September 10, 2014

Turks mobilize to join solidarity campaign for Bank Asya

The government-led assault to sink Turkey's largest Islamic lender, Bank Asya, due to its affiliations with the Hizmet movement, has stirred a public movement, with thousands of people rushing to deposit money with the bank to aid its struggle for survival.

Mobilized by waves of social media messages, such as those under the Twitter hashtag #MilletBankAsyayaSahipÇıkıyor (NationProtectsBankAsya), people are flocking to the bank's branches to deposit their money. Some have sold their jewelry, some have sold their cars, and some have even drawn loans from other banks to deposit them with Bank Asya so that the bank is not short of money, amid an unprecedented government attempt to collapse a private bank out of animosity towards a civil society organization.

Kuddüs Güler, who has put his vehicle up for sale to collect money for Bank Asya, told Today's Zaman that the car was a vital piece of property for his business. “But it is no longer the time to think of our own needs. I am selling my car, and I will put this money in Bank Asya to support this movement, which stands up to such pressure, and thus leave a better future for our children at a time when everyone is running after their own interests,” he said. He asserted that his motive is to stand up to cruelty and take the side of the oppressed.

Erkan Kaya, who put his house up for sale for the same reason as Güler, said he has full confidence in the bank, of which he has been a customer for the last decade, adding that he will take out money from a different bank if the house is not sold on time. Kaya said he is now telling all the people he knows to keep their savings in Bank Asya.

Bank Asya was one of the strongest and most resilient Turkish banks in terms of the size of its assets as well as its capital adequacy ratios. The government pressure started in December of last year, when a war was launched against the Hizmet movement to divert attention from two corruption investigations implicating government ministers. The Hizmet movement is a volunteer-based movement with the stated aim of spreading education across the world and encouraging interfaith dialogue. Then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed that the Hizmet movement is working as the proxy of unnamed foreign plotters who planned to remove him from power through the corruption allegations.

His next step was to accuse the movement of establishing a "parallel state," through which he found a casus belli to purge anyone within state institutions who had been secretly profiled in terms of their connections to the Hizmet movement. In terms of Bank Asya, Erdoğan and his Cabinet members began their skirmishes by publicly disseminating rumors about Bank Asya's financial situation, which were later proven to be false. Last month the government cancelled tax collection and social security contracts with Bank Asya, a move seen by observers as an attempt to weaken the lender. The bank attempted earlier this year to form a strategic partnership with Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB), but the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) did not allow the talks to proceed. The state-owned Ziraat Bank was involved in talks with Bank Asya, but again the BDDK halted the talks. The Bourse İstanbul (BİST) removed Bank Asya's shares from trading on Aug. 7, citing ambiguities in the bank's partnership structure, and has not returned them to trading since, despite Bank Asya's denial of any uncertainty.

Bank Asya rumors brought to parliamentary agenda

Parliament has debated claims by Twitter user @fuatavnifuat, who claims to be a member of Erdoğan's close entourage and who has revealed secret information concerning anti-democratic practices, about a recent government report outlining a new strategy to sink and seize the bank.

Independent deputy İdris Bal submitted a parliamentary question on Wednesday, directed at Economy Minister Ali Babacan, on the Twitter claims. It asked whether any meeting took place in Beylerbeyi Palace in İstanbul on Aug. 20, with Erdoğan, Babacan, the presidents of the BDDK, the Capital Markets Board (SPK) and the Savings Deposits Insurance Fund (TMSF), Central Bank Deputy Governor Murat Çetinkaya and Ziraat Bankası General Manager Hüseyin Aydın in attendance. It also asked whether Erdoğan ordered the bureaucrats to escalate the pressure on Bank Asya and sink it at any cost. The deputy also wanted to learn whether those attending this meeting later decided to start “close monitoring” of 10 other banks, which are all in worse condition than Bank Asya, to give an impression to foreign investors and banks that Bank Asya is not being singled out. The same questions were also raised by Umut Oran, an İstanbul deputy for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

Published on Today's Zaman, 10 September 2014, Wednesday

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