Interview with Mr. İlhan Cihaner: “The Political Landscape, Problem of Justice, and Media Ethics in Turkey”
The Honourable Mr. İlhan Cihaner is currently a Member of Parliament as representative from the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Before taking his seat in parliament, Mr. Cihaner was a prosecutor in the provinces of Adana and Erzincan, however, during his tenure in Erzincan, circumstances surrounding his investigations into İsmail Ağa and Fethullah Gülen groups led to his arrest and he was held prison being accused as a member of the Ergenekon terrorist organization. After a long process where he was not formally charged with a crime, he was released from detainment. For ResearchTurkey, he has evaluated the general outlook of politics in Turkey today along with his engagement with it from his position in Parliament.
How was the process from going from a prosecutor becoming a member of parliament? Could you please summarize this process briefly?
This is a process that cannot be summarized at all. I resigned when I was the prosecutor of Adana; however, before that when I was the prosecutor of Erzincan, I started an investigation into İsmail Ağa. This investigation was not the only investigation of mine which was not appreciated by the government and the Ministry of Justice. Most people generally know about the investigation that I launched into İsmail Ağa and the Gülen sects. However, after a certain point, and what is less known is that investigation turned into investigation of the structures and processes by which donations were collect from those society, and how they ran their educational activities without any permission. In other words, the investigation process started with İsmail Ağa sect but soon expanded towards investigating the Fethullah Gülen sect and some other groups like Süleymancılar.
In your investigation, was İsmail Ağa sect under the roof of Fethullah Gülen sect or was it revealed after your inquiries?
During the early part of my investigation, there was no proof that there was an organic connection between İsmail Ağa and Fethullah Gülen. I had understood that they were undertaking similar activities from the evidences revealed in the İsmail Ağa investigation; however, there was no proof that they were somehow related to each other or that they were a part of an organization. All in all, the investigation had yet to really start. Concurrently, there was another investigation about the business practices of a gold mine in Erzincan, İliç. This investigation was also launched by the prosecutor there who was following my instructions, as I had asked him to start an investigation due to a complaint letter that was published by a local newspaper. This investigation was extremely important in the sense that, after a while, I manage to obtain some solid evidences that some of the public officials were being bribed by officials from the gold mine. Nonetheless, the Ministry of Justice replaced me on this investigation and gave it to the inspectors. Within the İsmail Ağa sect investigation, I found some evidences of some Ministers` engaging in activities that can be regarded as a criminal offense; coupled with that during the same period, there were investigations I was conducting which I assumed were not appreciated by the government. For example, one of them was about an argument that claimed that during Sivas and Maraş incidents, weapons were distributed in the nearby villages.
Do you mean during the turbulent times after 1978 and 1993?
There were some claims that weapons were distributed to nearby villages after 1978 and again after 1993. I believe that hand grenades and military supplies that were found in a lake were among those weapons distributed.
Military supplies in which lake?
During our investigation it was uncovered that military supplies which were claimed to have been belonged to the Army were found in a lake. In Erzincan, as mentioned, there were some hand grenades and bullets, and military supplies found in the lakes. Although, some of the equipment was very old, it was a far-fetched possibility that gendarme might have owned those kinds of military supplies. Also, interestingly enough, on some of the supplies there was even the stamp of Turkish National Police. I had suspicions that these supplies were distributed during 1978 and 1993. Of course, these issues could not be investigated sufficiently. During that period, I had such type of investigations; however, especially the Ministry of Justice, was quite disturbed by this investigation as the Ministry was worried that it itself could be found responsible for this situation.
While you were undertaking the investigation, your name was mentioned with an arbour which was claimed to be built illegally?
It was not only an issue of the arbour. While the aforementioned investigations were carried in a way that the government and Ministry of Justice did not really appreciate, the Ministry of Justice even sent some inspectors to check and review my actions. These inspectors controlled all of the signatures I put, all the people I talked to, in other words, they checked all breathes I took. What they found was the arbour was in fact built with the permission of the municipality and whose costs were partly covered by the court employers themselves. Furthermore, these inspectors claimed that I took a Saturday flight for a meeting that took place on Monday without any legal foundation or substance for this claim.
Do you think that they were diverting your attention with some unnecessary details?
