Sunday, November 23, 2014

Erdoğan Is Not Turkey’s Only Problem

PRINCETON – Türkan Saylan was a trailblazing physician, one of Turkey’s first female dermatologists and a leading campaigner against leprosy. She was also a staunch secularist who established a foundation to provide scholarships to young girls so they could attend school. In 2009, police raided her house and confiscated documents in an investigation that linked her to an alleged terrorist group, called “Ergenekon,” supposedly bent on destabilizing Turkey in order to precipitate a military coup.

Saylan was terminally ill with cancer at the time and died shortly thereafter. But the case against her associates continued and became part of a vast wave of trials directed against opponents of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies in the powerful Gülen movement, made up of the followers of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.

The evidence in this case, as in so many others, consists of Microsoft Word documents found on a computer that belonged to Saylan’s foundation. When American experts recently examined the forensic image of the hard drive, they made a startling – but for Turkey all too familiar – discovery. The incriminating files had been placed on the hard drive sometime after the computer’s last use at the foundation. Because the computer had been seized by the police, the finding pointed rather directly to official malfeasance.

Fabricated evidence, secret witnesses, and flights of investigative fancy are the foundation of the show trials that Turkish police and prosecutors have mounted since 2007. In the infamous Sledgehammer case, a military-coup plot was found to contain glaring anachronisms, including the use of Microsoft Office 2007 in documents supposedly last saved in 2003. (My father-in-law is among the more than 300 officers who were locked up, and my wife and I have been active in documenting the case’s fabrications.)

The list of revelations and absurdities goes on and on. In one case, a document describing a plot directed against Christian minorities turned out to have been in police possession before the authorities claimed to have recovered it from a suspect. In another, police “discovered” the evidence that they were seeking, despite going to the wrong address and raiding the home of a naval officer whose name sounded similar to that of the target.

Yet none of the trials has yet been derailed. Most have had the support and blessing of Erdoğan, who has exploited them to discredit the old secular guard and cement his rule. Even more important, the trials have had the strong backing of the Gülen movement.

Gülen lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, where he presides over a huge informal network of schools, think tanks, businesses, and media across five continents. His devotees have established roughly 100 charter schools in the United States alone, and the movement has gained traction in Europe since the first Gülen school was founded in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1995.

Back home, Gülen’s followers have created what is effectively a state within the Turkish state, gaining a strong foothold in the police force, the judiciary, and the bureaucracy. Gülenists deny that they control the Turkish police, but, as a US ambassador to Turkey put it in 2009, “we have found no one who disputes it.”

The movement’s influence within the judiciary ensures that its members’ transgressions remain unchallenged. In one well-documented case, a non-commissioned officer at a military base, acting on behalf of the Gülen movement, was caught planting documents in order to embarrass military officials. The military prosecutor investigating the case soon found himself in jail on trumped-up charges, while the perpetrator was reinstated. A senior police commissioner who had been close to the movement and wrote an exposé about its activities was accused of collaborating with the far-left groups that he had spent much of his career pursuing; he, too, ended up in jail.

The Gülen movement uses these trials to lock up critics and replace opponents in important state posts. The ultimate goal seems to be to reshape Turkish society in the movement’s own conservative-religious image. Gülenist media have been particularly active in this cause, spewing a continuous stream of disinformation about defendants in Gülen-mounted trials while covering up police misdeeds.

But relations between Erdoğan and the Gülenists have soured. Once their common enemy, the secularists, were out of the way, Erdoğan had less need for the movement. The breaking point came in February 2012, when Gülenists tried to bring down his intelligence chief, a close confidant, reaching perilously close to Erdoğan himself. Erdoğan responded by removing many Gülenists from their positions in the police and judiciary.

But Erdoğan’s ability to take on the Gülen movement is limited. Bugging devices were recently found in Erdoğan’s office, planted, his close associates said, by the police. Yet Erdoğan, known for his brash style, responded with remarkable equanimity. If he harbored any doubt that the movement sits on troves of embarrassing – and possibly far worse – intelligence, the bugging revelation must surely have removed it.

