AKP attacking all opposition to ‘new Turkey’: Engineers
The AKP has come to see TMMOB as an opposition organization because it has moved to stop wrongful actions that are hurting the country, says Soğancı (L), the engineering chamber’s head.The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is moving to destroy all opposition its vision of an authoritarian new Turkey, according to the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB).
“The government’s project is to make a new Turkey, so they are trying to design everything – the media, the judiciary. It wants a Turkey that sides with it. They get 50 percent of the votes; they call it the national will and say, ‘People want this.’ No, only 50 percent want this; the other 50 percent do not want it,” said Mehmet Soğancı.
Tell us briefly about TMMOB.
Professional unions are defined as a public institution by our constitution. There are seven such professional unions with an academic title, meaning their members are university graduates. Each one has its own law, and we are one of them. We are neither a nongovernmental organization nor an association. The law was enacted in the 1950s. Engineers and architects need to be a member of TMMOB in order to work in this profession. We have 475,000 members. We have 24 chambers, below them there are branches in the cities with the required numbers of members. The general assembly is made of 100 members of each professional branches. Each of the 24 chambers elects one representative forming the 24-member board of directors.
The director of the board is elected for a two-year period. This is a very democratic structure.
When was the last time the law on TMMOB was amended?
Whenever there has been instability and chaos in Turkey, governments have interfered with the law. The last time the law was amended was in 1980 [after the Sept. 12 military coup]. Now we are again face to face with a new effort.
TMMOB has three missions: one is to enable the development of its members and facilitate adaptation to rapidly developing science and technology, as ours is a profession that enables the bringing together of people with science and technology.
In the 1970s we endorsed the motto: put science and technology in the service of the working nation, not the imperialists. A societal approach to the engineering profession has prevailed among the administrative cadre of TMMOB ever since.
This is an approach specific to Turkey. So in addition to our mission to define the codes of the profession, our second mission is to provide our views to central and local government about our profession. The laws says to develop views about the country’s realities and to transmit them to the political will; we interpret this as warning the government. Because of the wrongdoings of the politicians and in order to resist the transformation of Turkey into a place for land speculation when TMMOB sees the wrongs and the rights and says what needs to be done, it is seen as an opposition organization.
Third, due to Turkey’s specific situation, we take sides; that can be the Kurdish issue, Alevis’ problems or changes to the education system; we have a mission to be within the struggle for democracy.
So is it due to the fact that you are perceived as an opposition group that governments have attempted to change your law?
Ever since the 1970s, independent of which party is in government, when we see something wrong, we go to the courts. We never say “we are against something” until we do research about it. We had urban symposiums in 44 cities in over the past six years, which means we have taken a snapshot of 44 cities. We have been saying the biggest areas the neoliberal system will hit are cities and urban rights.
Yes, but the law was changed 30 years ago; perhaps there is a need to make certain changes?
If you ask us, of course, there are many shortcomings in the law and it needs to be updated, but no one is asking us. At the end of the day, this does not come out of the blue; this is a decade-long project. In addition to the law, there are decrees and with each new decree, the area of TMMOB’s activities are being narrowed. They are also trying to weaken the relationship between TMMOB and its members. The government’s project is to make a new Turkey, so they are trying to design everything – the media, the judiciary. It wants a Turkey that sides with it. They get 50 percent of the votes; they call it the national will and say, ‘People want this.’ No, only 50 percent want this; the other 50 percent do not want it.
There is a belief that the AKP has targeted TMMOB because of its role in the Gezi protests.
They say we took a principal role; that is not true but, it would make me happy if they think so. Look, we really cause pain in the government; we have had at least 200 court cases in the course of the past two years that ended against the government; we stopped the tenders of nuclear power plant projects; not a single nail has been driven at the Akkuyu nuclear power plant project for the past three years. We are the one which revealed that the Ak Saray [the new presidential premise] was illegal. A lot of people go to court as a result of our reports and win cases. If you think 150 to 200 cases are won every two years, multiply this by the duration of the AKP’s rule.
We did form Taksim Solidarity [a central player during Gezi], but we establish such platforms everywhere in Turkey. We were right at the center of the Gezi events, but Gezi was a movement of the people, especially of the youth; it had no leadership. Eleven of my colleagues are being tried due to Gezi. But the Gezi events are not the main factor [behind the government’s move against TMMOB].
What is the law’s most critical part?
According to one of the proposed changes, we will no longer publish any decree without the consent of the [relevant] minister.
But the most important one is to bring proportional representation into the elections, so that different groups will be represented in proportion to their votes. According to the proposed amendments, each professional branch will establish a chamber in every city once they have 50 members; that will make 650 chambers. Each chamber will have its own legal entity. This will turn our organization into provincial chambers; the aim is to abolish the centralized structure. The professional codes are very important; these codes are defined in a structure that moves from the bottom to the top; these codes are then decided at the top, that is, the general assembly, and then from top to bottom, everybody has to endorse and implement them.
The aim of the changes is to divide and atomize TMMOB. It is to weaken the one single voice of TMMOB. The government wants to have 650 chambers in cities and therefore create little kingdoms in each city. They think they can turn the small branches in the cities into AKP sympathizers. It wants to cut the huge unified and single voice of the organization by bypassing the center. But this will also kill our profession in terms of the formation of the codes, if each provincial chamber starts acting on its own.
So this type of restructuring will strike a blow to our ability to strongly articulate our views on the country’s important issues.
You said you always had some troublesome relationship with all the governments; do you see a difference with the AKP?
I was a university student during the Sept. 12 fascism. I was imprisoned; I spent 96 days under torture. I say this period is more dangerous. In comparison to the advanced levels in the whole world, they are taking Turkey backwards in every aspect of life; they worship money, and they are trying to sell all the nation’s lands.
Who is Mehmet Soğancı ?
Mehmet Soğancı was born in 1958 in Ladik, in the Black Sea province
of Samsun. His political activism dates back to his high school years in
Aydın. Soğancı was supposed to graduate in 1980, but following the
military coup that year, he was detained and imprisoned due to his
political activities within the student movement. After his release, he
graduated from the Mechanical Engineering Department of Ankara’s Middle
East Technical University.
After graduation, he worked in the private sector, but presided as head of Ankara’s Chambers of Mechanical Engineering between 1994 and 2002. Since 2004, he has been the head of the board of directors of Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB).
He continues to be an adviser on projects in the private sector.