Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, who was once very close to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, says on the allegations raised during the Dec. 17 process, “A trial is not something to be condemned; but remaining under suspicion is bad.” He notes that the government is politically responsible for the illegal wiretapping.
Fırat, former deputy chair of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and also one of the founders of the party, does not believe the allegations of a “parallel state.” He argues that if there is a parallel state, it is Ergenekon, adding that the government was unable to organize the political process after the Soma mine disaster.
Fırat is a member of the Rişvan tribe of Adıyaman. He has been involved in politics for more than four decades. Fırat graduated from Ankara Law School before serving in various positions in the Justice Party (AP) and True Path Party (DYP). In 2000, he was elected as a deputy from the list of the Virtue Party (FP). After the dissolution of this party, he joined the reformers who would then found the AK Party, where he served as deputy party chair. Fırat also took part in the parliamentary commission set up to form a civilian constitution.
When we look at the Democrat Party (DP) and the AP, they both experienced problems in their third terms in office. And the AK Party currently has problems. Why?
I am not against a party having election victories for three terms or 10 terms. If it is not controlled, power becomes harmful. Imagine that there is huge power, but there is no control. Therefore, proper checks and balances should be maintained in a democracy. This applies to both the ruling and opposition parties.
When the prime minister declared the start of a “period of mastery” after the election victory in 2011, you warned him. Why?
There is no mastery in politics. I have been in politics for more than 40 years. You cannot just teach politics in a lecture hall, because it is full of surprises that might lead to problems. So politics means solutions to these problems. If you declare that you are now a master of this business and you do not need anything, you start making mistakes. Politics generates problems all the time; take the Soma incident.
Was the Soma mining accident addressed properly?
No, not really. First, you have to learn a lesson from this. You should tell the people about the problems you have in political terms, and you should admit the mistakes and stress that you are taking the proper measures to address these mistakes. If you are unable to address the problem, then you tend to blame somebody else, including external actors, the owner of the mining company, etc. I do not think any of those are responsible. Many factors might have caused that accident. You need to analyze these factors and tell people the truth. Accidents happen; but measures should be taken to prevent it from happening again. In addition, people are killed on a daily basis in the mines. The number is not important; even if one person is killed in these accidents, you have to take the proper measures. This is politics.
Why don’t the consultation and control mechanisms work? Where is the problem?
Of course, we have leaders. But leaders are not alone; in modern societies, leaders have aides and executives who also constitute an indispensible part of the administration. We have local branches, assembly groups or committees of ministers in a political party. If a single person makes the decisions, this is not what we can properly call democracy. We have referred to the 1982 Constitution as antidemocratic and a great mistake. There is one thing that needs to be done in terms of the Constitution: It should be thrown away. But before that, we are required to do two things: amend the political parties law and the election law. Without these, you cannot make things right in Turkey, no matter how extensively you change the Constitution.
The 1982 Constitution stresses that political parties are indispensible elements of democracy. What conclusion should we draw from this? If political parties are not democratic, then it is not proper to call that society or country democratic. The law on political parties needs to be democratic. The people should be allowed to participate directly in political affairs. If the deputies are nominated by the party headquarters, this is not democracy. In democratic countries, democracy starts with political parties. For instance, Germany’s population is greater than ours. But the number of members in the Social Democrat Party [SPD] is 100,000; we have, however, 8-10 million members in one party. This is illogical and irrational. Even the Chinese Communist Party has 8 million members.
What should be the case?
Those who become members of a party should be assigned duties. They need to pay their membership fees regularly. They should be admitted as members only after a trial period; but once they become members, they should be entitled to have a say in the election of deputies, party chairs and executives. But the leader dominates the party in Turkey. And political parties are reluctant to address this issue.
You argue that the state is a dangerous apparatus and that if you live with it for a long time, you acquire a bureaucratic identity. Is this what has happened in the third term?
This is not peculiar to Turkey. Bureaucracy is always against democracy. In the initial years of the AK Party, the prime minister used to say, “From a bureaucratic state to a democratic state.” What does this mean? This means that the barriers to democracy should be removed. Bureaucracy is a structure whose operation and ideology even the most democratic-minded person will adapt himself to after a while. And a minister will adapt to the bureaucracy if he remains in the position for a long time.