The foreign media have focused mainly on Erdoğan’s behavior in recent months. But if Turkey has turned into a Kafkaesque quagmire, a republic of dirty tricks and surreal conspiracies, it is Gülenists who must shoulder much of the blame. This is worth remembering in view of the movement’s efforts to dress up its current opposition to Erdoğan in the garb of democracy and pluralism.

Gülenist commentators preach about the rule of law and human rights, even as Gülenist media champion flagrant show trials. The movement showcases Fethullah Gülen as a beacon of moderation and tolerance, while his Turkish-language Web site peddles his anti-Semitic, anti-Western sermons. Such double talk seems to have become second nature to Gülenist leaders.

The good news is that the rest of the world has started to see Erdoğan’s republic for what it is: an increasingly authoritarian regime built around a popular but deeply flawed leader. Indeed, his government’s crackdown on dissent may well have cost Istanbul the 2020 Olympics. What has yet to be recognized is the separate, and quite disturbing, role that the Gülen movement has played in bringing Turkey to its current impasse. As Americans and Europeans debate the Gülen movement’s role in their own societies, they should examine Turkey’s experience more closely.

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    1. CommentedDuygu O

      At the end of this article we still do not know why Gulen movement has started a war against people who are being tried (or are waiting for trial) under the "Ergenekon" case. I find this article weak for the reason that it states facts but does not prove the assertions made at the beginning.

    2. CommentedDuygu O

      At the end of this article we still do not know why Gulen movement has started a war against people who are being tried (or are waiting for trial) under the "Ergenekon" case. I find this article weak for the reason that it states facts but does not prove the assertions made at the beginning.

    3. CommentedDuygu O

      At the end of this article we still do not know why Gulen movement has started a war against people who are being tried (or are waiting for trial) under the "Ergenekon" case. I find this article weak for the reason that it states facts but does not prove the assertions made at the beginning.

    4. CommentedStamatis Kavvadias

      I cannot say there is enough evidence, clear mind, or high-level view of Turkish politics in this article, and I do not see why a prof. of social science would write such an article. Obviously, personal involvement has to do with this. Not much contribution to understanding Turkey, I think.

      States inside states are usual in representative "democracies". Banker lobbying is the state inside the US. That would be a more interesting subject.

    5. CommentedGiorgos Kallis

      And I thought Turkey was doing just great:

    6. CommentedMurat ASLAN

      Well, ı have to say that ı have found Mrs.Esen's perspective fair, until a point. First of all politics requires a side, you have to choose one or start a new one. I am a supporter of Mr. Erdoğan and I always say my side because I believe this makes me more dependable. Mrs. Esen ı have to say that blocking the media while the Gezi demonstrations was seemed to me , in the first 3 days, awkward but ı have got an opinion after a while that showing the people what is going on in Taksim, Beşiktaş or Kadıköy , where the demonstrations was made, could lead a chaos. Because when you show such a demonstrations and unacceptable slogans,they were asking Mr. Erdoğan's resign, behaves, violence and this kind of stuff could rouse some reveng feelings versus the protestors. However, that is my idea ıf you say otherwise would be more beneficial ı can say nothing. And another claim of yours was that he makes some decisions without any approval but the crazy project was a an election project and our people vote for it and gave the goverment to the AK Party. If you are saying that he tries to make the education system more "religion-based" than people do not vote if they are not agree but %99 of the population is muslim and they might demand such a thing. If you do not agree do not vote for him but there is one thing is clear as white that Mr. Erdoğan never made any action against secular lifestyle and If he makes ı won't vote for him.

      As ı see you in your profile you are stduying at UCL and you probably know what is United States alcohol policy. I have to say we should carry out the exact policy, not the less.

      Yes ı was in Istanbul and ı knew what was exactly happening.

      I won't argue anything with some kind of " they were standing there". Please!!! how many bus had been burned ????

      Thank you, at least you accept his work for country.

      No more Gezi Demonstrations debate because ı am bored. I am sorry.

