Veteran columnist Cüneyt Ülsever, who was fired from the Hürriyet daily in 2011 following then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's pressure on the newspaper's administration due to Ülsever's critical columns about Erdoğan's government, has warned that worse days may come under Erdoğan's autocratic leadership.
Ülsever has pointed out that the rule of law, freedoms and the principles of democracy have been violated in Turkey by the current type of governing. He also acknowledged that Erdoğan has deceived himself and the people alike by portraying himself as a defender of European values and fundamental freedoms. However, he has emphasized that Erdoğan and his close circle will finally be brought to account due to the Dec. 17 and 25 corruption scandals, which implicated the government's eminent figures.
The columnist believes that Erdoğan is paranoid and does not like anyone following his continual hateful reactions towards disasters and accidents in which many citizens died, in an effort to evade taking responsibility for the incidents. He also has said Erdoğan's constant references to the self-styled “parallel state,” referring to the faith-based Hizmet movement, is an attempt to escape responsibility and put the blame on them regarding the Dec. 17 and 24 corruption investigations.
According to Ülsever, the United States, United Kingdom and Germany are behind the illegal wiretapping of Erdoğan and his inner circle, revealing an alleged graft chain within the government. However, he has slammed Erdoğan for not asking these powers about the wiretappings while targeting a group at home.
Ülsever has defined Erdoğan as autocrat and warned that Turkey may face worse days in the upcoming periods under such a type of rule, based on violation of democratic principles.
Could you speak about the story of the plague presented to you by Fethullah Gülen?
Ülsever: Until the Feb. 28 process [when a coalition government led by a now-defunct conservative party was forced to step down by the military on Feb. 28, 1997], I did not know anyone from the Hizmet movement [a faith-based social movement inspired by Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen]. When a junta nested in the military, intensified persecution over society, I penned lots of articles defending advocating for the Hizmet movement against the junta. I was tried seven times by many courts and the total amount of time in prison sentence terms that the prosecutors demanded for me was 49. In that period, we became closer with the Journalists and Writers Foundation [GYV]. I think I was among those people who suggested launching an initiation to organize a platform for intellectuals to discuss the country's problems. I asked whether the GYV wanted to remain a closed organization or whether it wanted to embrace all intellectuals. They acknowledged that I was right. In the aftermath this process, the Abant Platform was established among the discussions of the Feb. 28 process. Then, the meetings started. I also took part in several of these gatherings. The process led to a visit to Pennsylvania, where Gülen is staying. I was a guest of his for a night. When the AK Party [Justice and Development Party] was formed in 2002, like the Hizmet movement, I also supported the AK Party and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But in early 2005 I wrote two columns making self-criticisms regarding my support for the AK Party government and Erdoğan and totally withdrew my support from the AK Party. Because Erdoğan, who said to my face that he was a liberal democrat and took the side of freedom, was openly lying. I realized that I could no longer trust him and his words.
What types of policies led you to abandon Erdoğan and his party?
The most important breakthrough was a YHT [Ankara-İstanbul high-speed train] accident that claimed lives of 41 passengers. Erdoğan's language following the accident [in which he defined the disaster as a ‘desire of God,' prompting harsh reactions from society because his words partially held God responsible for the tragedy instead of those who initiated the project and were negligent during the implementation of the project] made me very uneasy. I know that he had been warned that the railroad beds were not appropriate for the construction of any kind of high-speed train project. Despite the repeated warnings, that [large] number of people died. The government held the two machinists responsible for the accident. For a moment, let's consider that the government was not aware of the risks of the project. Then why did they suspend the construction of the line? It verified my thesis that the project was a mistake all around. In that period, a high-ranking official from the TCDD [Turkish State Railways] told me that every Turkish government that has come to power has desired to construct a high-speed railway between İstanbul and Ankara. But at every turn, the technical reports would explain in detail the impossibility of such project since the railway substructure was not appropriate for such construction. Not long after this conversation, one month later, the train disaster occurred.
Could you mention how you met Erdoğan?