Is Erdoğan’s discourse of “my police, my officers” the result of this bureaucratization?
This is a bureaucratic state. We need to separate the state from the government. There is a state structure; this structure remains no matter who governs. But what is a government? A government is something that is entitled to rule the country because of authorization by the people. Therefore, the police and the bureaucrats are not mine.
Who owns the police?
The police belong to the state and to the people. If we can speak about the people’s police, then we can argue that there is democracy.
Serious corruption allegations were raised after Dec. 25, 2013.
But the government framed the corruption charges as a coup attempt and blamed the Hizmet movement, which the prime minister has referred to as a “parallel structure.” Is there a “parallel structure”?
I do not believe that there is a “parallel structure.” There is only one parallel state in Turkey, and it is Ergenekon. It has extensions in the judiciary, the media and the financial sector, as well as the security sector. This is a parallel structure. The Ergenekon threat has been addressed. I do not think there is a parallel state other than Ergenekon.
In the Feb. 28, 1997 coup era, some problems were covered up by allegations about fundamentalism. Is the same happening now?
There is now a manipulation of perceptions underway. Everything is confused. Turkey is holding three consecutive elections. I believe that this is unfortunate, because elections mean tension. There is also Dec. 17 [the corruption operation]. This is unacceptable. Legal motions were drafted; so what needs to be done is to invoke the Constitutional Court’s jurisdiction. The suspects should be prosecuted and tried. A legal trial is not something to be ashamed of. But remaining under suspicion is quite bad. I believe that an acquittal in a legal process is an honor. If these people were not involved in corruption, then they should be tried. I hope that they will be acquitted, because I know most of them as friends. This is something they could leave to their children as a legacy. If they are not acquitted, then they should be punished properly. Therefore, Dec. 17 is a process that cannot possibly be covered up.
There is huge polarization and tension in society. Is polarization a political method or style?
Polarization can be used as a certain political tactic, but for a limited time only. I mean, you have an election in which you can rely on this to consolidate your support base. For instance, you manipulate the voters of Party A so that they will not switch to another party. But this should be done temporarily. Otherwise, the people are divided into different camps. This was the case in 1957. A popular front was created; there was only one radio channel, which announced the new members admitted into this front.
Is the current tension similar to that of the 1960s?
We did experience this in the 1960s. I am afraid this is also happening now. Polarization should be addressed, because the way I see it is that the people are divided and extremely polarized along political lines. There are similarities but also differences with 1957. Today we have a more dangerous polarization. Communication was poor in 1957-60. There was only one radio station, which was controlled by the government. And there were also newspapers. But communication is so advanced today that information spreads across all parts of the world. So this exacerbates polarization.
In every social crisis, others are blamed, for instance the US, Israel, foreign actors and the “parallel structure.” This discourse had not been there in the previous two terms. How did this discourse emerge?
First, there is the polarization that we spoke about. Second, no group should exercise domination within the state. The Constitution says that every person is entitled to be employed by the state as a civil servant. I can serve as a police officer, judge or prosecutor. This is a constitutional right; however, domination by one group in the state should not be allowed. The state can employ leftist, communist, religious, Christian or Alevi people. How many Christian judges are there? None. Is this proper citizenship? Does he pay tax? Does he serve in the military? So?
How would you react to a witch-hunt against a group of people by means of the state apparatus?
Well, in this case, the government needs to offer plausible explanations to the criticisms suggesting that they employed these people in the first place. It is the government that appointed them. So, if there is a problem or something to be blamed for, then the government is also responsible for this.
Who is responsible for the illegal wiretaps?
In 2000, a new law was passed on wiretaps and technical surveillance. I was in the parliamentary Justice Commission back then. I raised objections to the content of this law because it included some unlawful provisions. This law was passed and has been implemented for a long time. I argued back then that if this law was passed, we would not be able to talk about a state governed by the rule of law in Turkey.
What were your objections?
