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Erdoğan’s Self-Inflicted Crisis

PRINCETON – The dramatic battle between Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its erstwhile ally, the “Hizmet” religious movement led by the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, has begun to expose the massive rule-of-law violations that these two groups employed to consolidate their power. Prosecutors widely thought to be Gülen sympathizers have launched a wide-ranging corruption probe that has so far ensnared four ministers and reaches all the way to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son.

Erdoğan and his advisers have now hit back. They accuse the Gülenists of mounting a “bureaucratic coup” and engaging in a wide range of dirty tricks, from “planting evidence” against generals who were convicted last year of plotting to overthrow Erdoğan’s government to “extensive unauthorized wiretap[ping].”

Turkey’s landmark trials of the alleged military-coup plotters are now widely recognized for what they were – witch hunts based on evidence that was flimsy at best, and often simply concocted. The trials were stage-managed by Gülenist police, prosecutors, and media. But they had crucial support from Erdoğan’s government, which put its weight behind them. The Erdoğan camp’s current effort to wash its hands of these trials and put the full blame on the Gülenists is disingenuous to say the least.

Erdoğan once famously declared that he was the prosecutor on the “Ergenekon” case, which was supposedly aimed at exposing and combating the Turkish “deep state” composed of military officials and secular nationalists, but that targeted a wide range of political opponents. When the horrifying – but entirely fabricated – documents behind the generals’ fictitious “Sledgehammer” coup plot came out, Erdoğan lent credence to them by saying that he had been aware of such plots. His ministers attacked the defendants and pilloried the lone judge who issued a pre-trial ruling in their favor.