Something going wrong in Ankara

Something going wrong in Ankara

Sometimes when you read stories in papers separately, they are just news items. But when you list them next to each other, they can give you a bigger picture; and the bigger picture in Ankara nowadays shows some inconsistencies. Something might be going wrong in the Turkish capital. 

The first on the list is the last event on the country’s agenda: The firing of Mehmet Bostan from the Turkish Wealth Fund. The fund was established only a year ago on Aug. 26, 2016 in order to create funding and attract foreign investments by showing some $40 billion worth of asset from Turkey’s biggest state bank Ziraat and the flag carrier Turkish Airlines. When it was established, it was promoted as a booster to the future success of the Turkish economy. Only a year after, President Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sept. 8 that the fund could not achieve the targets of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government and they were going to decide on what to do with it, including restructuring it, together with Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım in the forthcoming days.

Another is a matter that links the economy with the restructuring of the AK Parti. Erdoğan said last week during a meeting with provincial heads of his party that he was quite determined to brush away those who fail to match their steps with him or those who get involved in terrorist circles or corruption cases “with no mercy to anyone, starting from ministers.” The expression “terrorist circles” nowadays when it comes to the AK Parti in Erdoğan’s jargon means those who have alleged links to the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher who is accused of masterminding the July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey. But right after the reference to corruption and ministers, Agriculture Minister Ahmet Fakıbaba said “from now on,” no tolerance will be shown to those who dared to be involved in corruption within his ministry. His statement was responded to by former AK Parti Agriculture Minister Faruk Çelik who had handed over the post to Fakıbaba only one and a half months before, on July 20.  There are no signs of the launching of an investigation neither by courts nor by the ministry.

Education Minister İsmet Yılmaz made a press statement on Sept. 8 to deny that the coverage of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, in primary and secondary school books was reduced. The new curriculum regarding Atatürk in school books was first protested by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and separately by Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), who has been giving strategic support to Erdoğan’s AK Parti, including in the April 16 referendum, which consolidated all executive powers in the president’s hands.

On the same day, Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik said in Talinn during an EU meeting that the union should cooperate to not alienate the “democratic and secular Turkey” if it wanted to fight radicalism better. The promotion of a “secular Turkey” by AK Parti ministers has not been something often cited by AK Parti ministers. A day before, on Sept. 7, Mehmet Şimşek, the deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, was trying to soothe members of TÜSİAD, Turkey’s top bosses club, that the government had no intentions in cutting relations with the EU; after the president’s words to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU politicians a day before that if the EU did not want Turkey, it would be enough for them to say that honestly and clearly.

Erdoğan slammed a U.S prosecutor for indicting one of his former economy ministers, Zafer Çağlayan, calling it a step taken against Turkey. Çağlayan had been accused of receiving bribes from the Iranian-origin Turkish passport holder businessman Reza Zarrab, who is now in prison in the U.S. over a case of breaching U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran. Çağlayan was one of the targets of the Dec. 17-25, 2013 graft probes, which were dropped later on. The prosecutors and judges involved are now either in prison or on the run because of accusations of taking legal action upon instructions from the illegal Gülen network. Erdoğan slammed the U.S. also for issuing arrest warrants against his bodyguards who had beaten up protesters in Washington D.C. earlier this year when Erdoğan met U.S. President Donald Trump, highlighting his approaching trip to the U.S. for the U.N. General Assembly.

Last but not least, Erdoğan started to portray the CHP as a party “acting in line with terrorists.” This time terrorist meaning both the Gülenists and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). “They act like the HDP,” he said on Sept. 8, referring to the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party. “The only difference is their names. Both are neither native nor national,” he had said. Right after those words, Erdoğan picked on Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a CHP deputy, for acting as a mouthpiece of terrorists over a tweet in which he criticized the shooting of civilians by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) instead of PKK militants. Almost an hour after Erdoğan’s statement, a prosecution was opened against the CHP deputy on claims he aided terrorists. Another CHP deputy, Enis Berberoğlu, is already in jail with a 25-year sentence on espionage charges for providing news material to a newspaper. 

Labelling Turkey’s main opposition, which has 25 percent of the country’s votes, a terrorist organization is enough to comment that there is something going wrong in Ankara. But when combined with all the issues mentioned, it gives a more worrying outlook.