Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan’s intrigues exposed

Raising eyebrows, Turkey’s Erdogan now dismisses as deceptions alleged coup plots that dominated Turkish political discourse for years ­ and led to prison terms, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

For four years, government, media and public opinion in Turkey were obsessed with cases of alleged coup conspiracies against the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP). One was known as the Ergenekon case, revolving around investigations into an alleged clandestine ultra-nationalist organisation ostensibly named after a mythical place in the mountains. The other was the case called Balyoz, or “Sledgehammer”. The “Internet” case would eventually join these two grand conspiracy cases.

Hundreds of thousands of pages of documents were amassed in investigations and hearings. The names “Ergenekon” and “Balyoz” dominated the headlines and lead stories not only in the Turkish press and media, but often also in the international media. After the marathons of hearings and testimonies, most of which were ignored, the courts sentenced dozens of high-ranking military officers to life imprisonment for plotting to overthrow the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The verdicts naturally elicited widespread reactions at home and abroad, not few of which were sceptical, worried and even outraged.

It took a while, but eventually a glimmer of light appeared at the end of the bleak tunnel: the Supreme Constitutional Court ruling that the preventive detention of hundreds of officers, intellectuals and journalists for up to 10 years was unconstitutional. Soon, more and more facts came to light calling into question the solidity of evidence in the “conspiracy” cases. Then, just last month, Erdogan, the man who used to rail against the fiendish schemes afoot against him and his government, the man who kept such close tabs on the investigations that he called himself  “the prosecutor”, suddenly admitted that there was no such thing. Now he claims he was “fooled”. Speaking to senior military officials at the Turkish War Colleges Command on Thursday evening, 19 March, he said: “The whole country and I were misdirected and deceived with these operations, which mixed up truth and lies, right and wrong.” He added: “They deceived us. Most of those officers should not be in jail.”

It was an amazing feat of backtracking, and not one that the opposition would let slide. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (RPP) said that in those days of the Eregenekon and Balyoz hearings, he had cried himself hoarse saying the trials were not right, to which Erdogan would always answer that the “RPP was a coup-making party that supported coup-makers”. Lashing out at Erdogan’s feigned innocence, the opposition leader said: “What do you mean, ‘They fooled me?’ Are you a child? Don’t you have a brain to think with? Do you not have the power to administer the state? Don’t you have an intelligence agency and a police force?”

Erdogan’s U-turn on Ergenekon also sent tremors through an already shaky JDP “citadel”, precipitating an unprecedented flaring of tempers and cracking of facades. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç once again crossed that red line of criticising Erdogan’s autocratic ways, which incurred the wrath of Mayor of Ankara Melih Gökçek who called for Arınç’s dismissal, “to serve as a lesson” for others who dare defy the leader.

Arınç is a lawyer by training and a seasoned politician, so there was probably something well calibrated in his response. Gökçek was “sitting in the lap” of others and the purpose of his invective against Arınç was to curry favour with those others, so that Gökçek’s son could become a member of parliament, Arınç said. Gökçek was not even “dignified enough” to be sincere in his call for Arınç’s dismissal, the deputy prime minister continued, but added that he would not go further in order to spare the feelings of Gökçek’s wife. But he did go further, saying that the Ankara mayor had sold Ankara “plot by plot” and that Gökçek was guilty of hundreds of other “wrongdoings”, but that he Arınç would not reveal these until after the 7 June parliamentary elections so as to avoid causing harm to the JDP. By “wrongdoings”, Arınç may also have been referring to the alleged ballot rigging during last year’s municipal elections in which Gökçek succeeded by a hair in winning a fifth term as Ankara’s mayor.

Clearly, the gloves are off in the corridors of the ruling party. But is there more to it than verbal fisticuffs between JDP rivals? The opposition press cannot help but to wonder. If Arınç is correct in his allegation that the Ankara mayor has been selling off the capital “plot by plot”, why did he keep silent all these years? Why wait until the day after parliamentary elections to expose Gökçek’s corruption? In the opinion of RPP chief Kilicdaroglu, this is because they were originally “in collusion”. But “now they are accusing each other and in the coming period we will learn the details”.

Abdülkadir Selvi, a columnist for the pro-JDP Yeni Safak, is worried by these developments and fears that the squabble between Arınç and Gökçek will propel the party onto dangerous shoals.

Erdogan, for his part, appears cool and aloof. As his party colleagues bicker fiercely, he continues his various tours, ever confident in his ability to gull large segments of the Turkish public. But his plans for turning the Turkish parliamentary system into a presidential one, with him at the top, keep running into snags. JDP infighting is one. Another is emerging in the form of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (PDP) leader Selahattin Demirtaş. A rising political star and former presidential candidate, Demirtaş has made it clear that Erdogan will never fulfill his dream of a presidential system in Turkey as long as the Kurds are around.

Not just the JDP but also the whole of Anatolia seems to be sitting atop a live volcano. Certainly, this is the opinion of Sadettin Tantan, former minister of interior and founder of the Homeland (Yurt) Party, who cautioned of the anarchy that would sweep the country following the forthcoming parliamentary elections if the JDP is voted into power again. He warned that the JDP is leading Turkey to disaster with its “defeatist” policies that threaten to ignite internal conflicts such as those raging in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

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