Imagining the unimaginable

Imagining the unimaginable

Mehmet Altan is a well-known Turkish academic and columnist from a famous pen pushing family. Talking to the blatantly anti-government Bugün channel, which is closely associated with the Fetullah Gülen movement, a few days ago, he hit a highly relevant point. 

“Can you imagine the corruption and bribery accusations that are now being leveled at the government and the steps it is taking to counter these, will not have to be answered for one day in a country that has even managed to send its chief of general staff to prison?” he asked.

Altan is not speaking in a vacuum of course. No one could have conceived in their wildest imagination General İlker Basbuğ would be charged with “heading a terrorist organization” and sent to prison for life for allegedly trying to topple the government by illegal means.

History will judge whether this case was legally justified, or whether it was merely part of a grand attempt - or “plot” to use the currently popular term - by Islamists in power, and those lodged within the state apparatus to clip the wings of the staunchly secularist military.

Suffice it to say, despite the court’s verdict against Basbuğ, the public is confused and amazed in equal measure over the fact the country’s one-time top general, who headed an organization that was believed to be politically untouchable and legally inviolable, could end up in this situation.

The prevalent suspicion is cases such as Ergenekon and Balyoz were not the result of any democratic instinct by the Erdoğan government, which provided the necessary environment for these cases to be pursued. The suspicion is these cases were the result of Islamists making sure the military did not interfere with their efforts to promote a religion-based agenda, rather than being designed to advance democracy per se.

Turkey has always been a country that defies the assumptions of western observers and diplomats. This is natural because it is a country that defies many assumptions by domestic observers, let alone foreign ones. Who would have thought that the same institutions and prosecutors Prime Minister Erdoğan was lauding sky-high over the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases would turn out to be his worst enemies after they turned their legal guns on the government?

Who would have thought a chief political adviser to Erdoğan, namely Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy Yalçın Akdoğan, who defended prosecutors against Kemalists as they pursued their cases against the military, would go on to argue the same prosecutors had set a trap for the military after they started investigations that are embarrassing for the government.

More to the point though, no one could have imagined Turkish Islamists would go at each other in this mutually destructive way. It seems, however, even Islamists are not immune from the Turkish ailment of cutting the branch one sits on.

Many ordinary supporters of the AKP are wondering today what the witch hunt against Gülenists is really about and are asking themselves how Muslims can do this to other Muslims? What is apparent to all now, however, is sharing a religious-based outlook on life does not prevent bitter rivalries over personal, political or economic interests.

So is it conceivable that time, which is not just neutral, but also mercilessly blind, will eventually turn the tables on members of today’s government and their supporters in the bureaucracy? In other words is it conceivable that those who claim to be faced with a conspiracy today will have to one day answer not just to corruption charges, but also accusations of having conspired against the Constitution in an attempt to protect themselves against these charges?

Looking at all the “previously unimaginable things” in this country that have taken place, the answer has to be “Yes,” and this is what makes the government’s anti-democratic actions today even more curious.