Is former Turkish President Gül in treason?
Perhaps the row over former Turkish President Abdullah Gül within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) may not sound interesting for the international reader when there is an escalating row over the impeachment of United States President Donald Trump.
The last stage of events occurred during the AK Parti Congress on Aug. 18, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was re-elected as the chairman with no rivals. Following the president’s address and during the vote count, Bülent Arınç, one of the former heavy guns of the AK Parti said during a live broadcast on TV that he was sad to see there was no picture or mention of him in the video that showed the AK Parti’s history.
“It was the three of us who founded the party,” Arınç complained.
Then, newly elected (at the Aug. 18 Congress) AK Parti deputy chair Hamza Dağ openly accused Gül—with no apparent reason—of being “in treason” for even thinking of standing against Erdoğan in the June 2018 presidential elections as a joint candidate of a coalition of opposition parties. The next day, Gül’s security chief Osman Çangal, a retired police commissar said in a tweet that they would not “throw a bone to every barking dog.”
Those two remarks reportedly caused a silent reaction from within the AK Parti by those who feel uncomfortable with one of their most respected members and former president, who was attacked in a humiliating manner and by one of the executives in their own party. AK Parti spokesperson Ömer Çelik said on Aug. 22 Dağ’s statement was “a remark going beyond the limits of criticism, which we do not approve.”
It is not clear yet whether Çelik’s response will satisfy those who think old guards of the party are being humiliated by the newcomers as it was not stopped by Erdoğan.
The triumvirate that founded the AK Parti in 2001 was Erdoğan, Arınç and Gül. Due to a political ban on Erdoğan, he was not a member of the parliament. It was Arınç who led the party group in the parliament after the split from Necmettin Erbakan, who was their mentor. And it was Abdullah Gül who dared to challenge Erbakan in their last Congress before the split.
Following a major banking crisis in Turkey in 2000-2001, the AK Parti won the 2002 elections, but Erdoğan was still not in parliament. So it was Abdullah Gül who assumed the Prime Ministry as a substitute for Erdoğan, being faithful to their comradeship. Arınç was elected as the Speaker of the Parliament and like the Three Musketeers, they appeared together at many events and posed for the cameras.
It was Deniz Baykal, the former president of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who led the way to lifting the political ban on Erdoğan through a constitutional change and allowing him into the parliament to take the Prime Minister’s office. Gül then took the office of the Foreign Ministry.
Erdoğan, Gül and Arınç stood together in resisting the manipulative attacks from the former establishment of the Turkish state, who had been active in military, judiciary and academia, in the AK Parti closure case. It was Erdoğan who declared “my brother” Gül as the AK Parti candidate for the presidency in 2007 and helped him become elected through difficulties. Arınç was deputy prime minister to Erdoğan and was the second most powerful person.
The row over the influence of the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamist preacher on the Turkish government agencies, which started in early 2012 and resulted in the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, started to infect the ranks of the AK Parti. Erdoğan’s appointment of former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as his successor in the party and in the government when he was elected as president in 2014 was like a message to Gül that his time was over.
It was clear by then that the new line would be constructed on the basis of loyalty to the leader, rather than loyalty to party politics and eligibility. When Davutoğlu attempted to take decisions autonomous from Erdoğan, he was replaced by Erdoğan with Binali Yıldırım through an in-party coup, only two months before the military coup attempt.
Now, after the June 24 elections and the Aug. 18 Congress, out of the 70 founders of the AK Parti, only two are left in influential positions in the administration, other than Erdoğan himself: Binali Yıldırım as the Speaker of the Parliament and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as the Foreign Minister.
For now, it does not look like a crisis that will shake the AK Parti. Perhaps Dağ will be taken from office or receive a warning. But the row is an indication the AK Parti grassroots who adore Erdoğan also want the respect of those who have had a contribution in leading the way to today and also believe they deserve to be respected as individuals.