June 28, 2014

Erdoğan knows no boundaries when fighting imaginary enemies

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an expert in “beating” his political rivals both at the ballot box and with his powerful discourse, has recently expanded his list of rivals and added some civil society groups, businessmen, members of the judiciary and the police force, whom he considers enemies that must be cracked down on.

As part of his fight against these imaginary enemies, the prime minister resorts to various methods, and they often go outside the boundaries of the law.

For instance, he has recently ordered the arbitrary reassignment of bureaucrats, members of the judiciary and the police force who refused to bow to the prime minister's wishes. The number of reassigned officials now exceeds 20,000. The fact that no internal investigation had been launched before those officials were reassigned and that most of them were not given any explanation for their reassignment has led to comments that the government -- per the prime minister's orders -- is carrying out a witch hunt against its critics.

The prime minister virtually confessed to carrying out a witch hunt in a public address in May. When commenting on the reassignments, the prime minister -- without providing the slightest shred of evidence -- accused the reassigned officers of “betraying Turkey” for their suspected links to the faith-based Hizmet movement, which he currently views as “enemy number one.” “If reassigning individuals who betray this country is called a witch hunt, then, yes, we will carry out a witch hunt,” Erdoğan said.

The Hizmet movement promotes interfaith dialogue and the resolution of problems through peaceful methods all over the world. However, Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has been at odds with Hizmet, especially since Dec. 17, 2013, when a major government graft operation became public. The prime minister claims the operation was orchestrated by the Hizmet movement with the motive of overthrowing his AK Party government. He has not provided any evidence to prove his claim. The movement denies the accusation.

Threats of wiretaps, video clips

One other big weapon the prime minister uses against his existing and potential critics is to threaten them with allegations that those individuals were wiretapped by illegal groups and, in some cases, even that the bedrooms of some of those critics were secretly video recorded.

On a number of occasions in the recent past, Erdoğan has maintained that the telephones of President Abdullah Gül, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, Constitutional Court President Haşim Kılıç and Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek were wiretapped.

Most recently, the prime minister claimed on June 24 that the leaders of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), as well as some members of the judiciary, may ultimately share the same fate as Deniz Baykal, the former CHP chairman who had to resign in 2010 after a video clip was posted online that showed him intimately involved with a female deputy from his party.

For the opposition parties, the prime minister's claims that some prominent figures have been wiretapped and secretly recorded in videos are indeed a kind of blackmail.

In late March, Turkey was shaken by a leaked audio recording that suggested that Prime Minister Erdoğan may have been involved in the plot against the CHP's Baykal. The recording features a voice alleged to be that of Erdoğan organizing the dissemination of the Baykal sex tape on the Internet. The voice purported to be that of Erdoğan cannot be heard clearly in the recording, but subtitles state that it was intercepted through covert audio surveillance, which could explain the noise and interference throughout the recording.

Erdoğan denied the claims. After the emergence of this audio recording, the prime minister blamed the Hizmet movement for both the recording and its dissemination online. However, Baykal rejected Erdoğan's allegation against Hizmet and put the blame for the video of him on the AK Party and its leader, Erdoğan.

Fight against business groups

In addition, Prime Minister Erdoğan has declared war on businessmen who have criticized AK Party government policies.

For the past few years, he has been pressuring some of Turkey's largest business groups, which he sees as being part of an “interest rate lobby” that he claims is behind the anti-government Gezi Park protests and the corruption operation of Dec. 17, 2013. Among Erdoğan's targets are the Koç Group, the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) and the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON). The prime minister has threatened these targets with either sending tax inspectors to their places of business or ending their activities inside the country altogether.

Erdoğan targeted the Koç Group after the group's Divan Hotel in İstanbul's Taksim opened its doors to protesters during the Gezi protests last summer, which began as a sit-in against a redevelopment project in Taksim but later evolved into anti-government protests nationwide. He said “Koç would pay the price for aiding and abetting terrorists.”

He later targeted TÜSİAD and accused the association of treason in January after the group issued a strong warning to the AK Party government in which it said foreign investment would not come to a country in which there is no respect for the rule of law, in response to the government's moves to control the corruption investigation of December of last year. “You should not be able to find a business organization that runs a smear campaign against its own country [anywhere] in the world,” Erdoğan said, labeling their criticism treason. He vowed that foreign capital will continue to come to Turkey despite TÜSİAD's efforts.

In yet another strong salvo in February, the prime minister threatened TUSKON, which has close ties with the Hizmet movement, saying that it would be “wiped off the market” by the government after the confederation made critical statements about government policies. TUSKON Chairman Rıza Nur Meral was quoted as saying that “different government figures, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, warned [that they would] do away with TUSKON unless it cut relations with certain groups critical of the government,” in an apparent reference to the Hizmet movement.

Published on Today's Zaman, 28 June 2014, Saturday