Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Some thoughts on Turkey’s “Parallel State” and Corruption

Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has recently been marketing a new term for Turkish public consumption: the “Parallel State.” This of course is a term that bears a striking resemblance to the familiar term, the “Deep State,” which describes the once anti-democratic forces within the Turkish establishment that prevented the will of the people from being realized, achieving this through violent means such as assassinations and extrajudicial killings of Kurds. The deep state (derin devlet) of course, went hand-in-hand with Turkey’s history of coups, and the grasp the military once had over the state institutions, with its fate being sealed with the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials.

Following the unfolding of the events of the December 17 corruption probe, Erdogan was quick to attribute the probe as a work of the parallel state (paralel devlet). In other words, a new “state within the state,” had emerged within the Turkish bureaucracy, and the corruption probe was nothing less than a blatant attempt to topple his government. In fact, as far as Erdogan was concerned, this did not begin with the corruption probe, but actually with the Gezi Park protests. In his New Year’s Eve message, Erdogan stated that “In May 2013 when everything was going well, both domestic and external powers, which were jealous of our successes, started the Gezi protests and attacked the nation's hopes and the future and independence of our country. This movement was followed by a plot started on Dec. 17.”

Defining the parallel state however was much easier than the underground shady forces of the deep state, since from the beginning there was only one culprit: the once staunch ally of the AKP, the Gulen movement. Despite that tensions between Erdogan and the Gulenist movement became evident a few years back, its spiritual leader, the self-exiled religious preacher, Fethullah Gulen, never pulled his support for the government; however, during the last few months, as Erdogan took steps to consolidate his power within his party, the two camps seemed set on a course of collision, which hit new heights right before the breaking of the corruption probe.  

While there is a kernel of truth concerning the Gulenists' influence within state institutions (as I wrote in Haaretz), what is lacking in the parallel state thesis is that the Gulen movement has showed no signs of wanting to take power away from the AKP. In fact, up until a month ago, their main newspaper, Zaman, one of Turkey’s largest dailies, was still publishing pro-government op-eds, even if its editorial staff had grown more critical following the Gezi protests.

The claim that the movement was attempting to topple Erdogan, in what has been coined as a “judicial coup,” on the surface seems ludicrous; if the Gulenists had no plans to take the reins of the state, or did not support a power to replace the AKP, then what kind of coup is this? And, if Erdogan saw them as such a great threat, then why did he work hand-in-hand with them for the last eleven years, allowing them to become an integral part of the party’s makeup. If anything, Erdogan is a political genius; he clearly is not naïve.

Of course, this leads us to the main question, whether or not the Gulenists only crime (from the perspective of the AKP) was withdrawing its support from the government? Or, perhaps, was it due to the simple fact that Erdogan could not stand any criticism whatsoever, which the Gulen movement was increasingly voicing concerning both domestic and foreign affairs?

The Turkish government knows how to strike back against its opponents and it certainly has. Without any judicial process, hundreds of police and government officials (including prosecutors), believed by many as followers of Gulen, have been removed from their positions, threatening the existence of the rule of law. The weeding out process that we are witnessing appears strikingly similar to the February 28 process, also known as the 1997 “post-modern” coup d’état, when religious Turkish citizens, including many current AKP members, were removed one-by-one from public institutions due to the demands of the once strong secular establishment.  

While Erdogan continues to call foul play, few can deny that the claims of corruption, which on the surface seem to be evident. This was so eloquently expressed by Cuneyt Ozdemir in his weekend article in the Turkish newspaper, Radikal.  According to Ozdemir, most of those accused of receiving bribes or gifts (including government ministers) have yet to deny it; however, the same answer to accusations is repeated over and over again: this is the work of the parallel state! He then goes and highlights the need to separate the two accusations: bribes and corruption are one thing; while, the struggle against parallel state is another, reiterating that if there is such a parallel state it should be investigated accordingly.

What I will add is that until now the government has been unable to present little-if any-evidence of such a parallel state, even if there is no doubt that two camps are involved in a bitter fight. And, even if the government does find the “smoking-gun” that they are endlessly searching for, the recent curbing of judicial powers to obstruct further investigations into corruption affairs, much less the targeting of peoples’ careers based on belonging to a certain sect, is worrying to say the least.

Lastly, a strange twist has emerged from this discovery of the “parallel state.” Erdogan, and the Turkish government, has signaled their support for the retrial of army officers and citizens convicted in the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials, as a result of claims that they were unjustly judged by this newly founded parallel state.

Regardless if one agrees with the convictions (numerous legal experts continue to voice concern of the special court’s judicial transparency), the fact that Erdogan is willing to allow a retrial of these convicts shows just how upside down Turkish politics have become. Imagine the impossible: the ones accused of being the deep state will be retried due to the injustice done to them by the parallel state. The fact that AKP is willing to reverse what they considered their greatest victory in order to cover up the corruption within the government is a travesty.

Lastly, if Erdogan expects to find new friends from this political maneuvering, he will most likely be mistaken. What seems clear is he will likely be opening a new can of worms, which will add to the already growing instability of the Turkish political scene. Let us not forget, for many jailed in Silivri, some who might even be released pending retrial, as far as they are concerned, there is only one parallel state, and that is Erdogan and the AKP apparatus that landed them behind bars.

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