Turkey’s mighty Diyanet now a political tool

My latest comment:

Crushing the hope that it had sent Turkey’s bureaucratic tutelage model to the garbage can of history, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has shifted its center from the Chief of Staff to the powerful Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), which represents only the Sunni majority in the country but is fully financed by the taxes of all citizens.  

Some of us knew this was going to happen, perhaps, given the U-turn of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP. This has become the party of the “new state” of Turkey, driven by populism to attract more votes.  

With its unspoken sectarian character and vertical dependence on the government, the Diyanet has now emerged as a body that is intensely utilized by the executive branch for a huge amount of appointments to other state bodies. 

 Voices from all three opposition parties, in a news story by Sunday’s Zaman, should alarm every one of us. They all say the same thing: the Diyanet — a relic of early Kemalist rule and sheer proof, by its existence, that Turkey is not a secular state — was not reformed according to the criteria of the democratization process. On the contrary, it has become a stepping stone for large-scale appointments to all public sector institutions. 

Currently, 100,000 people are employed by the Diyanet. Those recruited there in the past four years amount to around 40,000.  

“[The AKP] is using the Diyanet as a transit corridor to other public institutions,” said Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chairman, to Sunday’s Zaman on Sunday. In inter-institutional transfers, those coming from the Diyanet are given priority. 

“If it is impossible to recruit people to be on the permanent staff, the government recruits them to temporary positions. Then it passes an omnibus bill to give those temporarily employed people permanent staff positions. Then they are transferred to other public institutions,” said Tanrıkulu.

Altan Tan, a deputy from the People’s Democracy Party (HDP), argued that the Diyanet has now turned into the AKP’s “directorate of political affairs,” while Özcan Yeniçeri, a Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy, said that it is now the “AKP’s crony.” The report also pointed out that people who “defy the AKP’s instructions are removed from their posts or face pressures.”  

This is yet another grave sign of how the AKP is muscling in on all key institutions, and if all goes well, according to its intentions, we will end up soon, arguably before the next year’s general elections, with a party monopoly at all decisive levels. The state-run broadcaster, TRT, is already under total control, and very few institutions that can be called somewhat independent remain intact, though in a vulnerable condition.  

Next in line may be the top judiciary. The Constitutional Court has already been demonized. Nobody knows who will have the right to appoint new officials when its current chairman, Haşim Kılıç, leaves his post early next year, under Turkey’s new president. 

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals seems to have been placed on the AKP’s radar already. If the Cumhuriyet daily’s recent story is accurate, the government is planning, through the Fifth Judiciary Package now pending in Parliament, to carry out a massive purge of all its departments and members, as well as a redistribution of all its filed cases. With the creation of eight new departments, 60 top judges are planned to be appointed soon, according to the daily, which claimed that the entire goal is to make the court “safer” for the government.  

This part of the bill seems to have been overshadowed by amendments that apply to the higher crimes of drug crime and smuggling, as well as sexual crimes against minors. Some critics say the judicial part of the bill is “hidden.”  

If the bill passes, all will be clear for the government to roll up its sleeves for what will certainly be described as a new purge by the already pressure-weary staff of the judiciary. The changes, Cumhuriyet reports, will also lead to politicized appointment procedures when the top judges of the court leave their jobs next spring. 

 Actually, no further comment is needed. But let me finish with this: A party monopoly on the state is inevitable if the AKP abandons its mission and remains invincible before a weak opposition. Turkey’s bright destiny is seriously at stake.

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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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