November 1, 2014

Traitor in Turkey

Abdullah Bozkurt

An unusually vitriolic campaign waged by Turkey's authoritarian leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, against opponents and critics using baseless accusations and full-blown conspiracies has torn apart unity and bipartisanship even on the most critical national security matters.

The main reason Erdoğan and his allies in the government have blatantly abused their positions is in order to survive politically following the massive corruption investigations that incriminated the president, his family members and close associates. As a result, they sought refuge in conspiratorial stories and have attempted to pass the buck to others for their wrongdoings rather than take responsibility for their actions.

The main opposition Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) leader, who received support from some 13 million voters, was publicly declared a “traitor” by both Erdoğan and his caretaker, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, because the CHP has been doing what it is meant to, scrutinizing and checking government policies and actions. Exposing corruption and laying bare what seems to be illegal and illicit support of armed extremist groups by Erdoğan in Syria clearly falls under the mandate of any legitimate opposition in any country.

If CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is a “traitor,” as claimed by political Islamists, then all 13 million voters who supported him and his party during the last elections in March must be aiding and abetting this traitor as co-conspirators. This defies logic, reason and common sense, yet Erdoğan and his allies, using mouthpiece media, continue to incorporate this idea of treason against any critical comments, calling any critic a traitor.

The same approach has been used against supporters of the third major party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), as well because it was also lumped into the same category by the political hacks in the ruling party. We can add some 7 million Turks who voted for the MHP to the pool in the “traitors club.” Some 3 million Kurds who supported the pro-Kurdish party, mainly in Turkey's southeastern and eastern parts, also belong in the same category, according to the logic employed by political Islamists. In mathematical terms, 57 percent of Turkish voters are viewed as traitors, according to Erdoğan, as only 43 percent supported his party in the March elections.

Moving to business groups, Erdoğan also called then-President of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) Muharrem Yılmaz a traitor in January of this year following the business group's issuance of a strong warning to the government in which it said foreign investment would not come to a country where there is no respect for the rule of law. TÜSİAD's former head was simply talking about his legitimate concerns that foreign investment will not be made in a country in which there is no respect for the rule of law, where legal codes conflict with EU rules, public procurement laws have been amended dozens of times and companies are pressured through tax fines.

Considering that TÜSİAD members constitute 80 percent of Turkey's total foreign trade, provide 50 percent of the employment in the economy, barring agriculture and public employment and generate half of the nation's economic value, excluding the public sector, describing an influential business group as traitors does not make any sense from a sound policy decision vantage point. The Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), the largest business advocacy group in Turkey, represents some 55,000 entrepreneurs and is very popular at home and abroad for delivering positive results on boosting trade. The group is especially savvy in lobbying on behalf of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and active in 140 countries with business group partners. TUSKON was directly attacked by Erdoğan in public rallies as well.

The independent and critical media is a usual suspect in the eye of Erdoğan as well. He often accuses them of selling the country's interests to foreigners, publicly bashing journalists and media outlets and accusing them of being traitors to the nation. One leading investigative reporter was actually indicted on treason charges in politically motivated judicial proceedings when he exposed massive profiling by the government on unsuspecting citizens based on their ideological, racial, religious and political affiliations. The government used this illegal data to bar applicants from government jobs or deny them from receiving a fair shot at public tenders and contracts. The independent print media has some 50 percent share of the overall circulation figures of 4.5 million in Turkey which means that Erdoğan sees half the Turkish media as enemies and traitors.

Last but not least, Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has inspired a worldwide social movement called Hizmet that is active in education, charity and intercultural dialogue, is also a member of the “traitors' club.” Hizmet volunteers have established high-achieving schools with a special focus on science education in some 160 countries. Gülen made it onto Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2013 and was at the top of the list of "The World's Top 20 Public Intellectuals" put together by the magazines Foreign Policy and Prospect in 2008.

Erdoğan, who had been praising Gülen for years, suddenly decided to turn against him after corruption investigations incriminated Erdoğan and his family members in December of last year. Like a child with his hand caught in the cookie jar and face covered with smears of crumbs and chocolate chips, Erdoğan had to quickly blame someone else for the empty jar. That is what he did when he accused Gülen of orchestrating corruption probes without offering a single shred of evidence to support these ridiculous claims. Erdoğan's sudden interest in demonizing Gülen is a result of the effectiveness of Gülen in discrediting the Islamist credentials Erdoğan falsely claims in order to enrich his family and promote his political ambitions.

As a result, Gülen and his some 15 million followers in Turkey and abroad must also fall into the category of traitor so that Erdoğan and his cronies, who exploit religion for political purposes, can cling to power. On Thursday, it was reported that the Hizmet movement was denounced as a national security threat in the meeting of the National Security Council (MGK) convened under Erdoğan's leadership. Since the minutes of the meeting are secret, we do not know how accurate the reporting is. Yet we know that Erdoğan recently announced that the Hizmet movement will be included on the list of national security threats, which is often referred to as the “red booklet,” and is updated by MGK. His comments represent a complete reversal from his earlier position in which he criticized the existence of the “red booklet” in March 2013 as a source of “artificial threats” used to put pressure on society.

If everyone Erdoğan publicly called a traitor makes the list, I suppose the overwhelming majority of the Turkish nation must be considered a national security risk. As long as Erdoğan is unprepared to accept the bitter reality that the world does not fit in his paranoid view, millions will not escape this scapegoat status. Erdoğan's outbursts and the witch hunt conducted by his allies in government, have gone beyond being merely a symbolic campaign to rally a political Islamist base around a hateful narrative. It has already disrupted the daily workings of the government with ill-advised measures imposed by the influx of political appointees. These actions are all inconsistent with an increase in the quantity and scope of Erdoğan's attacks against opponents and critics.

I believe the verdict is already in: No regime can survive if it continues to treat its citizens as suspects and potential threats. Judging from the series of missteps and failures in response to emerging crises and challenges, the government seems to have been disorganized. It is also plagued by infighting among competing factions. That is why Erdoğan's rule is bound to eventually fail.

Published on Today's Zaman, 31 October 2014, Friday