The intra-Erdoğanist power wars
If you want to understand how concentration of power in the hands of one man has affected Turkey, you should read a recent piece in daily Yeni Şafak penned by Aydın Ünal. Mr. Ünal is a member of parliament from the ticket of the ruling party and a former advisor to President Tayyip Erdoğan. In fact, he is known as being a longtime speechwriter for Erdoğan. In other words, Mr. Ünal is not far from Turkey’s ruling ideology, which should be defined as “Erdoğanism.” (Not “conservatism,” “Islamism,” or anything related to any abstract idea. It is all about one person and the energy accumulated behind his persona.)
The piece in question was about the people who are politically mobilized in the name of Erdoğan - now more commonly referred to as “Reis,” or “the Chief.” The title of the piece is as follows: “Those who are more pro-Chief than the Chief himself.”
Under this headline, Mr. Ünal spends a few paragraphs explaining how modest the Chief is. The apparent subtext of this seems to be that there are problems with some of the pro-Chief people, but we should not make the mistake of assuming this has anything to do with the Chief himself.
Then come the most impressive part of the article. Mr. Ünal, writes the following: “Gangs, hordes or groups have emerged who label themselves ‘the most pro-Chief people,’ ‘the real pro-Chief people,’ ‘the essential pro-Chief people,’ and so on. They criticize, exclude, ridicule and hurt anyone other than themselves. Their ruthlessness makes it obvious that they are involved in a struggle for their interests.”
Mr. Ünal even likened these pro-Chief devotees to “FETÖ,” now the common term used by the government for the Gülenists, who it designates as the ultimate evil enemy. He said these groups use “all the inhuman, immoral and irreligious methods” of FETÖ — such as lies, libels, and plots that cause people to lose their jobs and even go prison.
Mr Ünal’s piece was widely shared online and some of the more reasonable people in the pro-government media quoted it in their columns, rightly complaining about how fanatic some pro-Chief people have become.
I agree with them, but I also think this is not merely a problem about fanatic individuals. It is also a problem about the distribution of power in Turkey.
When Erdoğan came to power in 2002, things were different. There were various power centers in Turkey: The military, the judiciary, the secular bureaucracy, a diverse media, and Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). In a gradual but bewildering process, initially everything other than the AKP became irrelevant. Then every person within the AKP other than Erdoğan became irrelevant. The result was a national pyramid of power, at the top of which “the Chief” firmly sits.
That is why struggles for power are now taking place not between supporters of the Chief and their enemies. The latter have already been doomed to irrelevance. The struggle for power rather takes place within the supporters of the Chief. That is why there are some who call themselves “‘the most pro-Chief people,’ ‘the real pro-Chief people,’ ‘the essential pro-Chief people,’ and so on.” This is why they are all trying to prove to the Chief that the other guys are false and that they themselves are the most reliable ones. This is why their enmity for each other may sometimes surpass their enmity for the most sworn enemies of the Chief.
One wonders how far this will all go and what will happen in the end. I really have no idea. I just agree with a saying that has recently become popular among saner Turks: “Turkey is really an amusing country, unless you happen to be one of its citizens.”