      Why don't you ask to Mr. Erdoğan why we don't have our cars, our computers, our mobile phones, our planes or why we don't have any spectacular ınventions ??Why dont you ask If we do not have these kind of stuff than why are you sleeping? Why don't you work harder for this country? This is his mistakes he does not work as much as ı want but there is no one who can work more than him. He has to work harder and harder than anyone else because my country does not stand where it deserves!!!

      Everything is black and white in this world.

    7. CommentedOyku Esen

      I must say the article was not as shocking to me as some comments by my fellow Turkish citizens below.
      I understand Mr. Aslan's demands of more proof from the author but I cannot say I don't detect a pro-Erdogan tone in his comment, one that exalts a PM so much more to call others 'enemy of Erdogan'. As an economics student myself, I am aware he has worked very hard to make our country a better place, and you just need to walk around in Istanbul to see some of the impacts yourself. But the word 'dictator' is used for him, not because he is a dictator but because some of his actions scarily resemble to that of a dictator, or create this oppressed feeling on public sphere. He goes on initiating 'cilgin' (crazy) projects without the approval of his people. He, actually it's not fair to just criticise him so he and his AKP party, interferes in social life through bans on alcohol, through censorship on TV and through diluting secular public school system to make way for more religion-based schools. Maybe you can find fair points in all of these, but I would like to ask you, how/why do main news channels ignore when there is tens of thousands on the streets? As an educated person who knows what news channels do, do you think this is normal behaviour by them? What is their job or responsibility to the public? Also, what are they so afraid about? Why would they make a news piece out of rising price of the cucumber and not the chaos happening in their backyard?
      Also Mr. Iskin's comment that AKP is 'the only liberal and democratic' party out there is lost on me, considering that we have the biggest number of journalists in jail. Until Gezi protests it was impossible to even utter a sentence of disagreement about Erdogan or his AKP party, which is probably a main reason for the 'dictator' tag. People are entitled to an opinion and they shouldn't face jail time or violence by cops for voicing them. It is also why I find Mr. Aslan's theory about Gezi quite unpersuasive. One chooses to believe conspiracy theories more easily when one feels his actions are powerless. You say you know what was happening, I ask you where you there? Because given the fact that media did not start broadcasting until day 3, when they could no longer not broadcast, do you really believe their editorship of the news should be your primary source of information? Let me humanize myself for you so you don't assume I must be part of a coup or something. I am 20 years old, I have never been political before, I don't really have anything to gain by this, seeing how I am just a student. Police started using tear gas on people who were just standing there. I gather that standing on a busy place by big numbers might create disruption to that place but that is the whole point of a protest and people have a universal right to congregate and shout slogans. What harm could words do against a police force? I understand it got out of hand later on but I believe people lost their cool when they were angered to believe they don't even have a voice on public matters. We should not condemn violence by anyone, that includes the police as well as the ones burning barricades.
      I wouldn't discount AKP's whole political career by just single events. I am glad that army won't be involved in politics or the people who choose to wear headscarves have access to a career. But nothing is black and white.

    8. Commenteddonna jorgo

      Erdogan is leader of Turkey ..
      i see in your article you don't touch the seriouse problem economic Turkey have ?
      but i think Turkey politic is problem in general for world (they are jet inn empire dream ) before 550 y but with modern style ..
      they thinking have one important (thessis ) in world .(because the Bosphore) ..
      so is not just Erdogan//// IS the politic they like to play ..
      ( Erdogan can not move from USA) ...

    9. Commentedhari naidu

      You've once again found some peculiar raison d'etre to delete my comment on Dani's propaganda against current developments in Turkey.

      WHY? What are you afraid of - your own incompetence as an editorial Syndicate?

    10. CommentedMurat ASLAN

      Thanks for the questions Mrs. or Mr Yılmaz.

      Firstly, my ID is enough to give a speech for my people. I see, the author has right to write what he thinks and a TURK does not have ??? The author indirectly blaming the half of the Turkey because half the country support Turkey so half the Turkey is a problem for Turkey ??? As you can easly understand from my writing, ı did not talk about the secular part of Turkey.

