A cascade of crises as Turkey heads for elections

A cascade of crises as Turkey heads for elections

As one of our editors said around the front page desk yesterday, our news agenda on March 31 could have made headlines for at least a month in any Scandinavian newspaper.

The first big news came in the morning, when we had the agencies reporting on the cancellation of train and subway transportation in Istanbul due to a major power cut. Until then, we thought the power cut was one of those ordinary outages that had become ordinary for us over the days before, which could have paralyzed our work if we did not have our generator back-up system.

Soon after it became clear that the power cut was not limited to Istanbul, a country-sized metropolis of 15 million people. It was all over Turkey, apart from Van near the Iranian border, which had back-up electricity from the Iranian grid.

But what about the back-up from the European Union grid? It was gone. With all railroad signals down and traffic lights in cities and towns gone, traffic also stopped. Markets, hospitals and factories began to suffer the biggest power cut in the country since the earthquake in 1999 that killed more than 17,000 people.

Soon after the outage started, Energy Minister Taner Yıldız announced that the electricity grid had collapsed. After a few hours, as the majority of the country was still without power, Yıldız said some of Turkey’s power plants had stopped generating electricity and that might have had a domino effect on the others, breaking the entire grid. In the meantime, the Chamber of Electrical Engineers (EMO) speculated that because the owners of privatized local grids were unable to collect payments from clients, and because of the depreciation of the Turkish Lira, the companies, most of them close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), were faking accidents in order to not supply power to the cities during peak hours in order not to lose more money. As a result, when a number of them unintentionally cut power at around the same time, the rest of the system became overloaded, which cut the link with the EU back-up.

When reporters asked the energy minister whether there could have been a cyber-attack on the Turkish grid, he refrained from speculating.

But Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that every possibility, including a “terrorist attack,” was being investigated, during his address to his AK Parti group in parliament (which was possible thanks to parliament’s back-up generators).

Then, soon after his words about the possibility of a terrorist attack being the cause of the blackout, a major terrorist attack took place in Istanbul.

Masked militants of the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party and Front (DHKP-C) posted photos of a prosecutor, namely Mehmet Selim Kiraz, with a pistol pointed at his forehead and his mouth covered on Twitter. It was not much different than the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) who point a knife at the throat of their captives.

The militants had raided the prosecutor’s office in the main Istanbul Courthouse, which is supposed to be under heavy security. The prosecutor had recently been appointed to the case of Berkin Elvan, who was a 15-year-old boy in 2013 when he was killed during the wave of “Gezi” protests, allegedly after a gas canister fired by police forces hit his head.

It was actually Kiraz who had first ordered the three police officers involved to give statements to the court and be probed. That fact did not matter to the DHKP-C, who demanded the immediate arrest of the policemen involved.

For his part, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlususpiciously asked the government how the weapons, flags and placards could have been taken by the militants to the office of the prosecutor on the sixth floor of a heavily-protected building.

“Did that happen during the power cut?” he asked, making a reference to Turkish intelligence agency (MİT) which he claimed dealing with issues not in its own field thus letting such things happen.  

Meanwhile, amid those two crises, news came from the criminal court about the acquittal of all 236 people in the “Balyoz-Sledgehammer” case, mostly ex-army and navy officers who had been given heavy penalties. In its acquittal ruling, the court stated that the digital evidence submitted during the first trial could not be proven with original documents. The Balyoz case had been shown as the main “proof” of the military conspiring against President (then Prime Minister) Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) governments.

In the evening hours the negotiation attempts of the police which was helped by Ümit Kocasakal, the chairman of the Bar of Istanbul was interrupted by the noise of gunshots from the prosecutor’s office as PM Davutoğlu told to the press later on. Two militants were killed by the police and prosecutor was taken to the nearby Florence Nightingale hospital at severe condition with bullet wounds in the head and chest; it was not possible for the surgeons to save him.

Davutoğlu said that he was affraid of more such “provocations” could take place as the country is heading for the June 7 elections. The overall political polarization in Turkey is not helping the situation for sure.