Erdoğan vows to clamp down on Gülen
In his address to supporters in the Black Sea town of Giresun on December 22, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has used, or rather underlined a word two times, which he had not used for the last 11 years in power and thousands of speeches. That is the word “agent.”
Claiming that the corruption claims, involving the names of four of his cabinet ministers and if true, the biggest ever in Turkey was “only a cover” to undermine his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government by the “agents” of an international “gang” and conspiracy.
This may not be the jargon used in Western politics, at least since the Cold War is over, but Erdoğan tends to see the whole thing as a Cold War-style, proxy attack against him anyway; according to an advisor Erdoğan thinks it’s a vital “chess game” between him and enemies in and outside Turkey.
The day before he had openly accused the US and its ambassador to Ankara Francis Ricciardone of being behind the conspiracy. The same day there were pictures of the ambassador in four pro-government newspapers, asking the government to send him away. According to those papers the ambassador had told other diplomats in a closed meeting that soon they would watch the “fall of the empire”.
Both the Turkish Foreign Ministry and a number of Turkish businessmen went on red alert and tried to reach Erdoğan through a number of ministers and advisors to tell that it may not be the best time for Erdoğan to further antagonize his relations with US; it could have political and economic consequences. After a long Saturday, the ambassador, who already had the full backing of State Department by that time, said that he did not exactly use those words and Hüseyin Çelik, the spokesman of Erdoğan’s AK Parti, said that they “must rely on what the ambassador says.” Erdoğan had two more speeches after that development and did not mention the US or the ambassador again which caused a relative relief among Turkish diplomats and businessmen that a major crisis was avoided; even if it is for now.
Because it is also clear that Erdoğan is upset with the US not only because of Ricciardone’s alleged words on the ongoing corruption probe. He is upset because of many reasons, including Israel, Egypt and Syria policies any way but nowadays because of two more reasons: One of them is a revived dialogue between the US administration with Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in order to get also their view on what is happening in the country. Ricciardone had invited CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for lunch last week, as a “follow up” to Kılıçdaroğlu’s visit to Washington DC two weeks ago.
Another reason for Erdoğan’s anger is believed to be Fethullah Gülen, the moderate Islamist scholar and leader of one of the most powerful faith based communities in Turkey who lives in a farm house in Pennsylvania, for nearly twenty years now.
On Sunday, Erdoğan did not mention the US but this time accused “agents” of the international conspiracy and the “gang in the clothes of piety.” A day before, he had said that he was determined to go to the “caves to that gang if necessary and clean them up,” as the purge among the police force was going on the remove police chiefs believed to be close to the Gülen movement to rather passive posts.
I had a few phone calls to understand what that “agent” means and whether it could lead to a probe against the prosecutors carrying out the corruption probes and the police chiefs involved in operations with charges of working for the interests of another country, i.e. espionage. The answers I got did not indicate that, for now. But I am told clearly that Erdoğan was very upset with the Gülen group, once his best allies when they were clamping down on the military and judiciary together and was determined to finish their presence in the bureaucracy and judiciary.
Turkish PM seems to be more interested in highlighting the “conspiring gang” hypothesis than the corruption claims themselves and perhaps hoping to divert the attention of the public opinion from the corruption allegations and the ministers allegedly involved. But as a first sign of public reaction, tens of thousands of people gathered in the Kadıköy district of Istanbul to protest the “plunder” as they call it and clashed with the police who tried to stop them, but apparently not as brutally as they did during the Gezi protests earlier this year. The Istanbul Police chief is among those who were removed from their post in the purge.
Last night, Erdoğan flew to Pakistan for two day contacts. Upon his return he will have to deal with a cabinet reshuffle where the issue of four ministers involved will be on Turkey’s agenda. But nowadays, two days could be a long time in Turkey and nobody is sure what kind of changes would take place in political balances.