From Zarrab to Jerusalem

From Zarrab to Jerusalem

Whether rich or poor, staunchly secular or devoutly Muslim, these days most Turks are preoccupied with Jerusalem’s destiny. They no longer seem to care about a key federal trial in New York between the American government and… Who exactly knows?Whether rich or poor, staunchly secular or devoutly Muslim, these days most Turks are preoccupied with Jerusalem’s destiny. They no longer seem to care about a key federal trial in New York between the American government and… Who exactly knows?

The trial was originally dubbed “the U.S. vs. Reza Zarrab.” But then Zarrab changed sides, becoming the American state’s key witness against his erstwhile comrades at the Turkish “Association of Watch and Shoebox Lovers.” The case then became “the U.S. vs. Mehmet Hakan Atilla.” Now that Atilla has become a witness, who exactly is on trial?

What was at the heart of the trial? The former head of Turkey’s state-run bank Halkbank and former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, former Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan, Halkbank Deputy General Manager Halkbank Hakan Atilla, as well as Levent Balkan, Abdullah Happani and God knows who else were all listed as defendants in the case.

The indictment alleges that nine (and possibly more, depending on how the case progresses) defendants conspired to lie to U.S. officials about international financial transactions undertaken for the Government of Iran. Those defendants allegedly used the U.S. financial system to launder bribes paid to conceal the scheme. Here is a list of the charges:

a) Conspiring to use the American financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran and other Iranian entities, which were barred by U.S.-imposed sanctions.

b) Lying to U.S. government officials about those transactions.

c) Laundering funds in connection with those illegal transactions, including millions of dollars in bribe payments to senior Turkish executives, bankers, and others used to facilitate the scheme

d) Defrauding several financial institutions by concealing the true nature of these transactions.

I have not seen a single episode of the “Designated Survivor” series. At some point in the series, an absolute leader appears, similar to the leader we talk so much about in this country.

My friend and colleague Can Ataklı said he has not felt so demoralized since the days of the “Midnight Express” film. “Midnight Express” was a film about torture and other forms of ill-treatment experienced by a drug trafficker in Turkish prisons. In “Designated Survivor” apparently there are scenes between an American president and the president of a NATO-partner country. 

The NATO-partner country hosts some precious bases without which Russia would gain some serious advantages in its struggle for dominance in the Middle East. Aware of the vital role of the bases on its territory, the president, who goes by the name of Fatih Turan, has been blackmailing the U.S. Turan is also pressing hard for the extradition of a U.S.-based academic, whom he accuses of masterminding a coup attempt against him.

In sum, the series reflects the American perspective of recent events in this country.

Indeed, the standoff between Turkey and the U.S.-led Western community of nations is getting more and more serious. Austria’s new coalition government recently said it would seek allies among other EU members to support its bid to cancel EU accession talks with Turkey. This is by no means a friendly gesture. 

Since March the Dutch ambassador has been unable to return from “vacation.” The Turkish government has shunned the pro-democracy and pro-freedom of expression remarks of various EU ambassadors. In the context of these developments, should an observer not ask whether Turkey and Europe are friends, allies or enemies?

It is no secret that Turkey’s Western allies have been dreaming, along with many Turks, of a Turkey without the leadership style of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Jerusalem standoff with the U.S., the Zarrab case, the Austrian coalition government’s nasty decision, and other crises between Turkey and the West, either signal a frustrated Turkey dismantling its Western vocation, or a West pushing Turkey away, a country they regard as “corrupt” and “autocratic.”

Opinion, Zarrab, Jerusalem, Yusuf Kanlı