Political war escalates amid local elections in Turkey

Developing Just Leadership

Ahmet Aslan

Jumada' al-Akhirah 01, 1435 2014-04-01

News & Analysis

by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 2, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1435)

The political scandals that preceded the March 30 local elections were meant to damage the prospects of AKP. The Gulenists and their agents in various institutions abused their positions to undermine the ruling party but with little success, it seems.

On March 31 (after Crescent press time), Turkey will hold its most volatile local elections in history. The ominous war between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen, the shady leader of the Gulen group — that prefers to be called Camia (Jamia), Cemaat (Jamaat) or Hizmet (Khizmet) — has dragged Turkey into its worst political crisis in recent history. In a purely politically motivated attempt to eliminate Erdogan, arguably the most popular Turkish leader, from the political scene, Gulen has unleashed a barrage of allegations to discredit, tarnish and eventually remove Erdogan from power.

The Gulen group has been operating surreptitiously for almost 40 years to seize power by infiltrating sensitive government institutions. During this period they adopted a very elusive method to appear as “moderate” and “nationalist” Muslims whose only aim is to “serve” (hizmet) Islam and the Turkish Muslims and work for the development of the country. Yet, recent developments have made it clear that their hidden agenda has always been to seize power.

As reported in previous issues of the Crescent, Gulen’s followers first attacked the government by initiating mass scale corruption investigations and arrests that included four cabinet ministers and their sons as well as local AKP governors and important bureaucrats. The prime minister’s son, Bilal Erdogan was also accused of wrongdoing, allegedly at the behest of his father. The aim was to imprison key AKP figures to taint Erdogan’s reputation before the forthcoming local election and pave the way for more significant operations with the ultimate aim of removing Erdogan from power.

According to recent revelations, they even planned to arrest Erdogan once he was out of office. Gulen had convinced his followers that their plot would work efficiently due to the strong presence of members of his group in the police and judiciary and had anticipated that by January 2014 the AKP government would fall and would be replaced by a coalition government.

The plot was that once the new coalition government in which Gulen supporters would also be included was formed, Erdogan’s alleged collaboration with his son will be revealed. Thus, he along with his close circle of political allies will be arrested and jailed for a long time.

The plot, however, has been partially thwarted thanks to rigorous and swift measures by Erdogan, who fired several police chiefs including the Police Chief of Istanbul and quickly amended various laws that empowered the government to remove members of the Gulen movement from the judiciary. In this regard Erdogan’s new Interior Minister Efkan Ala and new Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag have played a crucial role in removing Gulenists from key government posts.

Consequently Gulen has lost his advantage vis-à-vis the government. His followers, however, have already amassed enough tools to put up a bitter fight against the government. Almost every day an alleged phone tap recording or video recording belonging to AKP members is uploaded on the internet. YouTube and Twitter are saturated with these recordings that testify to the alleged corruption and wrongdoing of the government. The most salient of these recordings are the ones about Erdogan. The recordings so far have shown how Erdogan contacted a media boss in Turkey to express his discontent regarding the coverage by a TV channel of Gezi Park protests in 2013 or discussing with the former justice minister about a court case filed against the richest business dynasty, which has always taken an anti-Erdogan stance.

Erdogan acknowledged these recordings stating that “it is very normal for me to contact the media boss to let him know his coverage of the event is untrue and he is broadcasting insults against me…” and as prime minister “discussing a court case with my minister that involves allegations of corruption in a very sensitive defence contract.” Although he accepted the authenticity of these recordings, he vehemently denied other recordings such as the one that was allegedly tapped on the day of the first wave of the so-called anti-corruption operation. The recordings give the impression that Erdogan instructed his son Bilal to remove an unspecified but large amount of money from his house as a precautionary measure.

Erdogan categorically denied authenticity of the recordings and obtained a report from an American company that suggested the recordings were fake. Some independent Turkish experts also confirmed that the recordings were doctored. Erdogan stated that members of the Gulenist group that had formed most of his police protection unit until 2012 have tapped his phones and office since 2008 and this has given them an opportunity to pick words from his speeches and doctor the conversations between him and his son.

The poor quality of recordings, abrupt changes in the pitch of the voices and interference of unidentified voices give credence to the fact that the recordings were doctored. Further, the most important point is that such tapings are illegal and cannot be used in any court proceedings.