For instance, the law said a person can be wiretapped in emergency situations without a court warrant. The wiretap can continue if the court authorizes it. The German version of this bill stated that wiretaps can be conducted in cases of emergency on a prosecutor’s order, but that the authorization of a judge must be sought within 24 hours, and that if the judge denies it, the information collected through the wiretap must be destroyed. An archive can be created in our system. And this archive can be used to fabricate evidence against people. The German version also specifies restrictions to wiretaps. Only non-writeable CDs can be used. Law evolves by taking lessons from past mistakes. The German system noted the previous mistakes to make its system better. But this was neglected in our case.
What is the responsibility of the government in this case?
We have heard about the wiretapping in the papers; but I have not heard about any action against those who conducted these illegal wiretaps. For instance, illegal tapes of deputies were leaked to the media. I have not heard of any legal action on this matter. The perpetrators were never identified. Tapes of a political party leader were also published. The state relies on written law. If you fail to resolve the case, then you prove your impotence.
Should we not wiretap? Of course, wiretapping should be used when necessary. But when? It should be used against the mafia or organized crime groups. The state should take measures to wiretap them. The state is responsible for protecting our honor and security. But when it performs this duty, it needs to remain committed to the law. If nothing comes out of these wiretaps, the records should be destroyed.
You believe there is an Ergenekon, right?
I strongly believe that there is absolutely an Ergenekon. I have no doubt. Maybe some people were unjustly prosecuted; but I have never had doubts about whether there is an Ergenekon. And the Ergenekon case is not over. This is such an intricate structure and organization that its intelligence branch was not revealed, its media branch was not identified and its financial leg was not identified. This is not a structure that includes military servicemen alone; there are also civilian Ergenekon members.
How about the legal attempt to dissolve the AK Party?
It is something Ergenekon is responsible for. I know they are responsible. This is certain. We were working on a civilian constitution; there were attempts to stall the process; and we were told that otherwise, the party would be dissolved.
Who told you this?
Well, we were told.
We were told. This became clear at some point. We did not stop the process, but soon a dissolution process was initiated. The constitution-making process ended. We do not need to present an official military document to prove this. There are published memoirs of military servicemen of the time. If you read them, you will see that they make confessions.
There was no judicial process over the e-memo, a controversial statement weighing in on the Turkish presidential election in 2007 that the General Staff released on its website?
Like many other things, Ergenekon was not exposed. No need to investigate the 1960 coup. It is not important to convict an 80-year-old man. What matters is to give the message that the people who serve within the state will be held responsible if they mistreat the people. Otherwise, prosecuting some 30 people is not important. What is important is to stress that regardless of your previous service and rank, you will be prosecuted if you do harm to the people. We call this supremacy of law.
Was the e-memo a coup?
Of course it was. Nobody is the owner of the state, in any part of the state machinery. Those who want to do politics form a political party and get involved in politics to appeal to the people. You cannot employ the power conferred on you by the state against the people. This is a cardinal principle.
Do you believe that the military was entrapped?
I do not believe that the army was entrapped. Of course, some mistakes were made. I am saying this as a lawyer. Many cases were merged; this complicated the whole issue. From the perspective of the military, there is a military chain of command. The superiors give orders and others follow these orders. This is the discipline of the army. Besides, not only military servicemen did this. What was the reason for the dissolution of this party? I think that the prosecutor [who dealt with the case] should be interrogated.
Why has he not been interrogated?
Perhaps an agreement was made. And no further action has been taken since then.
Was there an agreement in the Dolmabahçe meeting (held between Erdoğan and former Chief of Staff Yaşar Büyük Anıt in 2007)?
I do not know. But the prime minister says that he is writing his memoirs. Perhaps we will see what was really going on someday.
How would you comment on the recent Constitutional Court ruling on lifting the Twitter ban?
For the first time, the Constitutional Court acted in line with its job description. I think that the Twitter ruling was the right thing to do. Do you find insults in that medium? Yes, you do. But a ban is not a solution to this. It is not a remedy to ban social media. What should be done? Those who committed the insults should be identified and prosecuted. I do not think that banning Twitter is proper. The punishment should be a deterrent. The prime minister argues that Twitter is a private company. This is true; but so is a newspaper. Can you shut down a newspaper? The rights of those who read or use [the newspaper or platform] cannot be suspended just because it is a private company. So, if I use YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms, it’s about my right to free communication. If personal rights are violated in that media, these violations should be identified and prosecuted.