Turkey: The Ship Heading East

Turkey: The Ship Heading East

Turkey has conducted new elections on 30th of March. These elections were actually ordinary local elections but political polarisation was so intense, the discourses were so hostile that these elections went beyond its course and have become “vital”.

As in all the countries that have not resolved internal conflicts or could not have constituted societal congruence, in Turkey as well, the elections have always been tense. However this time, then tension has really been sky-high. Because there were claims of terrifying corruption claims about the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and these were supported by very convincing voice recordings, police investigations and indictments. Four ministers of the government have had to resign due to these claims. Even Prime Minister’s son was under accusation with trying to hide huge sums of cash from police.

The claims were not only on corruption, there were others too. Voice recordings on Prime Minister’s ordering newspaper and television administrators, intervening in news and comments, getting journalists fired and even making the 80 year old boss of a major newspaper cry on the phone were made public online[1]. As per these recordings, the Prime Minister were trying to design sport clubs’ administrations, deciding on the sale of valuable public assets, personally allowing construction projects that are against law and were making sure that people that support him own newspapers and television channels by collecting hundreds of millions of dollars from building contractors[2]. In previous years, there were also claims that the Prime Minister himself set up the pornographic tape[3] trap against the chairman of the second largest party in Turkey that led the chairman to resign. People were watching these scandals that were coming up one by one everyday like a soap opera and were waiting curiously for the next scandal that would surface next day.

The publishing of voice recordings belonging to a top level meeting in the Turkish Foreign Ministry constituted the peak point of this crisis. Because; (i) the meeting in the Foreign Ministry building was really top-secret; (ii) one of the attendants of the meeting was the head of the institution that is responsible for preventing this kind of spying activities, the undersecretary of Turkish Intelligence Agency (MİT), (iii) the online published content of the meeting was shocking: According to the recordings, very top level authorities of the state wanted to start a war with Syria and were discussing some ‘dangerous’ provocation options that would make this look reasonable and rightful.

The phone tapings that constituted a ‘major crime’ were denied by their addressees but were never belied. Prime Minister Erdoğan and government officials who think that the recordings were published by the members of Gülen Gemeinschaft (cemaat)[4], instead of trying to be acquitted by the judiciary, blamed the Gemeinschaft. According to them all the recordings were product of the team of Fethullah Gülen who lives in Pennsylvania; this team were trying to destroy the government following the orders of ‘some foreign powers’! The government’s accusations could have been credible if Fethullah Gülen and his Gemeinschaft had not supported the AKP rule for years before![5]

As shocking claims were poured around, the governing party started some fatal moves in order not to not to beaten by this heavy agenda and tried to stop any investigations in place. They were removing the policemen who work in the investigations, preventing investigations of Parliament regarding the already resigned ministers and were continuously saying that all these were the work of ‘external forces, the people who do not want Turkey’s goodness, Gülenists’. In the end they were the ‘interest lobby’ who was after higher interest rates!

The government whose all these absurd defensive moves were proved wrong in the digital environment and made fun of, drew its last and most devastating weapon and shut down Twitter and YouTube! This way, Turkey fell away from the Western Camp, a part of which she tried to be for sixty years, drew out of ‘hybrid regimes’ list and took her place among ‘despotic regimes’[6].

On top of that, everything above mentioned is just a summary of the last two-three months. Turkey has been witnessing the rise of societal opposition movements since last May. The ruling party has been in the target of a series of societal protests since last May’s ‘Gezi Park’ protests. The extravagant police force reaction of the government already cost the lives of eight citizens and injured hundreds more all over the country[7].

This highly tense political dance that started in last May ruptured economic indicators as well. Turkish Lira lost value against US Dollar and Euro, the stock exchange lost value and foreign investors’ expectations from the country as well as their risk appetites were affected negatively.

This was the environment in which the 30 March’s local elections took place. During the whole course of their election campaigns, the opposition parties criticised the government on the corruption and despotic tendencies they have created. The cries of ‘Thief Prime Minister, Prime Thief Tayyip’ were heard unexpectedly loudly in the square, even for a country like Turkey that got used to elections tensions. Political analysts were foreseeing that the government is going to be thought ‘a good lesson’, lose the major cities’ municipalities and at least 10 percentage points of votes because only the corruption claims were much stronger than the ‘Koskotas Files’ that removed Turgut Özal from power[8].

However this was not the case in the elections. The election results, although it looks like the ruling party has lost 4 or 5 percentage points of votes[9], are far from being a ‘success’ for the opposition parties, especially after such heavy claims. AKP government did not suffer a heavy loss in the number of municipalities they hold, when the seriousness of election campaign’s claims is considered, it can be said that they got away with virtually ‘no damage’. Nowadays, since the Election Day, hundreds of political analysts are trying to interpret this situation.

