Blame game among Turkey’s Islamists

Blame game among Turkey’s Islamists

A “blame game” has started after political scientist and columnist Mümtazer Türköne wrote an article in daily Zaman 10 days ago with the title “Is Islamism finished?” referring to the Islamist movement in Turkey.

In the same paper, Ali Bulaç followed up with a provocative article titled “Why I didn’t become a state Islamist?” Bulaç’s piece had nothing to do with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but he told a story from the 1970s, when he was a university student approached by the police and asked to work as an agent within Islamist groups for the Turkish state. “I resisted the pressure and said no,” he wrote. “But I know who may have accepted and who now holds powerful positions in the media and politics.”

Bulaç did not give any names, but Altan Tan, who has moved in similar circles since the early 1970s and is now an MP for the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), backed Bulaç up, also mentioning a number of names. In his statement, Tan mentioned the radical Islamist columnist Abdurrahman Dilipak of daily Yeni Akit, Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan, the head of Turkey’s radio and TV watchdog (RTÜK) Davut Dursun, and Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) deputy Mehmet Metiner, who was on the editorial board of an Islamist magazine “Yeni Zemin” with Bulaç and Tan back in 1992-95.  

Of course, it would be wrong to label anyone who wrote for the magazine or visited its office as a militant Islamist or an undercover state agent, but these articles and statements have led to a blame game in the Islamist media, speculating about who was actually involved in the deep Turkish state while at the same time present in Islamist organizations and publications.

As a former writer for “Yeni Zemin” and another magazine “Girişim,” which was edited by Metiner, Kemal Öztürk, the former head of the semi-official Anadolu Agency and an advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, also waded into the debate in his column in daily Yeni Şafak. Öztürk particularly noted that Türköne and Bulaç were writing for Zaman, which is known for being close to Fethullah Gülen, the U.S. resident Islamist scholar who was once the closest ally of President Tayyip Erdoğan but is now an arch enemy. Their articles, Öztürk wrote, may be an attempt to endorse the thesis that it was Erdoğan who finished off the “Islamist cause” in Turkey.

Tan claims that “based on his 44 years of experience in those Islamist circles,” the deep state had man everywhere - in left-wing, right-wing, Kurdish and Islamist activist circles - without exemption, including Gülenist circles. 

Sadettin Tantan a hardline former police chief and later an interior minister, contributed to the debate by explaining how agents, often university students, were recruited for the state security forces. “At first it would be the police who would identify potential names. Then they would approach, convert and train them as agents for general use. The best among them would be picked by the National Intelligence Organization [MİT],” Tantan wrote.

It is not only the MİT that used to recruit civilians for the state. Some people were recruited by the military’s Special Forces Command to act as guerilla units if and when the country came under foreign occupation. This was particularly pertinent during the Cold War, especially against the “Communist threat” from Turkey’s giant northern neighbor, the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, that “Gladio” strategy was abandoned in many NATO countries, but because of the war in Iraq and the continued activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the “Gladio” organization apparently remained in Turkey and took on a national form.

The interesting thing is that the Special Forces command was raided and allegedly thousands of files, including civilian names, were confiscated in 2009 by judges and prosecutors, as part of a probe alleging an assassination attempt against Deputy PM Arınç. The probe was later dropped and the prosecutors and judges were accused of being under the manipulation of Gülen, but the files had passed into the hands of the AK Parti government, many of whose members are former Islamists.

It would also wrong to assume that the “deep state” in Turkey only recruited people from within the Islamists. Thousands of people from all walks of life, from journalists to politicians, from doctors to lawyers, leftist, rightist, Islamist and Kurdish activists, have worked for the state, selected because they were active in their daily work and political opinions.

The debate that has started in the Islamist media could soon spill over into other political streams in Turkey, which might wonder who the other names were - or still are.