Three days after Erdoğan was sentenced in prison for reciting poem while he was mayor of İstanbul, I paid a visit to him in his office in the municipality hall, as many liberal and socialist columnists changed the pavement that they were walking on when they saw Erdoğan so as to show solidarity with him. I told him during the visit: ‘It has nothing to do with voting in favor of you but you are the elected mayor of İstanbul and you are still in my heart despite the prison sentence. It is cruel to punish you for reciting a poem.' He was surprised by my attitude. There was no one in the building. Everyone avoided him like the plague. He was deeply affected by my act. Until that day we had never met. We came together once more before he went to prison. He said to me: ‘Brother! Did you know that the Feb. 28 process profited us a lot?' I asked about the reason of such an outcome. He responded by saying: ‘I understood that it is not possible to govern the country through the political tools and methods that we are using. I want to adopt a liberal outlook and advocate freedom.' I asked him whether he read liberal literature. He responded, ‘No.' Then I took several books on the matter with me before Erdoğan was put in jail. After he was released from prison, I asked him whether he had read the books, but he replied that he had not had a chance to read them. We continued to come together to have talks over the basic principles of liberal democracy. I tried to explain him that Western norms are not in conflict with each other.
‘I told him exploiting religion for politics is harmful'
I explained to him about exploiting religion for certain political benefits and goals and stressed that religion may shed light on a politician's honesty and ethics but that being religious is not a precondition for being honest. He proposed that I enter politics in the AK Party's ranks. But I responded that I just wanted to defend his rights because he had been exposed to a kind of cruelty; I said I did not know [about] his political opinions, so I was not involved in politics.
What was the motivation behind your full support to Erdoğan?
First of all, anyone can track of my standing. I principally take the side of suffering people and dislike haughty people. My connection with Erdoğan should be evaluated from this perspective. I believe in the rule of law at heart. I will be with whoever suffers from discrimination or other types of exclusion from society. That's why I supported Erdoğan and when he turned into a haughty person I confronted him and finally he made me be fired from my job with the Hürriyet daily.
Second, despite the fact that I came from a leftist tradition and [view] Marxism as a valuable ideology, I realize that Marxist ideology lacks the necessary tools to respond to the demands of the contemporary world in terms of administration and other factors. My sociological consciousness has increased a lot and I have leaned toward liberal ideals. Whatever I advocate, I should establish a smooth relationship with society that is based on being respectful. Unfortunately, the political tradition that I came from was not respectful to those conservative values. Mr. Kemal [Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP)] is struggling a lot to overcome this problematic point of view but still you may find traces of this sick tradition in the CHP. Despite not being conservative, I believe that I should pay respect to society's values. If you do not show respect to society's appearance, clothes and ways of worship, you will not be able to make your politics acceptable to them, even if you mention the finest policies to them. I understand this reality and [that I should] respect anything that is part of the whole of society.
‘Erdoğan frustrated and deceived me'
Can you mention more how you were deceived by Erdoğan?
I should mention [Turgut] Özal [the eighth president of Turkey]. During the time that I spent in the United States, when my belief in the free market economy combined with the principle of the rule law as well as the conservative approach, I thought I had found the right person [to govern the country properly].
When Erdoğan told me he wanted to be like Özal, I believed in him. I trusted him when he promised to correct his former mistakes. I was so stupid to believe in him. I defended him until 2004. He vigorously championed the European Union's values and principles between the years of 2002 and 2004. Afterward, I understood that all of these steps were tactical efforts to legitimize himself and his rule both at home and abroad. I was cheated. He deceived me.
After the train accident, Erdoğan's way of handling the issue caused me to think Erdoğan does not love the people. He only loves himself. Anyone who has a piece of mercy feels grief in the face of such tragedy; above all, if you are responsible for the result, a heart-searching process is triggered by the incident. Erdoğan was never involved in such a process [of remorse]. Anyone who devotes themselves to the rule of law should, in any case, respect and love people. In the wake of the disaster, a discussion erupted over whether adultery is an offense. He occupied the agenda with such an absurd debate. Adultery is a sin, sure, but efforts to include into it the Civil Code were in contradiction with his former self-styled rhetoric on the rule of law and the EU norms. He should distinguish between religion and the law. When he lashed out at those who were displeased with his words during the process by saying, ‘Can I ask you the issue [of making adultery an offense in the Civil Code]? Of course I will consult the clergymen,' it supported my idea that he actually never changed. His revealed his true intentions.
