The myths of Gezi and the Turkish PM’s failed ‘inceptions’
Desperately fighting back against the anti-government protests engulfing Turkey, the Turkish prime minister was going to great lengths in his smear campaign against the Gezi protesters in the early summer of 2013.
During one of his frequent appearances on live TV on a nearly hourly basis, the prime minister first came up with the claim that the Gezi protesters entered a mosque in Istanbul “with their shoes on” in a huge disgrace to Islam and its believers. Apparently not satisfied with the level of reaction to his claim by his conservative electorate, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even went on to say the protesters “hit the booze” in the mosque, hoping for violent counter reactions against the Gezi protesters.
And he found what he wished for. Anti-Gezi mobs appeared on the streets, even with machetes, and attacked peaceful marchers who had nothing but courage, as well as lemons and other self-created remedies against heavy pepper gas and other police attacks. Soon later, however, “the party at the mosque with their shoes on” turned out to be a not very well-tailored tale, as even the mosque’s imam said he saw no booze or shoes, but just protesters fleeing from harsh police crackdowns.
As the first tale appeared to attract less attention, the premier added a new entry to the annals of history by citing a new phenomenon called the “interest lobby,” which was supported by “outsiders, maybe some insiders too, who were at odds with seeing Turkey as a regional power” – as if it is.
Outside Turkey, few managed to understand the new phenomenon; actually those inside have also failed to understand it. But in the prime minister’s world, the “interest lobby” has been irked by the successes of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in both the national economy and regional politics, so the lobby decided to support, fund and use the protests as leverage for its “evil” plans.
The charm of the interest lobby became way too toxic for the country, but an investigation, which was completed months later and probed the transactions during the Gezi rallies, found no trace of poisoning. Turkey’s top watchdog for markets said no wrongdoings were reported during the Gezi days.
The thriller became even more interesting when the interest rates were hiked by the Central Bank against the free fall of the Turkish Lira against the dollar. While the top Turkish bank intervened in the markets in a covert financial operation that was said to have so little impact on interest rates, Prime Minister Erdoğan was unusually silent on the issue, but still issued an implicit threat signaling that the Central Bank “will pay the price if something goes wrong with the economy.” However, the free fall of the lira was in fact accelerated by the massive corruption case against his government.
Between “at the mosque with shoes on” and “interest lobby” tales, the premier recreated another smear campaign against the Gezi protesters. Citing a veiled woman who said she was attacked by demonstrators in the middle of Istanbul, the prime minister conveyed the infamous story alleging “70-80 half-naked Gezi protesters attacked a woman with her baby in her arms and even urinated on her after she fainted.” As with the “at the mosque with shoes on,” claim, Erdoğan wanted a provocative response from his “pious” voters on the Gezi rallies with his story about the attack on a veiled woman in a highly conservative country with its deep social, cultural and political divisions.
The myth about the attack on a veiled woman has also been proved to be the result of a highly delusional mind with video footage negating the claims made by the prime minister. So, the huge fuss over the issue appeared to be an “inceptionist” manipulation campaign by Erdoğan to disgrace the anti-government movement. He wanted to turn his claims into facts in the minds of his supporters, and the truth has never been strong enough to stop the prime minister.
Engaged in a struggle of survival with the Hizmet Movement led by U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen after the corruption scandal, Erdoğan merged the source of evils into the same pot. He has frequently repeated the claim that the “leaders of Gezi” and what he called “the parallel state” led by Hizmet are one and the same.
In Erdoğan’s mind, the new phase of his smear campaign, not only against the Gezi spirit, but also his friend-turned-foe Hizmet Movement, will irk both sides considering their radically divergent political alignments and characterizations. Yet, his hard-fought efforts to criminalize the Gezi spirit with claims alleging links to the Hizmet are doomed to become another urban myth, considering his past experiences that turned into a total fiasco based on groundless accusations.