February 8, 2015

Bank Asya: The tyranny of arbitrariness or confiscation from Ottomans to Turkey

Murat Aksoy*

Bank Asya -- which has never experienced a significant problem since it was founded 20 years ago, despite serious problems in the banking sector -- is now in the spotlight and being targeted by the state. We have heard a lot of allegations, including the claim that its economic outlook is deteriorating. However, we have also realized that none of these allegations is true.

Despite this, the political administration, relying on excessive measures, have seized the control of the administration of the bank. The decision to use 63 percent of the shares of the bank by the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) is based on the following provision: “The partners holding the qualified shares have to meet the requirements specified … under the laws. The shareholders holding the qualified shares who no longer meet the requirements sought in the law cannot exercise their partnership rights. In such a case, the other partnership rights are exercised by the [TMSF] upon notification from the [TMSF].” This indicates that there is no reference to a liquidity problem or financial weakness that would justify the takeover of the bank.

When reading this justification, one cannot help but ask the following questions: Despite the fact that it has been three to four days, why hasn't the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) announced which shareholders do not meet what requirements? Was it not the BDDK itself which allowed these partners to take part in the management of the bank?

Of course, we will keep talking about the legal aspects of this operation against the bank and its impacts on the economy. In this piece, I would like to discuss the political meaning of this operation. This political rather than legal operation tells us that even if the cultural identity of the rulers in the country changes, they do not change their mindset on how to rule the country. As usual, the authoritarian mentality maintains itself independent of identity. In short, the authoritarian core of the state turns the rulers into an integrated part of the state.

Pro-statism as anomaly and sickness

Nation states are inherently authoritarian. A country becomes more democratic if civil society and political actors gain more power and can serve as a check to the state. Authoritarian tendencies have always been strong in countries like Turkey. What keeps this asymmetrical structure of the relationship between state and society and the authoritarian state are economic sources rather than a strong ideology. And this is the economic power of the state.

The political power of the state relies on the state's ability to create revenues by relying on law and factors of production and ownership and to distribute these revenues to its supporters. In addition to economic considerations and necessities, the state generates income by levying taxes or confiscating private property. What makes pro-statism functional lies in how this revenue is used and distributed. Statism means the distribution of this revenue to supporters who are dedicated to prolonging the government's stay in power.

From this perspective, the operation against Bank Asya holds special meaning in many respects in the history of pro-statism in Turkey and its Ottoman past.

Confiscation is a method inherited from the Ottoman state. It is the illegal seizure of the private property of others by the state. In Ottoman times, non-Muslims were usual targets; in the republican era, minorities were subjected to the same treatment. However, there is a major difference between the cases of confiscation during the Ottoman state and Turkey and the case of Bank Asya. In the Ottoman state and republican Turkey, confiscation was used as a method against those who were defined as others.

Muslim 'others'

However, the case of Bank Asya shows that confiscation now includes Muslims as well, or that Muslims are considered others. In other words, the Hizmet movement is an “other” for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) state. Given that the AKP defines those who do not vote for them as others, this is not surprising. For this mentality seeing those who do not support them as others, confiscating Bank Asya is a political move. How this decision will affect the economic balances and how the world will react to it is now a secondary issue.

The rationale for this decision for the AKP is whether or not it harms others and contributes to polarization. However, the country becomes extremely difficult to govern as the state becomes so relentless against its citizens. It is really sad to see that the state and the political administration do not see this. The confiscation of Bank Asya is a dangerous reflection of arbitrariness as well as the politicization of the law.

*Murat Aksoy is a journalist and writer based in İstanbul.

Editor’s note: Hizmet Movement Blog reaffirms its non-endorsement policy of the various viewpoints expressed throughout the articles that are solely shared for the convenience of the readers.

Published on Today's Zaman, 07 February 2015, Saturday