How Turkish intellectuals and int’l observers helped the Gülenists
Dani Rodrik, an award-winning economist at Harvard, is the son-in-law of retired General Çetin Doğan, one of the victims of sham trials against the military masterminded by Gülenists.
From the day Doğan was arrested in 2010, until his release in 2014 after serving prison time, Rodrik and his wife Pınar waged a battle trying to convince domestic and international audiences. “We were shunned and denounced by the Turkish intelligentsia and ignored by much of the rest of the world,” Rodrik wrote in his blog in June 2014.
His long article provides a valuable read to explain perhaps the current hesitation in international circles to see the nefarious face of the Gülenists. When the trials against the military started, international observers were blinded by their prejudice against the military tutelage in Turkey. But they were also influenced by the Turkish intelligentsia, whose (often justified) dislike of the deep state served as a firewall against the truths.
It was the country’s intelligentsia who legitimized these sham trials, according to Rodrik.
“Had prominent intellectuals not lent credence to the charges and supported the prosecution it would have been very difficult to stage these trials and bring them to their preordained conclusion,” he wrote and continued:
“What united these intellectuals was the view that the military and its control of state institutions – what they termed military tutelage - posted the greatest obstacle to democracy in Turkey. This perspective would allow them to overlook the growing list of transgressions of the rule of law and due process as long as the usual suspects - military officials and ultranationalists - were at the receiving end. Worse still, it would blind them to the deeply corrosive influence of Gülen sympathizers within the police and the judiciary. What the intelligentsia applauded as democratization would eventually turn out to be the replacement of military tutelage by a Gülenist mafia.”
Rodrik then wrote in detail how daily Taraf led the media campaign to legitimize the cases. His efforts to show how the evidences were fabricated went to deaf ears, not only with Taraf editors but also with other journalists as well. “What made the experience surreal was the disregard for the plain facts of the case that many leading members of the intelligentsia exhibited…This may have been because there was so much disinformation floating in the air, spewed by Gülenists’ outlets. But these authors were impervious to the corrections we would try to make.”
Rodrik then talks about the role of the international observers.
“When well-intentioned outsiders – American and European politicians, reporters, and human rights specialists – looked for information and insight on Turkey, it was largely to these same individuals that they would turn. Viewed as brave souls resisting military dominance, the Turkish intellectuals who supported the prosecutions would become the darlings of Western media and foundations.
These individuals would in turn present their foreign interlocutors with an appealing narrative. Here finally was a popular Muslim politician who was opening up the country to democracy and sending the military back to the barracks, despite his Islamist roots. This narrative gained further strength from Erdoğan and the Gülen movement’s successful manipulation of democratic institutions and procedures towards non-democratic ends – the use of nominally independent courts to undermine rule of law, the disinformation generated by what appeared to be a free press, and the pursuit of the widely-shared goal of ending ‘military tutelage.’
The weakening of old taboos associated with the traditional secular military elites – against Kurds and Armenians in particular – would also cloud the real picture, making it difficult to distinguish a power transition, pure and simple, from democratization.
All of these help explain – if not quite justify – why so many outsiders viewed developments in Turkey with rose-tinted glasses for so long.
When I talked to Western observers about the reality behind the military trials, I kept bumping against an attitude that had hardened. As the European editor of a major international newsweekly would tell me bluntly: ‘we support the AK [Justice and Development Party] government against the army, and especially against the Ergenekon lot.’ What was true of Western media, policy makers and think tankers was also true of human rights organizations. The military were the traditional culprit in Turkey’s human right register, with a long record of abuses against Kurds in particular. Outfits such as Amnesty International generally supported the political-military trials and refused to get engaged when I and others approached them about investigating the rights violations in the Sledgehammer case. The idea that it was the rights of military officers that were now being violated was one they could not quite handle. The established narrative that painted the military as the villain not only made it difficult for wellmeaning outsiders to comprehend the nature of these trials, it also made them unwitting accomplices in the fraud being perpetrated.”
Today no one in Turkey doubts that these trials were a plot by the Gülenists to weaken the secular establishment. There are, however, still some among international circles who continue to show skepticism about the Gülen network. Perhaps they find it hard to admit that they have made a misjudgment. Sadly today those international observers who turned a blind eye to Rodrik are now trying to make a case in defense of those Turkish journalists and representatives of NGOs like the editors of Taraf.