      Secondly, ıf you have some suspicous about the elections lets wait for it.

      Thirdly, ı have studied economics and ı know what numbers mean. Please do not try to give me some lessons about economics. Let me show you some datas but probably you will say these are all lying is wrong. You probably see the rate of growth for the second quarter for Turkey it is %4.4, totally for the first half it is%3.7, and Turkey has been growing up for 45 mounths. You said that all the factories had been sold to strangers, according to marxist theory ,yes, it is a problem but actually marxist theory is problem!!! Nominal datas and real datas are expressing together in Turkey ıf you want to look at both of them that is not hard at all.

      If you are saying that Mr. Erdoğan is probably the richest man in Turkey than prove it. If you can not, don't mention this ever.

      I know whats happening in Turkey and Gezi demonsrations was a trial for coup in Turkey. Do not tell me that Mr. Erdoğan gave orders to kill the protestors because ıf an order would be given ıt would not stay at 6. We have seen that opposition media has blamed police as a murderer of Ahmet Atakan but it is clear he just drop from the upward. Which one of these people shut in the head? Just one of them who was trying lynch a policeman with a group of size 15-20 people and he got shut with a police bullet. Yeah it would be better ıf they dont try to kill each other but blaming police and not saying anything about protestors behave's is hypocrisy. Protesting generally does not mean BURN everything and start a chaos. I have seen many people who were against Mr. Erdoğan. They do this because they are versus his ideolgy but he did not make any movement aganist his opposition, actually his oppositions tried to take him down illegally. In this view sorry my friend this is a democratic country whether you want to take him down you have to take him down with elections which you will not be able to do with it, so you try todo it with other illegal ways.

      If you claim Mr. Erdoğan is a war-mongering than you have to claim the same thing for Mr.Obama, Mr. Cameron and so on. Moreover ıf you are blind to massacre in Syria than there is nothing to tell.

      However no one can be muslim and secular at the same time but this does not mean muslims will block seculars lifestyle, as it seems in Turkey it did not happened. But the opposite actions that muslims were blocked to live how they want to live is a truth of Turkey. Thank God we do not see those kinds of things anymore except in Middle East Technical Universty. Some blocking to muslims lifestyle has been seen in this contemporary universty.

      Lastly, labeling yourself as a humanist does not make you humanist. After all blaming, burning and attacking the policeman you are a humanist and what the policemans are?? A monster? Your belief to Mr. Erdoğan's supporters words is not my concern. If you are right lets wait for elections and see the results!!!

    11. CommentedDevrim Yilmaz

      I would like to ask a couple of easy questions to Murat Aslan. Initially, who gave you to right to talk on behalf of all nations living in Turkey? Secondly, how can you be sure that Erdoğan will win with the rate of over %50? Thirdly, did you forget his speech about secularism and Islam in 1994 ("One cannot be a Muslim and secular...")? And finally, who says that there is a huge development in Turkish economy, you as an economist? I am very sorry my friend but, I am totally disagree what you've said about all these things. I think you have no idea what is happening in Turkey right now. Six people have been killed by the police due to Gezi demonstrations since June and your president Erdoğan said that he gave all the rights to the police which literally means he's ordered the murders. He is also dying for starting a war with Syria [it is really weird to think about attacking a Muslim country as a Muslim man (Erdoğan) because the holly book Koran prohibits fighting two Muslim countries, you probably know better than I do]. Regarding economic development, what you've seen is all about nominal terms so it is unfortunately a big trickery. Also, everyone knows that he sold everything (factories, hotels, many operations related with water, electricity and so on...) to the foreign companies so the economy has always hot money flows. If you are talking about the economy of his pocket, yes you are definitely right he made a great movement. I think he is one of the richest men in Turkey in spite of his ten thousand Turkish Liras salary. I do not even want to talk about Gulen movement which is a terrible illness without and within the country. After all, you may ask who I am. First of all, I am a humanist, and then an economist with PhD, an anti-Kemalist (for the people who do not know what Kemalist means: mainly the followers of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and they are more nationalist and military supporters) and a Turkish citizen. To sum up, as you mentioned we Turkish people do not believe in lies as we do not believe in Erdogan's and his supporters' words.

