The EU and the US saw the deviation of the ruling AKP too late, Turkish journalist says
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
There is a consensus that an autonomous power domain within the state cannot be tolerated. This will put pressure on the Gülen cemaat to transform itself. A soul searching is awaiting the cemaat, says Ergin. Hürriyet photos, Sebati KARAKURT
The EU and the US failed to detect the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) deviation from democratic values early enough, according to journalist Sedat Ergin. The Europeans and the Americans did not help Turkish democracy with their complacent attitude, Ergin said, adding that on the contrary this attitude inflicted damage.
What has been happening since Dec. 17?
Turkey has entered a new period. This is an open ended process, we don’t know how it will unfold. But when it comes to its final stage, it is very probable that the political landscape and the legal framework will look somewhat different than today. Sometimes a constellation of events triggers a momentum that changes the course of history. Therefore, I see a new momentum that will profoundly impact Turkey’s political and legal structures in the future.
Can you elaborate?
The government’s narrative of the past decade has been seriously altered with the crisis. The paradigm of a political equilibrium based on the sole dominance of the AKP has been altered. On the question of what will replace it, I have no doubt that the AKP will still be the prevailing actor in the new landscape that will come to the surface. But we will encounter a new alignment of power where the power concentration in the hands of the AKP will be contained to a certain degree. This will make Turkish politics more balanced.
However, we will pass through a very turbulent period in the short term. All the scenarios that have been bought for the short term on the future of Turkish politics have been upended. There is a huge degree of uncertainty. We do not know what will come out of the corruption waves. We have a fog in front of us and we are not sure what is behind the fog. Most probably a few weeks ago the prime minister thought his election to the presidency was granted. Probably, he no longer sees with similar clarity. So we will pass through a period of uncertainty where all scenarios will have to be revised.
Another trend is that there will be a serious contention in Turkey, a tug of war. We will witness a power struggle between the government and a religious community that has penetrated the bureaucracy. It will be a severe conflict from which both sides will emerge with losses at the end.
Are you claiming that the governmental alliance has dissolved for good?
Initially, I thought that the government and the “cemaat” (Gülen community) would reach a modus vivendi; I thought they would refrain from an all-out exchange where they used their entire arsenal. I thought the interests of both sides would dictate that an escalation should be avoided. But it seems that the conflict has already passed that stage.
The power bloc behind the government is dissolving and this has also brought something to the surface. The fact that the cemaat was setting up a parallel state within the state is an issue that has been debated for a long time; in fact, back in the 1990s the military was complaining about this.
It wouldn’t be wrong to anticipate a huge contention when the government tries to cleanse the state cadres of the cemaat, especially within the police and judiciary. This has become a zero sum game. And we should not underestimate the power of the cemaat. It would be wrong to think that the government will totally eliminate this type of community; the Gülen cemaat will still somehow have its presence in the new balance of power, but its impact within the state will have been relatively weakened. However, its global network will remain intact.
We do see a consensus coming around in Turkish society that an autonomous power domain within the state cannot be tolerated. This is not compatible with a true democracy where the rule of law prevails. This will pressure the cemaat to transform itself, to become more transparent, and to redefine itself and its methods. A soul searching awaits the cemaat in the coming period.
What happened that led to the breakup of the partnership?
Problems emerged after the 2011 elections when Erdoğan secured 50 percent of the votes. He did not want to share his powers any longer. By nature, he does not like to share power; he likes to call all the shots. But the cemaat started to show a tendency of expanding its space within the state apparatus where it already had a strong presence. This led to tensions and prime minister felt the need to stop it. Power, at the end of the day, is indivisible. There were also a series of mistakes committed by the cemaat. In this respect, freelancing was a major problem. Certain operations by the police and the judiciary were conducted without the knowledge of the government. There was a stage when things went out of control. Some of these operations began to move against the government.
For example, the attempt to arrest the head of the intelligence organization, Hakan Fidan, was a major rupture between the AKP and the cemaat back in 2012. We should also not underestimate the visits to Fethullah Gülen by some prominent members of the business community. Why did they feel the need to go to Pennsylvania and visit him? The prime minister knew about it and had misgivings. This has led him to feel concerned that another power center was emerging. At the end of the day, this autonomous power structure within the state became unacceptable for the government. The Dec. 17 operation was the final straw on the camel’s back.
Some believe that the government is right in targeting the Gülen cemaat, as who else would do that job otherwise. You can punish the AKP at the ballot box, but not the Gülenists.
A state has a Constitution, laws, and public officials have to abide by the Constitution, laws and the directives of the elected political authority. If this is not the case and if public officials act under directions given by authorities outside the state apparatus, for example those of a religious community, then we have gone beyond the boundaries of legitimacy in state affairs.
