Ex-diplomats slam AKP government’s orders to ambassadors over graft probe

A number of retired ambassadors have criticized Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Interior Minister Efkan Ala’s calls on ambassadors serving abroad to “tell the truth” to their foreign addressees about a corruption scandal that has implicated former government ministers, saying the order is neither appropriate nor reasonable, according to a report by Today’s Zaman.

“Will ambassadors tell their foreign colleagues that a corruption investigation started, which includes some members of the government, and that the government found the solution in changing a number of bodies such as the HSYK [Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors] and judicial police regulations?” asked former ambassador Deniz Bölükbaşı. He said that even if ambassadors explain the course of events to their colleagues abroad, their foreign counterparts will once again see a pathetic picture of Turkish foreign policy.

Speaking at the annual gathering of ambassadors in Ankara on Wednesday, Erdoğan was the first to describe the corruption investigation involving former government ministers as nothing but a “treacherous plot” to sabotage Turkey’s international standing, as he ordered Turkish ambassadors serving abroad to “tell the truth” to their foreign interlocutors.

Without naming it openly, Erdoğan has accused the Hizmet movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen and “its foreign collaborators” of attempting to overthrow his government through a “judicial coup” ever since the corruption probe that shook his government became public on Dec. 17, 2013 with a wave of detentions.

At the same conference the next day, Interior Minister Ala told ambassadors serving abroad: “We cannot allow black propaganda to be spread at a time when things we do not deserve are taking place. One of the best ways to eliminate this is information, providing correct information to the international community.”

Yaşar Yakış, a former foreign minister of Turkey, said the government can give any kind of written or oral instruction to its ambassadors. “However, some issues can put Turkey in a difficult situation in the international arena,” he said.

Ala also stressed that all issues are of interest to ambassadors, saying: “If it interests Turkey, the whole responsibility for this abroad is yours and domestically with the governors . … There is no area that does not concern you. You cannot say, ‘This is not my business,’ on any issue that you are informed about.”

Another retired ambassador, Osman Korutürk, told Today’s Zaman that the order to these ambassadors is “against the law” because ambassadors are not supposed to be the voice of any political party. “It is not possible to pursue these issues through ambassadors,” he said.

During his speech, Erdoğan defended the measures that have been taken since the corruption probe went public, saying they are not an intervention into the judiciary but a step designed to fight an “illegal organization” within the judiciary, apparently referring to the Hizmet movement. “The real face of this organization must definitely be shown abroad,” he said.

Erdoğan and Ala’s remarks during their speeches to ambassadors are reminiscent of a controversial National Security Council (MGK) document indicating that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) agreed to a planned crackdown on the Hizmet movement in 2004.

The Taraf daily published a document in December 2013 prepared by the MGK on Aug. 25, 2004, persuading the government to implement a series of measures to curb the activities of the Hizmet movement. It advises the government to adopt legal measures that would impose harsh penalties on Hizmet-affiliated institutions.

The two-page document was signed by Prime Minister Erdoğan, then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, then-President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Cabinet members, Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök, Land Forces Commander Aytaç Yalman, Naval Forces Commander Adm. Özden Örnek, Air Forces Commander Gen. İbrahim Fırtına and Gen. Şener Eruygur.

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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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