November 25, 2015

Where corruption dovetails with tyranny

Ali Yurttagül

Turkey is experiencing the moment where corruption meets and overlaps with tyranny.

Personal possessions are being impounded and people are losing their jobs, all because of sympathizing with a certain social movement. Journalists are being imprisoned, newspapers shut down, TV screens darkened. And all the while, an invisible hand fed by hatred turns not only the country's prosecutors and judges but also companies like the Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) into critical instruments for its own witch-hunt. We all watch as the targeting of one specific social group turns into an outright hunt. But, of course, witch-hunts are nothing new in Turkey.

The spirit that discounts basic human rights, targets minorities and throws intellectuals behind bars to rot is nothing new to this country. It didn't arrive here with the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Think of author Nazım Hikmet, who spent the best years of his life behind bars. Think of writer Selahattin Ali, who gave us immortal words that we still quote, killed by a murderer hired to target him. What we are seeing now, though, is that this never-ending witch-hunt has gotten deeper with the AKP. But where is the connection with corruption you ask? Read on.

Pushing aside the social matters of the Republican People's Party (CHP) for a moment, the Welfare Party (RP) was the target of witch-hunts in the 1990s. In fact, both the RP and social matters got bigger during these years. Women working in the ranks of the RP in those years extended helping hands to the poor and disenfranchised people living in city neighborhoods. Warm hands would deliver gift boxes filled with items like two kilograms of rice, two kilograms of beans, one liter of sunflower oil, or a couple of packages of pasta. The boxes would be hand delivered to people's doors by women. Not surprisingly, many people were won over this way.

In the meantime, the growing perception of the CHP as a party that looked down on the poor wound up critically damaging the CHP in those years. Poor factions and people living in the outlying districts of the city shifted their votes towards the RP in those years. Today, examining the political geography of İstanbul, one can clearly see this political shift. Is it not true that the more central municipalities like Bakırköy, Şişli, Beşiktaş and Kadıköy are all CHP, while those outer districts are all AKP? The rich and the middle-class cross paths at the “leftist” CHP, while the poorer factions all meet up at the “conservative” AKP. This is, of course, paradoxical.

The AKP, which placed the struggle against “poverty, corruption and bans” at the center of its campaigning, won earlier elections. And thus it was that the former ruling parties, fatally connected in peoples' minds with corruption and political crises of varying degrees, fell back into the dark pages of history. After the AKP first came to power, it deepened the social policies put into place by Bülent Ecevit that aimed to ensure monthly salaries for retirees and pensioners. AKP municipalities extended assistance to millions using carefully widened state pathways and suddenly countless masses were in possession of money for food and medicine that they hadn't had before. What people saw via the AKP was that a social state was actually possible here. And suddenly, those boxes filled with food items seemed less important.

In the later years, some AKP cadres started expecting even bigger things from some of the companies that donated items such as oil, rice or sugar for the assistance boxes. For example, huge profits started rolling in from permission given to construction companies to build larger structures with more floors than they had originally signaled. Valuable gifts began to be given to top state officials who allowed business figures to profit enormously from bidding tenders. In the end, these state-sponsored bidding tenders turned into notable sources for corruption. The “bag-holders” buying all this privilege began multiplying in numbers; take a quick look at the Turkish energy sector if you want to see how much they've proliferated.

In the meantime, the real tip of the iceberg in the Deniz Feneri court case, which began in Frankfurt and wound up turning Turkey upside down, became visible. And the minute newspaper pages became filled with stories of all the corruption and the bribery, this is when the tyranny began. Journalists like Ahmet Altan, Hasan Cemal and Can Dündar -- who had at one point expressed sympathy for the AKP -- were fired, hushed up. And it was right at this point that corruption began to dovetail with tyranny. And since certain politicians were well aware of the power of perception and of the fact that the media press cannot simply be guided by oppressive policies, the process of creating a pro-government media and buying journalists as hired pens began.

From the moment the AKP began distancing itself from Ekrem Dumanlı and any press close to the Gülen movement, the first real signals of the dimensions of this witch-hunt were given. Maneuvers to shut down preparatory schools started. Then came the Dec. 17-25, 2013 investigation, successfully blocked by claims that it was nothing but a “coup attempt.” The tyranny, hoping to camouflage the corruption, quickly turned into outright witch-hunts that are still ongoing. The fact is, corruption threatens the future of not only the AKP but all of Turkey. Despotism is knocking at our door. Can you hear it?

Published on Today's Zaman, 25 November 2015, Wednesday