But there are those who also think the government is taking action at the expense of democracy.
We are faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, there are corruption cases against the government.
Obviously everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but some of the allegations are too serious to ignore. The fact that the prime minister couldn’t hold onto three of his ministers is proof that these allegations are too serious to ignore. If Turkey is a democracy where the rule of law prevails, we need to see that these charges are properly investigated and brought before the courts.
But when we look at how these corruption cases came to light we become confused. There is a moral dilemma. On the one hand there are corruption allegations that look credible and that need to be investigated, but on the other hand we see that these allegations emerged as an outcome of a power struggle between the government and the cemaat. Acknowledging this fact should not lead us to ignore the corruption charges.
So this is the big test for Turkey: a) the corruption charges need to be investigated; b) autonomous structures within the state need to be abolished; c) this should be done within the boundaries of the rule of law, and the effort here should not lead to further authoritarianism on the part of the Erdoğan government.
This looks like mission impossible.
Yes, it is mission impossible. I hope we can overcome the present chaos. We have some guiding principles. We need to make sure that we remain committed to the principles of democracy and the rule of law. In the short term, I see only turbulence ahead. But in the long term I’m convinced that something good will come out of this chaos. There is a consensus looming on the horizon that acknowledges the indispensability of an independent and impartial judiciary as the key to most of our problems. This crisis once more underscores the imperative that an independent, impartial judiciary is vital for the future of democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms in Turkey. The growing consensus today in Turkey is that there are major flaws and shortcomings in the judiciary. The prime minister, the speaker of Parliament, opposition figures – you name it - almost everyone agrees with this premise. If we had confidence in the effectiveness and the impartiality of our judiciary, probably we would have been less concerned about our success in overcoming all the present intricate problems facing us.
To sum up, the way out is to have an independent and impartial judiciary. It is sad that we are still far away from that goal. It is time perhaps to revitalize the EU reform process. Turkey should get back on track on its EU trajectory.
The government and the power bloc behind it had been perceived to be very successful in the West.
This was a delusion. The U.S. and the EU bought the AKP’s narrative. Indeed, between 2002 and 2008 there was a consensus to prioritize EU reforms. After the AKP’s vote reached 47 percent in the 2007 elections, checks and balances mechanisms in Turkey started to erode and a serious problem of power concentration emerged. The West failed to detect the change that surfaced during the second tenure of the government after 2007.
There is an assumption that the change in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan towards authoritarianism started in 2011. But this does not correspond to facts. The change started back in 2008. We could see from that time how Erdoğan was shifting to an illiberal mindset. This went hand in hand with his shifting away from EU perspectives. The tax fines on the largest media group of the country, aiming to silence independent media, were a flagrant indicator of this. You can elaborate the list. Unfortunately, the Europeans and the U.S. failed to detect this deviation early enough. Everyone is talking about corruption today, but when we wrote about the Light House corruption scandal back in 2008, the prime minister called for a boycott of the Doğan Group’s papers and later levied a hefty tax penalty totaling almost $3 billion on the group. Our Western friends turned a blind eye to this attitude, which was not compatible with even the minimum standards of liberal democracy. I do not see this as excusable. As they had blinders, they did not see the similar steps that were incompatible with the values of liberal democracy.
Lack of sound judgment. There was a scenario that they had bought and they did not want to listen to anything that would refute that scenario. If they had shown a principled attitude, the EU and the U.S. could have contained the authoritarian tendencies of this government. Because they have not done so, the prime minister was convinced he had carte blanche. He thought, “whatever I do will be accepted by the West.”
The EU and the U.S. did not help Turkish democracy with their complacent attitude; on the contrary, they inflicted damage. Poor judgment on the part of the EU and the U.S. has been a factor in bringing the problems we face to this dimension. Relations with the U.S. are nearly at breaking point, although the prime minister received a red carpet welcome six months ago in Washington. Don’t you think there is something schizophrenic in this? It seems that something went wrong.
Who is Sedat Ergin ?
Born in Istanbul in 1957, Sedat Ergin received a B.A. degree in International Relations from the Faculty of Political Sciences at Ankara University. He has been active in journalism since 1975 when he began to work for the Turkish News Agency as a general assignment reporter. He served as diplomatic reporter at daily Cumhuriyet’s Ankara office from 1979 to 1987. In 1987, he joined Hürriyet and was assigned to Washington, D.C. where he was stationed for almost six years. He was appointed Ankara Bureau Chief for Hürriyet in 1993. He served in this capacity for twelve years, during which he focused on internal and external Turkish developments. In March 2005, he was appointed as the editor in chief of Milliyet. He held this position until October 2009 when he returned to Hürriyet as a columnist. He was awarded the prestigious Sedat Simavi Journalism Prize twice (1997 and 2003).