As to Erdogan’s claim that Gulen was behind the tapping and tampering, this is a distinct possibility. Although Gulen vehemently denies his involvement, his media group has been aggressively reporting them and targeting Erdogan on a daily basis. Considering Gulen’s traditional position of appearing to stay away from politics and never making any political comments publicly, his public comments give a very strong indication together with his other activities that he is behind the plot. Ironically, in a TV interview in 1995, Gulen stated, “even if Angel Gabriel descends and establishes a political party I would tell him that ‘you have established a party but with all due respect I would not join your party as my priority is to benefit my country.’” But now he has turned into the biggest political opponent of Erdogan.

Further, the same method has been employed previously to eliminate Gulen’s opponents. It has been revealed by the victims’ statements (http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/12/turkey-corruptian-cemaat-role-scandal-police-hrant-dink.html, http://www.sabah.com.tr/Gundem/2014/01/13/hanefi-avcidan-bomba-aciklamalar) that as a result of joint work of the group members in the police and the judiciary, they produced forged documents against many individuals and groups that they considered a threat for their cause and unjustly arrested and convicted many innocent people, including former the joint chief of staff, police commissioners and journalists.

Last month’s revelations by the Chief Prosecutor of Istanbul however indicate that the Gulen group had a more ambitious plot. According to the chief prosecutor, police discovered wiretaps on 2,280 people going back to 2011, and that he expects this number to increase significantly. The list of people that have been snooped on was made available to the media and it emerged that it includes the most prominent community leaders, scholars, activists, and heads of NGOs in Turkey.

The tapping began as part of a police investigation in the so-called “Selam-Tevhid” group that was dubbed as a pro-Iranian “terrorist group” by the government in 2001. The chief prosecutor also stated that the snooping was illegal since the court that authorized it only allowed it for 40 people for a period of six months. However, the police expanded the number of people to almost 10,000 and tapped all of their communication for almost three years.

The aim of the plot is thought to be to eradicate all potential obstacles standing in the way of Gulen’s ambition to seize power. The plot also bore the hallmarks of Israeli involvement since most of the targets of the wiretapping were anti-Zionist activists including Chairman of IHH Bulent Yildirim, Chairman of Mazlumder Ahmet Faruk Unsal, al-Quds TV director Nureddin Sirin, and the prominent Islamic thinker, Atasoy Muftuoglu.

Interestingly, as a part of the same investigation, the Iranian Embassy in Ankara and some prominent members of the AKP and senior government bureaucrats were also tapped: Deputy Chairman of the AKP Numan Kurtulmus, current Interior Minister Efkan Āla (he was the most senior bureaucrat at the time) and Head of Turkish intelligence service (MIT) Hakan Fidan. This is a highly unusual combination of people and reflects the eerie nature of the work of the Gulenists. According to speculation, the plan was that if the first stage of the plot had been successful, Gulen would have authorized the second stage and arrested all these people for being members of the pro-Iranian Selam-Tevhid group.

In other words, senior members of the AKP, along with Director of MIT Hakan Fidan would stand trial for being “Iranian spies.” This may sound ludicrous but internet material suggests that this was a strong possibility. A YouTube account called “Acemusaklari” (Servants of Iranians) has been leaking phone and video recordings and claiming that they had been gathered as part of the police investigation on the Selam-Tevhid group. The recordings suggest that Hakan Fidan had allegedly been recruited by General Sayyed Mir Vakili, a senior member of Quds Brigades, a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The recordings also suggest that Fidan is a committed Shi‘i and cooperating with the Iranians.

There is no recording of Fidan himself and the conversations about Fidan often take place between third parties including Sayyed Mir Vakili. The leaks also allege that Iranian spies have been using women through mut‘ah marriage to recruit AKP members and extract information from them. No sane person would believe such allegations. The perpetrators of the plot, however, do not need to convince people but to confuse them for the subsequent stages of the plot. After the discovery of the tappings, the police and prosecutor who have been in charge of the investigation have been removed from their posts and the menace seems to have been avoided for now.

There have been many “Islamic” movements with a similar agenda of seizing power to establish an Islamic state for the purpose of “serving Islam” and spreading it from within. However, dealing with power is a risky undertaking as it can mislead people if they are not sincere in achieving their goal and are not equipped with the necessary knowledge to achieve spiritual purity. In this regard the Gulenist movement shows to Muslims how the ambition to seize power can turn into a disaster.

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