Former football star, İstanbul deputy says he is subject to hate crime

The famous former football player Hakan Şükür, who was awarded a distinguished service medal from the state due to his impressive sporting career, is also renowned in the international football world for scoring one of the highest numbers of goals in one season.

However, in the wake of the Dec. 17 scandal, Şükür has been at the center of political debates due to his resignation from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). He resigned from the party before the corruption scandal broke and has been accused by his fellow party members of taking instructions from Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Şükür admits that he values Gülen’s ideas and says that it is an honor to consult Gülen. He also denies that he entered politics on Gülen’s instructions, stating that it was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself who insisted on his candidacy in the general elections of 2011.

According to Şükür, there is an oligarchical hierarchy within the AK Party and deputies have almost no say in the decision-making process. Şükür also says that he has been subject to a smear campaign since his resignation and argues that he has been a target of hate crime and has been accused of treason. He does not seem to care about the removal of his name from stadiums that were named after him but says that criticizing the AK Party cannot be considered treason.

He is convinced that the decision to fight the Hizmet movement was taken long before the decision to close down private prep schools by the AK Party. Due to the existence of a “fear empire,” the media censor him, according to Şükür, who believes that Turkish people will soon ask for a return to freedom.

Sunday’s Zaman interviewed Hakan Şükür at his home in İstanbul.

As the government faces serious charges of authoritarianism, your resignation from the AK Party resonated a lot. What made you enter politics in the first place?

Up until 2011, Turkey took important steps for democratization and EU membership under AK Party rule. My friendship with Prime Minister Erdoğan since his days as mayor of İstanbul and my popularity in the sports world brought about proposals for entering politics. I refused them before, but when I went to consult with the prime minister about a possible chairmanship of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), he proposed that I become a deputy.

Were you surprised by this proposal?

Frankly, I did not have a political career in mind. However, Erdoğan said he knew that I had not thought about politics but wanted me serve with his party because people from different areas of society like me. He asked me to be active in sports policies.

Why did you consult with Erdoğan on a position that should be politically independent, such as the chairmanship of the TFF?

There was an effort to dominate areas such as sports and the business world, despite their need to be autonomous or independent. We could include civil society institutions and the media into this effort as well, which was revealed with the corruption probe. It was normal to receive instructions behind the curtain from Erdoğan about every decision. Unfortunately, at the time we did not perceive it as a result of authoritarianism, but simply Erdoğan’s interest in sports.

Then your candidacy as deputy did not result from orders from Fethullah Gülen, as Erdoğan claimed?

I was upset by this statement. I was invited to become a deputy by Erdoğan himself. I remember the conversation we had, and most importantly God knows. This statement alone was enough to change my opinion about Erdoğan’s sincerity. Once again I realized how justified my resignation was. In a sense it was a personal sacrifice to enter politics with the AK Party because I had to engage with a certain ideology. However, it was portrayed as if I owed my career to the AK Party by the pro-government media.

Have you ever thought that smear campaign was being conducted against you?

Definitely. After Erdoğan, many important names within the party made the same slander and the pro-government media published lies about me. It was when I first saw the “fear empire.” Except for a few media outlets, the entire media closed their doors to me due to the prime minister’s attitude. I expressed myself through social media, but then Twitter and YouTube were blocked. The country drifted into heavy censorship, and I witnessed that personally.

Why was this secret censorship reflected in the March 30 elections?

Even before these elections, we saw the gradual establishment of a closed regime in Turkey. Society witnessed the imposition of single-party rule. The majority of people did not know the details of the Dec. 17 corruption process.

But your resignation letter did not touch upon corruption. The emphasis was on the closure of prep schools…

Because I was not aware of corruption. The closure of the private prep schools and the statement by an AK Party deputy that prep schools are more dangerous than the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] were a great disappointment to me. How could I stay with people who think like that? Prior to my resignation, I got the impression that the decision to close down prep schools dated back to years ago.

Did you talk to the prime minister about your stance as a deputy on the prep schools?

If the prime minister has made a decision, your opinion as a deputy will not make any difference. AK Party deputies only see legislative drafts when they arrive at the general assembly. Deputies used to complain about this. I can say that politics are not supposed to be like that to those who criticize me for not knowing politics. For this, I am glad that I entered politics.

Why are you glad?

Because I am able to express what is right for society. People need to know the facts. I am now in a position to argue that the AK Party government used the Hizmet movement, its human resources, intellectual muscle and power in the international arena and at home until it became stronger [than the movement]. Whenever corruption allegations and authoritarianism emerged, the AK Party played the victim by blaming the Hizmet movement. The government curtained the facts and misdirected public opinion by carrying out decisions taken by the National Security Council (MGK) in 2004 [that aim to eradicate the Hizmet movement]. It passed many laws while knowing that the Constitutional Court would overturn them. Thousands of police officers, judges and prosecutors and bureaucrats were reassigned without any reason [being given]. As a former Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin stated, an “oligarchical structure” has been created by the government.

Should Parliament worry about the reaction of the Constitutional Court every time it passes legislation?

Of course the will of the nation is very important, but the Constitutional Court checks the constitutionality of the laws. We deputies swore to defend the rule of law. How are you going to nurture the rule of law when the laws that Parliament passed aim to cover up the Dec. 17 corruption scandal? Who is going to audit whom if you concentrate power under one hand? Would that not lead to one-party rule?

Why did you not bring up those criticisms before you resigned from the party?

I was among the last deputies to enter politics for the AK Party. I was also new to politics. I needed time to grasp politics and observe the party. I was a new deputy in a party that had been in power for eight years. Whenever I tried to communicate my feelings about the party’s mistakes, it would all fall on deaf ears. It was difficult to get results from such calculating people. I left the party 30 months after I joined.

Do you think you have become a target of hate crime?

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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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