When it comes to the politicians; Turkish politicians are experts on one thing: Interpreting the election results to their benefits! There is no limit to the variations and statistical tumbling they can do on very simple mathematical results. This has been the case this time as well; when you look at their statements, Prime Minister won, main opposition party won, the second opposition party won, Kurdish separatist party won. Furthermore, since the whole campaign is based on ‘theft and corruption’ and the ruling party did not suffer a considerable loss in votes, now, they would be considered acquitted in the eyes of the electors (even if not in the courts). The victorious image of the Prime Minister with his family members in the party HQ (no matter how much it looks like a underdeveloped dictatorship’s image) on the election night reflects this confidence. After this no prosecutor can investigate corruption claims and no courts can judge the ones who are responsible. Naturally this is a crooked situation. The ban on online environment has been approved as well as the ‘revenge operation’ that the Prime Minister openly declared to start.

Why did the events turn out this way? Why did not the claims that would have removed a government easily and kept the ones who are responsible for them in prison for years in any Western country affect the Turkish government (almost at all)? There may be hundreds of analyses on this, many different theories may be produced and all can be right in one sense. Some cheatings may have occurred during the elections, actually it has been claimed there are immense misdoings in the capital Ankara, but these are not enough to explain this ‘intactness’. The discourse of ‘people are voting for them because they are distributing free pasta and coal’ is totally shallow and childish. The real reason lies in societal genes: Turkey is country that is becoming more conservative every day; after six hundred years of Muslim empire tradition, the chance of secular Republic reforms against it was already low especially as they were not supported as much in those years either. They will diminish for sure eventually in time. The holiness, infallibility, superiority that is imputed to the leader, cover all mistakes, the commitment of the people is not decreased (even if they realise the corruption). This, surely, is not understandable in a Western democracy but Turkish democracy does not conform with the political science books’ templates either anyway.  A prominent philosopher[10] explained this situation very well as he was criticising our ‘Westernisation efforts’ about sixty years ago: “Turkey is a ship heading to East, some naive passengers on it always run West non-stop!”

Hıfzı Deveci, Retired Member of the State Supervisory Council, Public Administration Specialist and Author

Please cite this publication as follows:

Deveci, Hıfzı (April, 2014), “Turkey: The Ship Heading East”, Vol. III, Issue 4, pp.6-10, Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=5816)


[1] According to the records, the newspaper’s boss who is also an important business man was subject to Prime Minister’s harsh telling off due to the fact that the transcripts of the secret meeting of Turkish government officials with PKK were published in the newspaper and cried on the phone saying ‘For whom I am involved in this business’.

[2] Again according to the voice recordings, the Prime Minister collected around 50-100 Million Dollars each from the building contractors who undertook significant projects in order to create a pool of 600 Million Dollars to buy a newspaper and TV station for a supporter.

[3] The Chairman of the Republican People’s Party, Deniz Baykal had to resing after the publication of his illegally recorded video. In the same period, ten of Nationalist Movement Party’s high rank officials were the victims of a similar set-up and nine of these were not elected again. A recent recording claimed that the Prime Minister himself published those images.

[4] Calling themselves Cemaat (Gemeinschaft) or “Hizmet (Service) Movement”, this establishment is not a political party or civil society organisation but is constituted of individuals who got together within the basis of “devotion”. The leader of the movement, who actually is a monk (imam) Fethullah Gulen, following many court legal trials on him, lives in Pennsylvania, United States since 1999. Gulen has been listed as “One of the top 100 most influential living people” by Time Magazine in 2013.

[5] According to the common thought, Fethullah Gulen Movement has supported AKP government since its establishment. It is believed that the evidence in Ergenekon – Balyoz trials that started in 2008 were also produced by Gulen Movement like today.

[6] YouTube and Twitter are banned in only a few authoritarian regimes like North Korea and China. In the Democracy Index 2012 booklet that was published by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Turkey was among the “Hybrid Regimes” list but with the recent bans Turkey has fallen down to “Authoritarian Regimes” category. https://www.eiu.com/public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=DemocracyIndex12

[7] The peaceful protests that were against the opening of a in Istanbul Taksim for construction that started in May 2013 and against which the government and the police reacted recklessly, have turned into country-wide anti-government protests, police violence in the events that went on for months had caused casualties and many injuries.

[8] In 1991 Elections, the toughest challenge against ANAP government and Prime Minister Turgut Ozal was corruption. Opposition leaders, Suleyman Demirel and Erdal Inonu underlined this in the mass rallies referring to the “Banker Koskotas” which came to surface in Greece at the time and promised electors to question similar cases in Turkey. Indeed, the corruption claims brought Turgut Ozal down from power.

[9] AKP has received %45 of the votes. Due to the atmosphere’s “General Election” characteristics when compared with 2011 General Elections, that year’s 49.9% has dropped by approximately 5 percentage points. However if 30 March Elections were General Elections, AKP could have still formed a single party government with a loss of 30-35 MPs.

[10]   Celal Yalınız (Sakallı Celal) D: 6 June 1962


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