      Notes: these are my personal opinions.

    12. CommentedCenkler İskin

      It is really biased article and seems inspired by author's personal life and feelings. Turkan Saylan was not jailed or accuse because of her contributions to modern medicine or another science. She was utterly one of the leaders pro-coup front in Turkey and mostly was always calling/begging army to intervene politics and sack the elected AKP. During her tenure as the head of CYDD (the foundation she worked), she was the brain for the repressive state to harass and torture muslim students in universities. She prepared lots of reports for "secret/deep" Turkish state to halt the lives of innocent Muslisms. As for Ergenekon case, it is not only word documents of course. I am sure that none of the readers will believe it: it was more than Microsoft Word or other Office Programs. It was an obvious coup plot where army was planning to attack many buildings and city centers to create chaos which would help them to take the power. Furthermore, in their plots, they were also planning to kill several prominent members of Turkish society in order to pro-vacate people. And it is unfair to label AKP tenure as authoritarian since they are the only liberal and democratic players in Turkish political life. The author may remember Kurdish language was not allowed publicly in Turkey before AKP. Students were denied to enter universities because of their headscarves and most of them had to leave their schools. Political parties were banned, politicians were jailed. All was before 2002, not too early. There were torture in the police stations, the army was involved in the all corners of politics. So, before digesting this article, you need lots of caution.

    13. CommentedMurat ASLAN

      Well, first of all it is clear that you have been given the exact deceits from the secularist part of Turkey. Police reports show everything but secularists deny it because they believe they always do the right thing. In this point it is known that you are like an enemy to Erdoğan.

      Whatever you wrote, whatever you think or whatever you do there is no foreign people to affect Turkish people thoughts. This is all lying is wrong. If you have evidence that some informations was placed Turkan Saylan's computer please bring it and give us. You can not because there is no such an evidence or investigations because our instution called TUBİTAK has made a huge investigations and they have found the results. You are not the only one who can reach some informations, sir. The results were clear and secularist media was saying the same thing with you that evidences was placed by police but they could not prove it. If you have a real evidence bring them to Turkey you are a well-known professor and you can give it these evidence to Kılıçdaroğlu who is the opposition leader. Bring it or send it just let us have them...

      Secondly, if you dont mind,I would like to give you some advises,sir. If you want to see Erdoğan's fall do not write any opposite thing versus him because Turks generally do not believe strangers. Whatever you write you can't make any effect on Turks but for the other nations it is possible.

      Fethullah Gülen lives in US if you have evidence for that he makes terrible things for many countries or if he threats people's freedom you can report him to American justice. I believe and probably many people believe American justice, do not stop from now, report him and make the world a better place.

      There are many things to write but Turks believe and know that these are all about lies so I do not have any fear about your impress in my country but ı am writing here for foreign people. I want them to know what the truth actually is... And ıf you watch the next elections ,an unfortunate for you, you will see that Erdoğan will win with the rate of over %50. This is for city hall but he will win, you can not stop it as The Economist could not achieved!

      Lastly, Erdoğan is a well-known leader in the world, whatever he says all the world can reach his speech from Anadolu Agency. I believe that foreign people are not blind at all. And if you can prove that Erdoğan is a dictator, behind the assumptions, you can easely report him to the UN. If you can find even one single action aganist secularist's lifestyle you would be succesful. It would be the proof for opposition... Because he is getting more powerful in Turkey...

      In addition, Turks vote for Erdoğan because he made a huge development on Turkey's economy. Turks do not want to struggle with ideological conflicts anymore, we want to see a developed country and Erdoğan works for the exact thing. I know you have blamed Turkey's economy for many times but datas can be seen by everyone and to interpret the datas nobody has to be an economist.