Another shift of power in Turkey

Another shift of power in Turkey

The Turkish Court of Appeals’ ruling on April 21 which overturned the convictions in the “Ergenekon” coup plot case marked an era in the country’s problematic relations between politics, the military and the judiciary.

Then case was opened in 2008 in the wake of debates started before the presidential elections in Turkey in 2007, practically following a statement by the military in late April that year commenting on the presidential elections and their possible consequences. The statement had alerted (then prime minister, now President) Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government, which took sharp measures to announce early elections and a referendum to shift from a parliamentary vote to a popular vote in electing the president. Then Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül was elected president in August 2007.

In the meantime, the first police operations had started against certain ex-military people renown for ultra-nationalist tendencies, which would in retrospect turn into the core of the Ergenekon case. Ergenekon, the Central Asian motherland of the Turkish mythology, was the name given by the prosecutors - led by a certain Zekeriya Öz - to an alleged network organized within the military, judiciary, academia and media in order to overthrow the Islamic-conservative AK Parti government.

Chief prosecutor Öz has always been linked in the media to the Fethullah Gülen movement. An Islamist ideologue living in the U.S. with an international education network, Gülen, at that time, was one of the closest allies of Erdoğan and his AK Parti. Gülenist prosecutors, judges, police chiefs and media personalities gained favoured status in key positions. Erdoğan allocated one of the Prime Ministry’s armoured limousines to Öz. Erdoğan’s closest security team was reportedly selected from Gülenist police chiefs. There were other Ergenekon-like cases which all were applauded by Turkey’s Western allies, who saw the political enthusiasm of the military as the only problem on the road to an advanced democracy in Turkey; the Balyoz (Sledgehammer), Military Espionage and OdaTv cases were such examples.

Things started to change color when recently retired Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ was arrested in January 2012; it was the first time Erdoğan had said he was against the arrest of an Ergenekon suspect. Then, the following month, when prosecutors wanted to interrogate National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan, Erdoğan and the AK Parti started to perceive a “Gülenist threat” against themselves.

An Istanbul criminal court’s ruling in May 2013 sentenced Başbuğ and 17 others to life imprisonment, giving heavy penalties to a total of 275 people for conspiring to overthrow the government.

But things changed once again in December 2013, when allegedly Gülenist prosecutors started a major graft probe against members of Erdoğan’s government, civil service, party and even family in two successive cases on Dec. 17 and 25. Erdoğan immediately denounced that as a coup attempt by Gülenists, accusing them of organizing a “parallel state within the state.”

Now Gülenists are considered members of a terrorist organization and a threat equal to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Companies, including media companies linked with Gülen, were seized by courts with newly appointed prosecutors and judges, while Öz and his colleagues in the controversial cases are on the run and some of the once powerful police chiefs are in jail.

We are not able to learn, at least for now, whether there really was a conspiracy against the government. The Court of Appeals said there was no base in the Ergenekon case, as a case changing its route all together with a changing political atmosphere.

Now both the military and the judiciary are siding with Erdoğan against the PKK and the Gülenists, whom many of their members have suffered from. This can be interpreted as another power shift in the Turkish capital, until the next one.