Exactly! However, when I continued the investigation in spite of all this, the government figured out another way to baulk my investigations. They tried to hinder the continuation of the investigation by sending letters without any names so that the investigation would be carried to Erzurum. Both the Ministry of Justice and even the accused wanted the case to be carried to Erzurum.
Who was the Minister of Justice by then?
When we first began in 2007, it was Mr. Mehmet Ali Şahin, however he was soon replaced by the current Minister, Mr. Sadullah Ergin.
The Prosecutors of Erzurum started an illegal process and when there was an arrest, the process which is well known by the public was experienced.
Due to the news published during that process, public opinion was nearly sure about you being a member of the Ergenekon terrorist organization. How do you evaluate all these “serviced” news?
If we have a look at the “serviced” news, we need to take into account both media ethics and the legal side.
For instance, there was a rumour like ‘F-16 war crafts flew during the trial to menace the court’ spread as precise information in social media?
Such a thing did not happen. Well, we need to give a lot of thought to this. Why? I was undertaking an investigation. One of the suspicious names in this investigation was the owner of one of the newspapers, Yeni Şafak. The owner of Yeni Şafak Group was regarded as suspicious within my investigation. Therefore, bias news against my investigating were constantly published, which of course do not fall in line with correct media ethics.
Can we say that the news published after the investigation show that investigation itself was disliked?
Such news was mostly published in the Zaman Newspaper, which is owned by a group that is a part of this investigation. Such news started to be published firstly in one or two newspapers. There is a striking example. For instance, the Yeni Şafak newspaper claimed that the memorandum took place in Bursa. There was a full page article about it. Yet, afterwards, it was understood that there was in fact an investigation about Ahmet Albayrak in Bursa. The claim that caused the launch of the investigation was that that there was the pulling of sand without official permission to do so. Following this revelation the newspapers tried to batter the prosecutors in Bursa. However, after a while, it was understood that news claiming that the memorandum was signed in Bursa was not widely accepted by the society, and similar news did not follow.
And how is Albayrak`s relationship with the government now? Are you following it?
I do not have any special interest in this topic. During my investigation, I was following it as it was germane to do so. But again, one of my areas of interest was that the Ministry of Justice bought some apartments for its employees from Albayraks’ under inappropriate and illegal conditions. It was alleged that the Albayrak Group sold apartments for an exaggerated rate; additionally, these apartments were lacking experts and they did not have proper licence. All these probably tell us something about Albayrak Group`s relationship with the government, and this was going to be one of the issues to be further investigated.
During the interview, while you were talking about “sects”, you told that they were playing “shadow boxing”. Could you please tell us more about what you mean by this?
In democracies, in constitutional states, all members of government should be accountable. The most essential definition of democratic states is that the governed choose the governors, and can replace them if they choose through the free and fair elections. We have voted and chosen a government for it to regulate the judiciary, administration, and the realm of social life. However, if we end up with some other mechanisms that are neither accountable nor transparent instead of the government, when we want to search for the reasons of some issues, then it means we are overlooking the government’s responsibilities; in other words, we are playing “shadow boxing.” If you are criticizing the Gülen sect, who are you going to criticize? Are you going to criticize the editor-in-chief of Zaman Newspaper, or “the brothers at the district” or the President of the Writers Association or the manager of a private teaching institution? Of course, we can also discuss all these as social realities or criminal organizations; however, if we are dealing with politics, it is not true to mention only the sects all the time. That is what I wanted to discern during my investigations.
In fact, it is also does not find its place within the political science. If we are talking about a “power”, then we need to know what kind of a “power” we are talking about. All in all, power is at the hands of the governments. Lobbying efforts should be analysed in line with the government, however, with other motives mainly.
