Turkey, graft probe and regime crisis: Power struggle, or deep rift on Turkey’s direction?

Here is my piece on what is behind the graft probe, corruption allegations published in Today’s Zaman:

 

There is growing confusion in the foreign media about what is taking place in Turkey, which does not go without notice.

I witness this increasingly in the Q&A’s in the Western media outlets and debates, as well as during the discussions, that my Turkish colleagues participate in.

A typical example of this, which can easily be described as a focus shift, or more than a slight eclipse of judgment, is in this final part of the “analysis” posted by a Turkish colleague on the BBC World Service website.

It goes like this: “With the local elections in two months’ time, a presidential election this summer and a general election next year; with the Turkish lira falling to a record low against the dollar and foreign investors watching events nervously, many people in Turkey fear the path ahead with bitter power struggles, may cause political and economic instability in the country.”

The entire text — and you see similar ones in various outlets — tends to end where it actually should start, by explaining the reality in the background. But, for simplistic viewpoints, “power struggle” seems to suffice to respond to everything.

Turkey, such standpoints seem to imply, is just another of those Middle Eastern countries. Better to disregard the fact that it is a negotiating partner with the EU, keeping the perspective against all odds, and proceeding — albeit at a snail’s pace — forward.

For far too many, who have never really tried to realize the historic role given by the zeitgeist to the diverse Islamic segments of this country to help transform the country, neither was there any real attempt to realize that within the main bulk of Anatolian Islam, decades-long crosscurrents have been taking place about a different model than the one that failed under Jacobinism.

It seems strange to some observers that various Islamic segments here might come to a clash point because their views on politics, international relations, interfaith ties and, most important, on morality are no longer in synch. Thus, the focus shift.

In a recent debate in a Western media outlet, I strongly disagreed with the others, that what has been happening in Turkey since Dec. 17 can simply be reduced to a “power struggle” between two key front figures of Turkish politics in the past two decades: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Fetullah Gülen. I argued that Turkey’s story during the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, since 2001, was immensely important, complicated, with a main focus on democratization — or not.

To claim an ugly power struggle contradicts — and actually insults — all those loose reform coalition forces who from their ends helped push a normalization process. I argued further that the latest graft probe, and the suppressive reflexes of Erdoğan in its aftermath cannot be seen as separated from the Gezi Park events and urban protests last summer. If the latest turmoil can only be explained by a power struggle, so must the Gezi events. Thus, it does not make sense.

As an external observer, I see a profound rift having taken place between Erdoğan — more than anybody else in the AKP — and the Hizmet movement; and that has much less to do with the power struggle than a resistance to another massive, individual attempt to accumulate power in one person.

What has defined Erdoğan’s way with various social segments since 2011 is to alienate, antagonize, suppress and devour. So was his pattern with the dissident Kurds, Alevis, leftists, liberals and now Hizmet. The common denominator of these groups, which backed the AKP in the key referendum in 2010, was to be made inclusive, and balance an asymmetrical power picture — as the military exited politics — as much as they can. And they all exist in state structures, to varying degrees.

If Gezi was a turning point in Turkey’s exciting story, so now are the corruption allegations that are bound to rattle the government. So, my humble suggestion is, keep an eye on the deep rift between the AKP and Hizmet, but focus primarily on what develops as a big story, with concrete evidence and detentions. If we, as journalists and observers, reduce its significance to a “power struggle,” we will have failed the public.

 

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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