers,” Moallem accused Turkey of supporting terrorists and bringing matters to where they are in Syria today.
“All of this would not have happened if it had not been for Erdogan; they did not know that magic would turn against the magician one day. Terrorism has no religion,” Moallem said, referring to the problems Ankara is facing with jihadist groups in northern Syria.
Davutoglu responded to Moallem in like fashion: “We all know who the terrorists in Syria are. I wonder how the representatives of the regime think that they can deceive the entire international community with their lies. I don’t even intend to say anything in response to those who are so shameless after all their heinous crimes against their own people. History will judge them very badly”.
The appearance of supplying AQ-linked opposition has given Erdogan’s regime a black eye. It is no wonder that Turkey’s President Gul has called for a ‘recalibration’ of its Syrian policies.
The US has no comment on Erdogan’s tyranny in Turkey.
For the past two weeks in late January 2014, the matter of domestic turmoil has come up at the Daily State Department Press Briefings in Washington, DC. In a January 23rd session, effectively the responses were the proverbial “no comment.” Note this exchange between State Department Deputy Spokesperson Ms. Maria Harf and a questioner:
QUESTION: Turkey. I asked a couple of questions last week. Just to follow up those questions. First, how do you view the current unfolding corruption case in Turkey? It has been five weeks now.
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been following Turkish domestic developments in the wake of the corruption investigations. As we’ve said repeatedly and I will repeat again today, we are not going to comment on those investigations beyond reiterating our support for the strong desire of Turkey’s citizens to see all investigations conducted in a fair, transparent, and democratic manner. I think as you heard the Secretary say earlier this week, the United States is not and will not become involved in Turkey’s domestic politics. I think we’ll leave it up to them to have those conversations.
Today’s Zaman interviewed Dr. Fevzi Bilgin, the director of the Rethink Institute, in Washington, DC. He observed that nobody in Washington is buying the Turkish government’s conspiracy theories. “We increasingly see bitter editorials and op-eds in major newspapers. The tone of discussions in Washington think tanks is extremely critical.”
Premier Erdogan may face a denouement in the upcoming March 2014 municipal elections in Turkey. That result could be materially affected by how the Turkish economy fares given continuing governance problems arising from the corruption investigations and the internecine battles between two former Islamist allies. Stay tuned for developments.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.