This is the main source of problem indeed. I mean, one is generally sure that power is being used; however it is not something that you can be fully aware of. The debate about the National Intelligence Organization showed this very clearly. Even the government and the individuals who form the government accepted that the police organization in Turkey is controlled by Fethullah Gülen sect, and that this sect is currently challenging even the government. Now, if we accept this as reality, the government should henceforth resign. It means that the government is not sovereign. There was a discussion about sect and the government being two different lanes leading to the same target. From a political point of view, this annihilates the legitimacy of the government. Social scientist and enlightened people of the society cannot say a word since their voice has been curtailed for a long time; however, it is under these circumstances that have made the government not legitimate, and its legitimacy has been cleared off. If the government is not performing the representation work given by the society; if it is frequently creating controversial subjects like imprisoned parliamentary members and having a high per cent of seats due to the high election threshold, also is creating problems of legitimacy. Now, if the police organization is controlled by another source of power; and especially if the judiciary is also controlled by some other sources; and if this “other source” is able to bargain with the government, then we can say that the system we have today is not parliamentary democracy, but rather the open seizure of power by competing groups or sects.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Why did you choose to come back to Grand National Assembly while you were conducting investigations after the litigation process?
At that time, (I mean after the evacuation), I was assigned to Adana Public Prosecution Office. I witnessed to the processes that the country was experiencing and I began to clearly observe the existing law-justice problem. The change process, in fact, brought the legal and justice system under interrogation. The judicial system was not already so bright. The judicial system which in fact was supposed to protect the civil rights and liberties has not been able to protect people from widespread torture. Besides, it was neither able to protect citizens from the executions during the coup d’etat periods nor from severe violation of rights and other unsolved events. In fact, the legal system not only failed to provide the rights and freedoms in the field of criminal law, but it has also failed to deliver justice to citizens in the field of property rights. I have seen very little chance in making my own projects successful and implementing them, while continuing to be a part of this mechanism. The alternative was of course entering politics. And when I say politics, I do not mean to enter into the parliament. Because of that reason, I resigned at the time of the general elections.
And surprisingly you entered into the Parliament from Denizli?
The base of the Republican People`s Party has pointed out such an expectation, and afterwards, I chose to do so.
How long has it been, 8 months…?
Yes, it has been 8 months now.
During your 8 months in the Parliament, what can you say about the functioning of the commissions preparing the bills?
I think that today’s Parliament has discernible difference from previous assemblies. In particular, the Prime Minister has a very different design in his head. The society has demanded certain investigations, and if you are watching the logical extensions of his speeches, it is understood that those who voted for the opposition parties is not a part of the “Prime Minister`s nation”.
The distinction between the public and the nation has been a topic of discussion for many years.
I say it independent of that public/nation distinction. The nation that Prime Minister takes references is a mass of folks who the Prime Minister is always referring as: “The nation wants it this way.” He is protecting and supporting some of the investigations by claiming that “The nation is asking for accountability.” Since a large part of the citizens oppose to “4+4+4” education law, that means they are not Prime Minister’s nation. Tekel workers also wanted to use their democratic opposition rights; yet, in that event as well, the Prime Minister did not take those people into account. I think that the Prime Minister has a national project that is transcending those people who voted him. Currently, this situation is very dangerous for people living in Turkey. This situation is making all parliamentary mechanism anti-democratic. I believe that in the events surrounding the proposed laws pertaining to the National Intelligence Organization, many AKP deputies did not know the contents of the proposed law. Similarly, for example, deputies from AKP are claiming one thing in the commission about 4+4+4 education systems, and the Ministry of Education is claiming a totally different thing about the very same article. Another example of this occurred in a TV program, as the Minister of Education was asked a question and his replied was: “I do not know. You should go and ask it to the person who presented the offer of the change in law.” Now, if we put them all together we see that the mechanism that can provide the reconciliation between the representatives sent to the parliament by the society and the choices is totally broken down. In the past, the decisions of the Presidential Board that determine the agenda of the parliament would be agreed upon rather than compromise. However, this is not the case anymore. AKP is not allowing any single law, which it does not appreciate, to be accepted at the parliament. It is as if the Prime Minister is giving orders and his soldiers are implementing these orders. Therefore, in the commissions, there are no constructive discussions. For example, in the commission I participate, deputies from AKP, they even do not use their right to express their thoughts. Most of the deputies come and only say that they are against a particular law without making any further comments. This type of event is taking place very frequently in parliament in order pass the laws dictated by the Prime Minister as quickly as possible. Therefore, right now, the Parliament is not only experiencing legitimacy problems, but also it is no longer functional from a legislative point of view. Upon all these, the Statutory Decrees has also added an anti-democratic perception that the majority can do anything in the parliament… This is why I believe that it is meaningless to call commissions as parliamentary commissions.