Corruption scandals confirmed my belief about Erdoğan
When I shared my observations and ideas regarding Erdoğan's real intentions with some friends of mine within the GYV, I realized that they did not share my point of view. A split in the opinion was seen. But none of them judged me for thinking different from them. But the number of our regular meetings decreased. They called me in 2012 and invited for a meeting to have talks over the recent developments in Turkey. I expressed all my ideas. It was a very nice day in the wake of a distance. I really appreciated their attitude against someone who openly criticized them. They never hurt me. I do not think I hurt them, either. Hocaefendi [Fethullah Gülen] wrote a thank-you plaque for old friends. There is a difference between conservative-conservative and moderate-conservative in my mind. The Hizmet movement is in the second category for me. A tradition of attaching huge importance to positive sciences and logic in the movement is a fact stemming from the doctrines of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi [the writer of the Risale-i Nur Collection, a commentary on the Quran].
Can you share your experiences related to pressure on media by the gov't?
During [former Hürriyet Editor-in-Chief] Ertuğrul Özkök's tenure, the government's intimidation process through tax inspections had started. I did not face pressure from Özkök but a growing atmosphere of pressure was dominating the daily. When Özkök was forced to leave his post because of the government pressure, Enis Berberoğlu replaced him. This was the moment that I and other columnists felt the government pressure on us most strongly. An open censorship mechanism was put in place by the new administration of Hürriyet. My articles disappeared a couple of times. Then I was fired at the end of 2011. Like me, Berberoğlu censored many other columnists. Berberoğlu was elected to the CHP's party assembly as the deputy chairman of the party responsible for media relations. I ask Kılıçdaroğlu: How can a man who censors his columnists be assigned to such a position?
An autocrat leader is governing Turkey
What about freedoms and democracy in Turkey?
A one-man rule based on autocratic character is governing the country. No one can put forth the argument that he was elected. People also elected Hitler and Mussolini. We may face worse days in the near future. But this structure may not be sustainable. Henry Barkey recently made a statement emphasizing that the US is laughing at the accusations that the Dec. 17 and 25 corruption investigations were carried out by the ‘parallel structure.' He is not a man who talks to himself. These audio recordings [allegedly of Erdoğan and his inner circle] will remain over their heads. As for the report prepared by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) claiming that these voice recordings are fabricated, they are totally false.This report was drawn up by a group of self-styled scientists.
Then you think Erdoğan will one day be brought to account before the law?
I say if there is a God above and laws below, those who were involved in the corruption will be brought to account. I do not know whether they really committed the attributed crimes, but I say: 'If these voice recordings are fake, God damn those who fabricated them. But if they are authentic, God damn them.' What is being done now regarding these recordings is accusations against a group by calling them 'parallel.' Erdoğan is insulting them. Thus, he is trying to remove himself the accusations. Even though the content of these tapes were collected illegally, it does not diminish the importance of the allegations on corruption.
Source of wiretappings is US, UK and Germany, not parallel
Does the government exclude parts of society that contradict its agenda?
This is called intimidation. The government -- lets be clear, especially Erdoğan -- has turned its former allies adrift. They even [did so with] Hizmet, when we consider his hateful speech against the movement. Erdoğan is paranoid about certain issues. He claims that he was backed into corner by the Dec. 17 corruption operation. But it was the US, UK and Germany that wiretapped him, not the ‘parallel structure,' as he argued. He recently attended the NATO summit and he could not clamed up against these countries' leaders. The source of the illegal wiretapping of Erdoğan is these countries through their Turkish spies, which may be part of Erdoğan's inner circle.
What are makes you uneasy about the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases?
Despite the fact that some of the suspects in these cases intended to topple the elected government, many of them were put in prison even though they are innocent. They should have been tried without arrest. They remained in prisons for years. As I said, some of the claims about certain factions in the cases are sources of crucial problems in Turkey -- like the Kurdish issue and the Feb. 28 process -- and are barriers in front of development. JİTEM, an illegal counterterrorism unit formed under the gendarmerie, should be focused on if one wants to track illegal activities in the military. I also criticize the Hizmet movement for supporting these cases without being careful about differentiating between the real perpetrators and innocent ones.
PROFILE: Cüneyt Ülsever is a veteran columnist who worked for the Hürriyet daily, Kanal 7 and STV channels and now pens articles for Oda TV. He is also the author of several books, such as “Kara Dul,” “Teneke Evin Torunu-Anılar,” “Kendini Arayan Türkiye -- Bir Siyaset Modeli,” “Tezi, Hacı, Neden Liberalism” and “Hisarüstü Cinayetleri.” He was dismissed from Hürriyet in 2011 because of a column in which he criticized the government's ill-motivated policies and Erdoğan's hateful discourse against certain segments of society who do not share his opinions. He is known for his ideas supporting liberal democracy.
Published on Today's Zaman, 20 September 2014, Saturday