Old friends, new enemies

Old friends, new enemies

For the past seven months the Turkish army and police forces have been fighting a quasi-uprising led by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in southeastern towns near the Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian borders, but on March 30 Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had a 3.5-hour meeting in Ankara on another security issue bothering the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

According to official sources, the meeting focused on the struggle against the “Parallel State Structure” (PDY), a term used by government sympathizers for members of the Fethullah Gülen movement in public and private institutions. Davutoğlu was joined in the meeting by the interior, justice, and finance ministers, as well as ranking officers from those ministries and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). 

An Islamist ideologue living in the U.S. for many years, Gülen used to be one of the closest allies of President Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK Parti governments. However, the major corruption probes of Dec. 17-25, 2013 turned that alliance upside down. 

The investigations embroiled four of Erdoğan’s former minsters - and also Reza Zarrab (aka Rıza Sarraf), an Iranian-Turkish businessman (who is now under arrest in the U.S.) - through an alleged chain of bribery. Erdoğan accused Gülenist police officers, prosecutors and judges of being behind the probe, which he said aimed to overthrow the government. Ever since, Gülen has been denounced as the head of a criminal organization aiming to topple Erdoğan and the AK Parti. Following the opening of a series of court cases against members of the Gülen movement, it has officially been labelled the “Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ/PDY).”

It is interesting that Davutoğlu’s meeting took place a day after President Erdoğan told reporters before departing for the U.S. for the Nuclear Security Summit on March 29 that he wanted the U.S. administration, which opened a money laundering probe against Zarrab, to “first take steps against” similar acts by Gülen and the Gülenists. Erdoğan is expected to touch on the issue during his official meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and unofficial contact with U.S. President Barack Obama, besides key global and regional security issues like the Syrian civil war, the struggle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the PKK. It is possible to speculate that Davutoğlu’s meeting on the Gülen movement was a move coordinated by Erdoğan’s raising of the issue.

Following a meeting in the presidential palace last week, the Turkish media reported that Erdoğan had accused Gülenist remnants within the police, gendarmerie and intelligence services of leaking information to the PKK in its fight against the security forces in the east and southeast. Davutoğlu’s meeting showed that the government is preparing a new move that might involve putting even more pressure on companies allegedly close to Gülen – as well as trying to root out more Gülen sympathizers within the state apparatus.

The whole case is perhaps a textbook example of how former political friends can become arch-enemies within a very short period of time.