January 31, 2015

Critics labeled traitors in Erdoğan’s ‘New Turkey’

Almost no day passes in the “New Turkey” without individuals, organizations or groups that criticize the policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and its former leader and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or just do not publicly support them being labeled as “traitors” by the government and the president.

Expressing disagreement with the government and Erdoğan has become an intimidating task for many because once the “traitors” are determined, a battle will be launched against them with the end goal being their elimination.

Erdoğan has been using the phrase “New Turkey” in all of his speeches, including televised ones, and public rallies to describe the changes introduced during the 12-year rule of the AK Party which he led as prime minister until his election to the presidency last August.

The latest group of people who happened to be labeled as “traitors” by some government figures are around 40 parliamentary deputies. This follows a vote in Parliament last month on whether to send four former government ministers who were allegedly involved in corruption to the country's top court for trial.

The AK Party's Gaziantep deputy Şamil Tayyar slammed the party's deputies who voted in favor of sending four ex-ministers facing graft allegations to the Supreme State Council during the parliamentary vote, calling them “traitors” within the ruling party.

The parliamentary vote was done by secret ballot, but the opposition parties had made it clear that their position was that the court should hear the evidence. Still, Parliament voted against taking this measure against the four ministers, by a smaller margin than expected, suggesting that some members of the ruling party voted in favor of a referral. The four former ministers had been implicated in corruption and bribery investigations that went public on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013.

Parliament voted for each of the ex-ministers separately and in secret as per the Constitution's rules. The first vote took place to decide the fate of former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan. At least 38 AK Party lawmakers voted in favor of a trial, but there is not to be one, as 264 deputies, most of them likely from the AK Party, voted "no."

Commenting on the issue while on a talk show, Tayyar said 38 AK Party deputies voted in favor of a trial, saying that this number was higher than the party had expected.

“If the number was merely three or five, it would be OK, but this number cannot be accepted. These [deputies] are traitors among us. It is not nonsense, but a political operation conducted against Erdoğan. A network of treachery among us has conducted the operation against Erdoğan. They could not achieve their goals, but they attempted an operation,” he claimed.

Adıyaman deputy Mehmet Metiner, also from the AK Party, harshly criticized the deputies who voted “yes," saying: “The number of traitors among us was not low. The name of this act is simply treachery. Those who are not smart enough to see that it is treachery should stop participating in politics.”

The tendency of the AK Party government and Erdoğan to label critics or dissidents traitors began or became visible with the Gezi Park demonstrations, which were sparked in the summer of 2013 in protest of government plans to demolish a park in İstanbul's Taksim neighborhood. The protests spread nationwide and became anti-government protests due to police's use of violence against demonstrators.

Erdoğan was quick to describe the protests and those supporting them as “traitors.” He also said the protests were part of a plot to overthrow his government. He never took time to reflect on the reasons that led hundreds of thousands of people across the country to take to the streets to protest against the government.

When a group or a person is declared a “traitor” by Erdoğan, the pro-government media outlets immediately begin a defamation campaign against them to strengthen Erdoğan's claims and create a perception as suggested by Erdoğan.

In the case of Gezi, there was not the slightest room in the ranks of the AK Party government to show tolerance to the dissident Gezi protestors, with a senior AK Party official, Yasin Aktay, going as far as saying, “If you don't believe Gezi is a heinous conspiracy and coup of foreign forces, you are a part of that conspiracy and coup.”

Some members of the Beşiktaş football fan club who took part in the Gezi Park protests are also standing trial on charges of “plotting to topple the government.” Life is becoming more difficult for anyone who supported the Gezi Park protests, said the protests had just reasons or criticized the way the government handled them. Around 10 columnists from the pro-government Yeni Şafak daily were sacked due to their views on the Gezi Park protests which differed from those of the government.

The new ‘traitor': the Gülen movement

The public revelation of a graft probe on Dec. 17, 2013 in which senior government members were implicated prompted then-Prime Minister Erdoğan to label the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, the “new enemy,” because Erdoğan saw the probe as an attempted coup masterminded by the movement to overthrow his government. The Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the graft probe. Despite this, Erdoğan has waged a battle against all organizations and individuals affiliated with the movement.

The prosecutors and police officers who took part in the graft probe were also called “traitors” by Erdoğan. While the prosecutors investigating graft have been suspended, operations have been carried out against the police officers who took part in the graft probe, leading to the arrest of many despite a lack of evidence against them.

It has become unusually common for Erdoğan to attribute anything to treason. For instance, in a statement at a wedding ceremony in December in which he spoke out against birth control, he said, “For years, birth control methods have been used in this country, which aimed at the dying out of our race,” describing these efforts as “treasonous.”

Some newspapers were also accused by Erdoğan of involvement in treason.

In March 2013, Erdoğan accused the Milliyet daily of “treason” when the daily printed minutes of a meeting between jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan and Kurdish deputies. The incident led to veteran journalist Hasan Cemal parting ways with the daily where he had worked for many years.

Last year the Taraf daily was also accused by Erdoğan of involvement in treason when the daily published notes from a confidential National Security Organization (MGK) meeting that revealed that Erdoğan's government undersigned a MGK document in 2004 that aimed at finishing off the Gülen movement.

Former president of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) Muharrem Yılmaz did not escape being labeled as a “traitor” by Erdoğan when he criticized draft laws aimed at putting the judiciary under the government's control and limiting access to the Internet, saying that such moves will deter foreign investors from coming to Turkey.

Speaking at a party rally in early 2014, Erdoğan lashed out at the TÜSİAD head for what he said was his portraying of a negative picture of the Turkish economy.

“Saying that foreign direct investment will not be made in Turkey is treachery,” Erdoğan said.

After a short while, pro-government media outlets began running stories to discredit Yılmaz and his businesses, as a result of which Yılmaz had to quit his post at TÜSİAD.

Erdoğan has accused so many individuals and groups of “treason” over the past two years that it is hard to make a complete list of them. As once mentioned by an AK Party deputy chairman, Mustafa Şentop, the government and Erdoğan have the view that “being against the AK Party is being against Turkey.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 31 January 2015, Saturday