Who is responsible for the Gülenist penetration of the Foreign Ministry?
Ali Babacan, one of former President Abdullah Gül’s recruits, was among the founders of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Following the party’s electoral victory in 2002 he became a key figure in the government’s economic policies.
In 2007, he was appointed as foreign minister. He was not familiar with the cadres of the ministry at that point. So when its personnel department proposed three names as his possible special secretary, he went against decades-old ministerial traditions and - instead of choosing one from among the three suggested - he picked Gürcan Balık, someone who was not particularly well-known in the higher cadres of the ministry. Balık later became an advisor and kept this position with Babacan’s successor, Ahmet Davutoğlu, who later became prime minister.
What has prompted me to recall all this is the detention of Şaban Kardaş, the head of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) on Oct. 20. His detention seems to have caused some shockwaves in the Foreign Ministry. After all, ORSAM was a semi-official think tank that had been working in close cooperation with the ministry up until recently.
Kardaş was appointed to head ORSAM by Davutoğlu.
Six days after Kardaş’s detention, an operation to arrest more than 120 former members of the ministry was started by police. Is there a connection between the two? I do not know. But it is known that when the anti-Gülenist purge started in the ministry and diplomatic missions right after the July 15 coup attempt, it took a particularly heavy toll on Turkish missions in Iraq, a country of primary focus for ORSAM.
“Kardaş is only two steps away from Davutoğlu,” one source from Ankara told me. But he is not the only name close to Davutoğlu who has been detained. Balık, who had been Davutoğlu’s advisor for a long time, was arrested right after the coup.
He was no ordinary advisor. While Davutoğlu often tended to look down on diplomats and did not shy away from being condescending towards them, Balık was the only person in the ministry who could openly disagree with Davutoğlu. He became one of the most important decision-makers in the ministry (unseen in the ministry’s tradition) along with the undersecretary.
Along with Balık, Tuncay Babalı is also currently under arrest. Babalı had served in the personnel department of the ministry between 2010 and 2012, a time when the ministry saw the most radical change in recruitment policy in its history.
By now we know that the Gülenists initially infiltrated the human resources or personnel departments of an institution in order to facilitate their penetration of the entire body. We also know now that the most significant Gülenist penetration started around 2010, when the Gülen network stole the answers to the examination that a candidate must pass in order to become a state official.
Under the guidance of then Foreign Ministry Deputy Under Secretary Naci Koru, (who is currently serving as Turkey’s representative to the U.N. in Geneva), the old recruitment system was replaced by a new one, which facilitated Gülenists’ entry to the ministry. The standards had been lowered so much that it was obvious the new recruits “were of different a kind,” but few could voice their criticism out of fear of being accused of elitism. Back in 2012, I wrote on concerns about the new recruitment policy. What is interesting is that little was done against these new recruits after the break-up between the AK Party and the Gülenists following the Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption probes, despite then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s instructions to cleanse the state of this network.
In 2003, Turkey’s diplomatic missions were given a green light to cooperate with Gülen-linked organizations abroad upon the instruction of Abdullah Gül, who was foreign minister at the time. After December 2013, Turkey’s diplomatic missions asked Ankara what to do next in terms of their relations with the movement. Surprisingly, they did not receive any instruction from the ministry, which was then led by Davutoğlu. They were simply left in the dark.
A large majority of those purged from the Foreign Ministry after the coup attempt entered it after 2010, when the recruitment policy was changed with the blessing of Davutoğlu.
Babalı has been under arrest for over a year and now we see Kardaş, a name close to Davutoğlu, taken under detention (and released on Nov. 2 the day this article was published). The last time we saw Davutoğlu he was attending a ceremony in Konya over the weekend, standing next to President Erdoğan.
As for Balık - whose path in the ministry was cleared by Babacan - he has been behind bars for over one year and is still waiting to see his indictment. Some even suggest that the AK Party could put forward Babacan as the next Ankara mayor!