August 9, 2014

Erdoğan betrayed will of 58 percent, professor says

Professor Mustafa Erdoğan, an expert on constitutional law and political science, has said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government have betrayed the will and support of the 58 percent of the nation who supported the government-sponsored constitutional reforms put to a public referendum in 2010.

The professor, who spoke to Sunday's Zaman in an exclusive interview, said the AK Party government had taken a backward step from the reforms made in 2010 and is transforming the country into a security state.

“We are going through one of the rare moments when an elected civilian government threatens democracy. Turkey is awaiting much more difficult days in the near future,” he said.

Professor Erdoğan also talked about the reasons the AK Party government has declared a war against the faith-based Hizmet movement, why it is now seeking alliance with the neo-nationalists, the graft allegations the government has been facing, the coup trials, the trucks intercepted in Adana province and the overhaul of the judicial system following graft probes.

The professor believes that those who fail to criticize the government's unlawful and unjust actions today and support its war against the Hizmet movement will one day be ashamed of their attitude.

The government tells the Hizmet movement that were it not for the movement, democracy would function smoothly in Turkey and the movement therefore deserves to be punished by the government. In addition to saying this, the government has launched a large-scale operation against the movement. When the Hizmet movement is finished off, will the Turkish democracy have peace?

The process that began in Turkey in December [when a graft probe, in which senior government members have been implicated, came to public attention] is not one that is expected to or even could take place in a normal, democratic state governed by law. Recently, the prime minister [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] said this [the tension between the government and the Hizmet movement] began with the government plan to close down prep schools [dershanes]. The disagreement over prep schools has led to the surfacing of an pre-existing tension. If the source of the tension had been prep schools, it would not be possible to explain today's operations [against figures who are allegedly affiliated with the movement]. … When the AK Party first came to power, it accepted the voluntary help of the movement because the party lacked qualified state staff. They [the government and the movement] acted together on many issues. Then, when the government felt itself strong enough, it decided to end this relationship.

Was it the ruling party which made the decision about this?

Yes, the traces and signs of this were obvious long ago. First the issue of the closure of the prep schools, then the [graft] operations on Dec. 17 and Dec. 25, made the government implement its earlier plans. There is also this: The government began with [Hizmet followers] in the bureaucracy and then continued to all social domains. The government's goal is not to break the movement's influence in bureaucracy but actually to eradicate it. That's why the government is trying to criminalize the movement, as has been seen in the previous operations. So, the government is not consistent in its attitude. People with common sense understand what is going on. Actually, this project [aiming to do away with the movement] is a state project. The AK Party government has been in charge of it.

How has this happened?

Just after the government attained sufficient self-confidence, it revealed its plan to do away the movement. Another thing happened there, too. The factors that led the government to its self-confidence were the famous trials of Ergenekon [a shadowy crime network which has alleged links within the state] and Sledgehammer [a coup plot]. At the beginning, the government was an enthusiastic supporter of these trials. “There is government will behind these trials,” people used to say. You know, the prime minister once said, “I am the prosecutor of this trial [into Ergenekon].” But, when military tutelage was eliminated to a certain extent because of these trials, the government began to tell the movement that it no longer needed it. This is not surprising; being in power is like this everywhere. You begin to eliminate people with whom you allied at the beginning the moment you no longer need them. But, you need other alliances. In order to totally eliminate the movement, the government has attempted to establish alliances with the military and the neo-nationalist-Kemalist circles because they are already antipathetic to the Hizmet movement. The government has begun to attract those circles to its ranks by presenting its efforts aimed to eliminate military tutelage as if they were part of a conspiracy against the military.

Turkey's EU process, the attitude of the US, liberals in the country and the Hizmet movement helped the AK Party government curb military tutelage. Now, there are voices from the EU saying, ‘We have been misled, we have been used.' Do you also feel the same way sometimes?

I don't feel as if I was used by the government. I supported everything they did right. You can look in the achieves [to check this]. I criticized all the wrong actions of the government and warned it of the consequences. … Perhaps it is better to say we have been deceived, not used. After a certain point, this idea began to gain strength, in particular following the 2010 referendum. I was one of those who launched the “They are not enough, but [vote] yes” campaign [for the constitutional reforms put to a referendum], in conjunction with [constitutional law experts] Ergun Özbudun and Levent Köker. We gave support to the reforms in the referendum and the settlement process [aimed to resolve the country's Kurdish problem] in good faith. We gave strong support to the EU reforms. Moreover, most of those reforms were from my report titled “A Civilianization and Democratization Perspective for Turkey,” on which Erdoğan took notes during a visit to the Birlik (Unity) Foundation in 2005, whose president I was then. It was not as if the government found the right thing to do and we applauded them later on. We had already been writing about the things that needed to be done. I submitted a manifesto-like report of 30-40 pages to the Virtue Party (FP). So, we would definitely have approved it if the government had taken action in line with our recommendations for reforms. What happened next? The government reversed the reforms approved in the 2010 referendum and for which we fought so hard via so-called laws or firmans. It betrayed our will, not only that of us but the will of the 58 percent [of Turkish voters who backed the reforms]. This is what happened. Some friends of mine are still unaware of this. I believe some friends who refrain from criticizing the government for the injustices and unlawfulness it is involved in, continue to support it strongly and back the government operation against the Hizmet movement will be very embarrassed one day.

