February 4, 2015

Citizens flood Turkey’s Bank Asya with funds in show of support

Tens of thousands of citizens formed long lines in front of Bank Asya branches across Turkey in the early hours of Wednesday morning to deposit large sums into their accounts in response to the state-run Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) decision to take over most of Bank Asya's management as part of a government-orchestrated crackdown on institutions affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement.

Following the TMSF announcement to take over 63 percent of the bank's stock and appoint a new board of directors, Bank Asya clients have defied the nominally independent agency's pressure and intimidation by declaring their intention to mobilize against the government. Many customers of the bank have reportedly sold belongings, including such things as furniture and wedding rings, and deposited the money into their accounts.

Hundreds of people gathered in front of Bank Asya's headquarters in İstanbul on Tuesday night to protest the crackdown, which was based on the grounds that the bank did not have a transparent partnership structure or an open organizational scheme. Carrying signs with slogans such as “Save Bank Asya from thieves,” “We are here to deposit money, not withdraw” and “This bank belongs to this nation,” the crowd refused to leave the area until the early hours of the morning.

“When I heard about this crackdown on Bank Asya, I rushed to a Bank Asya branch without even having breakfast and deposited all the cash I had at the moment. I have been doing all of my shopping with Bank Asya cards for years. I have not experienced anything bad here. They are nothing but honest,” Nuri Özyazıcı, a livestock breeder from İstanbul, told the Cihan news agency.

Bank Asya, founded by sympathizers of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, has seen depositors --including state-owned firms and institutions -- withdraw funds this year in what it has described as a systematic campaign to undermine it. “Every single penny I have is in my Bank Asya account. I am willing to sell everything I have, including my car and my house, in order to prevent them [the government] from closing this bank. We will fight until the end,” shopkeeper Enes Karaoğlan told Cihan.

Ever since Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, when investigations of figures associated with the government apparently revealed the biggest corruption and bribery scandal in the history of the republic and implicated a number of members of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government as well as family members of then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Bank Asya, Turkey's largest Islamic lender, has been subjected to a series of government-led attacks. Erdoğan has long accused Gülen of seeking to overthrow him and has pledged to purge his supporters from institutions such as the police and the judiciary. Gülen, via his official website, has denied any involvement.

Throughout the day, tens of thousands of old and new customers opened bank accounts with Bank Asya or made deposits into their accounts in many provinces, including İzmir, Ankara, Kastamonu, Amasya, Isparta, Afyonkarahisar, Mardin and Manisa. “I have been saving money for a long time because my son is going to get married in couple of months. When I learned that Bank Asya's management was taken over, I immediately withdrew all the money I have from other banks and deposited it into my Bank Asya accounts. Today is not the day to think about my son's future. Today is the day to save my bank,” a woman told Cihan in front of a Bank Asya ATM in Isparta.

“I have always seen these kinds of crackdowns as positive maneuvers, because we, Hizmet members, become closer and closer. They think we will be intimidated and step back, but this is like a red cloth in front of a bull. May God protect Hizmet and its institutions,” said Hüseyin Akgül, a shopkeeper in Afyonkarahisar.

A Turkish housewife said in front of a Bank Asya branch in İstanbul's Bakırköy district that she was waiting for her turn to deposit money into her daughter's account. Another citizen, Sabri A., said he and his wife have decided not to do any shopping until the end of the month so they could put all of that money into their account with Bank Asya. Another family reportedly arrived at an Antalya branch of Bank Asya early on Wednesday to put gold they had received for their newborn son's birth into their accounts.

Social media users slam gov't for crackdown on Bank Asya

The TMSF decision to take control of Bank Asya management has also drawn a strong reaction from social media users, who have accused the government of attempting to carry out a revenge plot. Thousands of Twitter users have shared pictures of bank receipts showing the amount of money they deposited into Bank Asya with the hashtag #BankAsyaOyunu (The plot against Bank Asya). This hashtag reached second place on the list of top-trending Turkish hashtags on Twitter, following #SeninleyizBankAsya (We are with you, Bank Asya).

Posting tweets on his official account following the operation, Anatolian Alevi Bektaşi Federation President Cengiz Hortoğlu expressed his displeasure with the crackdown. “Tomorrow [Wednesday] I will go deposit my salary and savings into my Bank Asya account,” Hortoğlu tweeted.

Journalist and academic Mustafa Akyol said in a Twitter post: “Turkish Republic! Know your place! Get your hands off people's lawful schools, banks and houses!”

Milliyet daily columnist Aslı Aydıntaşbaş also criticized the crackdown, writing; “Turkey is now a country where there is no reasonable justification for the actions [of the government]. It is like an amateur wrestling ring.”

Former international football player and independent deputy from İstanbul Hakan Şükür said on his Twitter account that the nation will look after Bank Asya no matter what the consequences.

Published on Today's Zaman, 04 February 2015, Wednesday

See several photos of long lines in Bank Asya branches across Turkey.