Can the Prime Minister alone decide such comprehensive law amendments?
Let’s suppose that he is the determinative will, since this will is not a mechanism within the assembly. It is neither a commission, because you understand from the attitude of other AKP parliamentarians regarding the laws. Law proposals are prepared at a different atelier, which is probably an advisor, and who is close to the Prime Minister. Someone who has received a little law education should not be able to say yes to the law on the National Intelligence Organization. Academic members in the National Education Commission naturally know that legislation should not be performed this way. Moreover, what these members had written in the past are 180 degrees opposite of what they are doing currently. However, at this point, they forget about all of those like toy soldiers and take a position that they seek an excuse for whatever the leader says. Thus, living activities have turned upside down. Rather than handling a problem from scratch and creating a solution for it, a mechanism that can make excuses for what has been dictated as a solution out of a clear sky, the process, has been turned upside down.
You have trial on June 15. Is there a possibility for you to turn out to be a member of a terrorist organization?
(Laughs) Now, nothing can be anticipated in Turkey. I am asked about this regarding some other trials; for example, especially about some detainees, who should have not been ever detained in the first place. The question regarding the detainees on when they would be released remains suspended. Every answer that can be given is speculative. In my opinion, within the scope law, there should not be such trials Other than that, there may be interpretations excluding the law. Or we may make a deduction based on the things they have or have not done previously. Legal security in Turkey has been destroyed and no deductions can be made regarding that trial as there is a gap in the trust of the rule of law.
Assume that sentence decision is made, and then your parliament membership may also become invalid.
I do not think that this trial would be concluded in such a short time. Anything we might say would be speculative, because there is no legal security.
You are also following Balyoz and ODA TV trials. What would you say as a lawyer?
There are many common points in the trial processes. Ergenekon trials, The Revolutionary Headquarters, Balyoz, ODA TV, Military Spying, KCK, and to some extent Match-Fixing trials are all conducted by special court-martials, where the investigations of September 12 and February 28 can also be included. These trials are political and are directly related to the components comprising the government. There is no efficient investigation for these trails. Efficient investigation is: if there is a claim of crime, you need to reach its logical extensions. In the Balyoz trial, many people have been arrested because of the understanding that ‘if you had not approved, your name would not have been written there’. But, for example regarding February 28, why has no responsibility been attributed even to the people who gave those orders. For example, former Prime Minster Erbakan who was a part of the process of February 28 and was initiated in those decisions was left alone. Or while the journalists of February 28 are acted against despotically, while why the journalists who supported September 12 are not even touched? Secondly, no favourable evidence is collected. In an investigation, favourable evidence regarding the suspect must also be collected. Another common lawlessness is how the media is used as a medium. The entire process is interpreted based on the claims, no connection is being established with defences, and anything is said based on indictments. However, the condition of Turkish jurisdiction in the past is obvious. These essentials must be carefully considered. For example, while we need to stay aloof from indictments in a country where there are people acquitted after ten years of imprisonment, we handle indictments as indisputable facts. There are violations of rights in all of those trials. Well, I am telling this without any regard to the content of the evidence; there are primary serious lawlessness issues. Another common and determinative point is that the government is very efficiently a party in these trials. In the trials in which the government is efficiently a party, even though those people were criminals, justice cannot be realized. We basically saw this in Deniz Feneri investigation. Moreover, in the Sivas Trial, the Prime Minister stepped out and said that the children of the imprisoned were very upset. They speak about their pains rather than understanding the pains of the families of the people suffered there, identification with the relatives of the imprisoned is being established. The opposing party’s criticism of a trial is one thing, and the government’s utterance of those words is another. Moreover, if you include The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, we may not expect a just conclusion in any of the trials we have stated here.
Political fields are restricted in courts via the trials. For example, KCK investigation is explicitly a political genocide. Municipalities under CHP’s governance, not only İzmir but also the practices that are the examples of social democrat municipalism such as handing out milk or fruits to poor children have officially been criminalized.
Do you remember that the free water practice in Dikili has also been a subject of trial?
You may call that some municipalities in İstanbul, namely: Maltepe, Kartal, Kadıköy and Dikili. These are attacks against the field of politics, actually attacks that can be called political genocide. For this reason, I think the most urgent problem of Turkey is the problem of justice.