Mistakes don't change core of Ergenekon

AK Party circles refer to the followers of the Hizmet movement as neo–Kemalists. Should not we use this expression about the AK Party's policies and alliances over the past few years?

Certainly, right. The way the prime minister has launched his presidential campaign also shows this, from Samsun to Erzurum [following the footprints of the nation's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, when he led Turkey's War of Independence in 1919). His discourse and the way he acts is like this, but it is not possible for him to deceive the Kemalists in this way. Now the neo-nationalist, Kemalist circles are giving him temporary support. They don't do this thinking, “The AK Party is innocent, all the guilt belongs to the Hizmet movement.” They do this in order to eliminate the shared enemy first. Unfortunately the government's strategy on this issue is causing a lot of damage to the country. Some mistakes have been made in all the coup trials that I also criticized back then. But now, with the help of the reckless attitude of the government and its supporters, a perception has been created that all those trials were ungrounded and made up by the Hizmet movement. … Such coup preparations, made by the military, are not unusual things in Turkey. Legal mistakes have been made in those trials, I have been writing about them since 2009, even before the conclusion of those trials, but this does not change the essence of the issue. This does not mean that some groups within the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] and their civilian extensions did not make such coup preparations and are completely innocent.

Has the government created such a perception by calling the coup trials an act of “conspiracy”?

Sure. It needs this [the support of neo-nationalist circles] when it is eliminating the movement. On the other side, the government needs other alliances. For instance, it has made other religious communities engage with the government.

Some have likened this process to the era of late Prime Minister and President Turgut Özal. But doesn't this process resemble the single-party era? Such a strong figure, who had control of everything, existed only in that period.

Certainly, there are similarities. Erdoğan resembles Atatürk more than Özal. He defends the position of a guardian, a post of tutelage that is above the system, has legitimacy above the system and whose decisions are indisputable. This upper position not only means that it is at the top of the executive body but also at the top of the entire state mechanism, like the post of Atatürk. He dreams of a situation in which he will leave normal constitutional mechanisms as needs on paper and act in line with his own will.

There is a completely new judicial system in Turkey since the Dec. 17 graft probe, after the amendments made to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) law and the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the establishment of the criminal courts of peace. What kind of a state has been created? Is this a temporary situation, as claimed by some?

The Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 graft allegations are very serious and grave. They would be strong enough to topple the related ministers and even the government in a normal Western democracy. The only way to get rid of this and prevent these allegations from damaging the future of the government was to claim that all of this was a plan from a group aiming to topple the government. A factor that led the AK Party government to think in this way is its mood since the Gezi Park protests. It seems to have restored its self-confidence, but it still have fears that it might lose power. This is not only about losing power. Being in power means having the mechanism to distribute revenue. Some poor people can become rich in a short time. People who have no chance of becoming something become editors-in-chief, columnists or commentators all of a sudden. There is wealth, status, this and that. So it has become very crucial for some to remain in power. So they feel the need to keep, it no matter what it costs. The only way to achieve this was to create a government with extraordinary powers. There is an impression that this will be temporary, but as you see, it is not the case. It is possible to say that Turkey is moving toward becoming a security state, with the amendments made to the MİT law, the HSYK law and the sack laws. … As long as the government's new strategy and project improve, there will be regression in the supremacy of law and fundamental rights and freedoms to the same extent.

I think this regression seems valid to people who built their careers on the issues of freedom and law. When the political situation is obvious, aren't comments that portray everything as “improvement” weird?

The government has managed to convince many people with the nonsense that we are undergoing an extraordinary process, the state is under threat, a so-called "parallel structure" is trying to take the state under its control, it has paralyzed all the democratic mechanisms, it should be eliminated at all costs, and this is a matter of survival “as a nation” and “as a state.”

Ok, why aren't you convinced by this?

I am someone who has observed the political history of Turkey in the long run and long perspective. I know that the Feb. 28, 1997 coup period in our near history was the product of the same mentality. At that time, we were again told that we were facing big dangers that we could not understand or know, and these dangers legitimized the suspension of law and human rights. At the center of that “danger” was the political tradition that now introduces others as the “danger.” The same thing is being said today, except the scapegoats have changed. There is no difference between the circumstances of the Feb. 28 period and now. Only the actors are different. At that time, it was the armed forces and its supporters, now it is the AK Party government [that is portraying a group as a threat.]

Prosecutors who stopped the trucks in Adana did the right thing

I just want to ask about the January interception in Adana of the Syria-bound trucks, which the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) said it owned, this seizure prompting an angry reaction from the government. It is taboo even to talk about the incident. Was the incident contrary to Turkey's national interests? What do prosecutors do in such cases?

The policies the government follows abroad with other nations or states are not always in favor of the national interest. There is not an objective national interest. This is something to do with a government decision at one time with a certain composition and program for what the national interests are. So we don't have to agree with it. … There Turkey offered arms to unidentified people and groups who have caused trouble for Turkey today. In order to prevent this shame from being revealed, the government has imposed confidentiality on the issue and said it is necessary for national interests. The government pursued the wrong policy there. We don't have to approve of that wrong under the name of national interests. From a legal point of view, if you have not set rules to legitimize such unusual operations, prosecutors will certainly take the necessary action under normal circumstances. This is what happened there. The government's later amendment of the MİT law proves this. I mean the legal framework was not suitable back then [for the trucks to go to Syria.] This means the prosecutors took the right step.

Published on Today's Zaman, 09 August 2014, Saturday