October 24, 2015

Arınç turns up criticism with pre-election broadside

Former Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç turned up criticism of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) policies and, apparently, of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in remarks a week before a parliamentary election on Nov. 1.

Arınç, a co-founder of the AK Party who is not running for re-election, revealed in a televised interview on Saturday that he was blacklisted by media outlets including the state broadcaster TRT, even though he was the minister in charge of the TRT, the Anadolu Agency, and pro-government broadcasters for the past two years.

“I am embargoed by broadcasters that they see as friendly. I haven't been invited purposefully. This includes the TRT which I was in charge of,” he told private CNN Türk television. Arınç said the media ban included even those who make positive comments about him and Abdullah Gül, a former president and another AK Party co-founder.

“Those who say ‘Bülent Arınç is a good man,' or ‘Abdullah Gül has done good deeds,' are taken off the air. If it is already broadcasted, then the recordings are erased… This is because I have made certain people uncomfortable,” he said, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to Erdoğan.

Arınç, who has revealed his concerns about several actions of Erdoğan or the government in more than one occasions in the past, said he and Gül were not seeking to create a new political party that will bring together dissidents of AK Party, but he warned they should not be braved either.

“They should not test us,” he said of pro-government and pro-Erdoğan columnists in the media who have both floated and degraded the idea of Gül and Arınç leading a party of AK Party dissidents. “They keep up assaults on us because they think ‘they will not dare to do so anyway.' But if they say ‘so what if they [Gül and Arınç] unite and form a party,' and I would not recommend them do so, then they should think about the consequences.”

Arınç said both him and Gül command respect in the society and said a group of “madcaps” who have joined the pro-AK Party camp in later stages were using Internet trolls and newspapers they control to discredit him, Gül and other AK Party heavyweights such as Hüseyin Çelik and Ali Babacan.

The former deputy prime minister instantly responded to Nuh Albayrak, the editor-in-chief and a columnist of pro-Erdoğan Star newspaper who criticized his CNN Türk remarks on Twitter.

“Some of our columnists commit more murders than Yazid,” he said of the Umayyad caliph, whose forces killed Prophet Muhammad's son Hussein and his supporters in the Battle of Karbala in 680. “They attack dignity of people and their social status with such severity that Yazid would be jealous if he could see them,” said Arınç.

‘I might have lost my affection for certain people'

In what appears to be a declaration that he parted ways with Erdoğan and the AK Party, Arınç said: “I can say I have lost my enthusiasm. I might also have lost some of the affection have for certain people.”

“People withstand challenges with [the power of] love. But if it is waning -- and it does not matter who is responsible for it -- if walls of ice start to rise between you and the people you make politics together, one can say that it is time to take a break,” said Arınç.

On Gezi and the war on Gülen movement

Arınç also criticized the government reaction to Gezi protests of the summer of 2013 and a war on the faith-based Gülen movement spearheaded by Erdoğan since a corruption scandal implicating people in his inner circle erupted in December 2013.

“I believe it [the nationwide Gezi protests] was something that could have been prevented with some foresight when it first started,” Arınç said.

The former deputy prime minister was also critical of the campaign against the Gülen movement, which has led to arrest of journalists close to the movement; raid of schools, commercial companies and even kindergartens seen linked to the movement; and most recently the removal of seven television channels from major digital broadcasting platforms and what appears to be an imminent ban on the same channels by Türksat satellite operator.

Arinç said Turkey's main security body, the National Security Council (MGK), did recognize “parallel state structure and illegal structures disguised as legal structures” as threats to national security but said this was a broad definition that is not specific to any group.

“Now some are trying to establish a term, FETÖ. There is no such thing in the MGK decisions. Some prosecutor may have written an indictment [that mentions a terrorist organization called FETÖ]. It needs to turn into a court verdict,” Arınç said. “It may or may not be the case. I know Fethullah Gülen was tried on terrorism charges [in the 1990s] and then was acquitted.”

Arınç was referring to what the pro-government media claims is a terrorist organization headed by Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The acronym of the alleged terror group stems from an indictment targeting the movement, known as Hizmet.

In reference to police raids and court cases targeting businessmen and companies seen close to the movement, Arınç said he even suspects if there is a secret organization working behind the scenes to deprive the AK Party of sympathizers of the Gülen movement.

“Some of the actions have become such that innocent people are being victimized. Homes, businesses of people who have nothing to do [with criminal activities] are being raided and it makes me think if there is an organization which is trying to cost AK Party votes in the run-up to the election,” he said.

Arınç also praised Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and said he was convinced that AK Party would get enough votes on Nov. 1 to form a one-party government under Davutoğlu's leadership. But he also derided criticism voiced against Gül by AK Party officials, including Davutoğlu, after Gül phoned the leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) to extend condolences for the deaths of more than 100 people at a suicide bomb attack in Ankara on Oct. 10.

“There is nothing to criticize here,” he said of Gül's phone call to HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş. “More than 100 people have lost their lives at a legal rally because of the bombs of two terrorists. Those who do not feel sorry for this should check their hearts.”

Polarization woes

Arınç also criticized the AK Party rhetoric and said it should be softened. “We get 50 percent of the votes but it turns into a rhetoric of hate when it comes to the remaining 50 percent. We used to go out on streets and people loved us. Opponents used to respect us. Now I sense a hateful stance. There is polarization,” he said, warning that failure to revise policy could turn Turkey into a “country that cannot be governed.”

“Soft rhetoric is very important in politics. I don't know if this would be a good example but when you put a cat in a corner, it is going to scratch your face,” he said.

Published on Today's Zaman, 24 October 2015, Saturday