What is the Turkey you anticipate after six months?
I think AKP is facing four or five great problems. One notable problem is their international politics, as AKP’s international politics has completely failed. In particular, the politics that AKP initiated with the principles of: a “model country for the Middle East”, with “strategic depth”, and with “no problems with neighbours” has exploded in its hand. In this sense, the issue of Syria comprises a threat for it may turn into geographical and political nightmare for Turkey. Also, there is a possibility for AKP to lose its entire prestige over the continued violence in Syria, both are very dangerous. When you take into account the Prime Minister’s speeches, he may even enter a fearless adventure to prevent those outcomes, but also may be dragged down there too. I always give the example of Germany’s invasion of Poland to better explain this situation. On the eve of the breakout of the Second World War, Nazi soldiers were wearing Polish soldiers’ uniforms and attacked a German police station and claimed that the Polish did it as a fabrication to declare war on Poland. Soon, we may find ourselves facing a similar provocation in the near future. It has been understood that imperialism creates a balance there and Turkey seems to be supporting that balance right now. I think that this would be a reckless step and would create an unbalance, and in that sense Turkey can be stuck in a field of international politics.
An another issue the AKP government faces is that the macro-economic indicators signify that the economy has become unsustainable, as the economy swelling rather than growing; thus there are constantly having astronomic mark ups in economic data such as growth. Also, the gradually failing health policies that the AKP claimed to be successful and the conflict with reforming the educational system all will create a further economic and social risk. Currently, among the problems AKP will be facing is that the opposing parties will be getting closer in drawing attention to these problems, which will show the damage AKP has done to this country, and the people will see this damage.
Nonetheless, the greatest problem facing Turkey today is that it has become incredibly polarized. Rather than preventing this, AKP tries to strengthen its government by creating a tense environment with its racist and hateful speeches and constant attacks. I consider all of those as risks. However, although media or communication channels are closed to the opposing parties, I believe that opposing parties are not totally ineffective. In the coming days, I believe that AKP will not be so comfortable due to several risks and issues I just outlined
If the government is a bell shaped curve, based on my observation, I believe that the curve has been exceeded.
I believe that we will be also be stuck in the Kurdish issue. In particular, it is a fact that the APK government has refused to establish cooperation with the local governments in the Eastern provinces and have let Van to nearly become a ghost city. The government has not made a single statement regarding Uludere Massacre to the public for all this time (who gave the order there), and are responsible for that. Also this government has been moving away from BDP gradually, indicates that AKP will get stuck regarding the Kurdish problem. KCK operations in particular are the indicators of the fact that AKP is not on the side of permanent peace. Take this example, this government has negotiated with the armed organ of this political movement; yet has imprisoned the unarmed political figures such as; Büşra Erşanlı, Ragıp Zarakolu, Zeynep Kuray and other mayors. A cabinet with a Minister of Domestic Affairs such as İdris Naim Şahin cannot produce anything in this sense. I have always been hopeful for our country; the moment my hopes decreased to the lowest level was when İdris Naim Şahin did those things to that citizen. It is not because of İdris Naim Şahin, that the worst is the people standing by and applauding him and the fact that there is not a mechanism to make him resign. Especially in a city like Erzurum, where public would give reaction to such case, if İdris Naim Şahin can walk on the streets, for an instant I thought that we may need to lower our hopes of a lasting peace. Although this situation is not totally hopeless, but by not reacting against such an ethical conscientious event is worrying. However, I am hopeful for all the opposing parties of Turkey, we, primarily as CHP, will transform this process into hope. We will leave these days behind, we have no other choice.
Thank you very much for this interview.
P.S. This interview has been conducted by Research Turkey Ankara Representative, Ms. Özge Mumcu.
© 2012 ResearchTurkey. All rights reserved. This publication cannot be printed, reproduced, or copied without referencing the original source.
Please cite this publication as follows:
Research Turkey (May, 2012), “Interview with İlhan Cihaner: “The Political Landscape, Problem of Justice, and Media Ethics in Turkey””, Vol. I, Issue 3, pp.42-50, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London: Research Turkey (http://researchturkey.org/p= 1071)