The Ankara bombing has rent a fissure not just in Turkey, but in the whole Middle-East. Knowing who did it, whether it was ISIL, or the PKK, or an ultra-nationalist or a ‘Western’ agency doesn’t help us. It’s enough to know that the person involved knew there was a crack in Turkish society to be rent asunder. But let us nevertheless survey the field of possibilities.
When thinking through the problems of Muslim societies in the Middle-East, it is difficult to know where to start when confronted with the multi-layered nature of the problems. Much of the polarisation in society simply comes from the inability people to even conceptualise what their problems are. Much commentary becomes emotional, and this is definitely not helpful.
Much commentary also doesn’t give credit where credit is due, scuppering the chance of finding the lifeline which can help pull us out of the quagmire. Is Erdogan really the divisive figure that the press makes him out to be?
If so why did he win the 2014 presidential elections by a margin of 52 to 38, after a full five years of negative press commentary by the media of the Dogan group – Posta, Hurriyet – by the media owned by the Fethullah Gülen Community (FGC) – Zaman – in the traditionally anti-Islamic Istanbul press – Cumhuriyet – and in the painfully craven Atlanticist German press?
What I suppose those who voted for him understood, to begin with, was that Dogan and Erdogan aren’t exactly friends, because they fell out over business deals, like the zoning problem of the land in Dogan’s Bosphorus Hilton property back in 2006, or the fact that Erdogan favoured his friend Ahmet Çalık for the rights over the Cehyan refinery. So the Dogan media wasn’t exactly going to cut Erdogan any lack.
So it wasn’t necessarily right that he favoured Çalık over that refinery, or that he steered the Sabah newspaper into Ahmet Çalık’s hands in 2009. But this was a Clash of Titans: the AKP crowd – the ‘Anatolian Tigers’ were taking down the Republican élite, the ‘White Turks’ who had kept Turkey in Kemalist formaldehyde for generations. The Anatolians quadrupled GDP in less than two decades.
Yes the whole thing might have germinated way back in the liberalisations of Turgut Özal in the 80s, but Özal had come from the same Iskenderpaşa Community of the Sunni Nakshibendi-Khalidi tariqa as Erdogan, and they had a moral approach to things. They attended to the people. Islamic banks were favoured which invested alongside you instead of lending at interest. Doctors were prohibited from taking commissions from Big Pharma, because therein lay a conflict of interest.
Mehmet Kotku, the Iskenderpaşa thinker who died in 1980, defined the ideology of these two generations of politicians. He preached against the ideas of Kemalism, that Muslims should grow local businesses and take employment in the state bureaucracy, specifically to repel Western cultural influence. There wasn’t something actually genetically wrong with you if you wanted to listen to Arabesque rather than Bach or Mozart.
Change would never be possible here without major sacrifices. In the roiling political climate of Turkish politics, the sky was always overcast with the possibility of a coup. As a politician, jail and beatings were never far away. Adnan Menderes, the first expression of the Islamic resurgence, ran the country for ten years (1950-60) only to be hanged like a common criminal by a rabid military.
Anyway the Sabah newspaper had a tiny circulation compared with the papers of the Dogan group, and even tinier compared with the FGC’s Zaman. So then what happened about Gülen? He was so friendly with Erdogan in the early days! The German press think Gülen is so wonderfully ‘Western’. Its reporters, well and truly indoctrinated in seminar, after conference, after breakfast meeting arranged by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, in its program to combat anti-Americanism in Europe in the wake of the Iraq war, find his pro-Israeli stance so comforting.
Why ever did Zaman join the chorus of disapproval over Erdogan? Everything started to go quiet when the Great Spiritual Leader opined in 2010 from his lair in Transylvania that the Gaza flotilla was a bad thing. The FGC press was also heavily down at the same time on that Iran-Turkey-Brazil nuclear swap deal. It was Hakan Fidan who had been responsible for that, and Israel was clear on this point – Fidan wasn’t towing the line. But Erdogan promoted him from his position as private undersecretary to head of the intelligence services (MIT) that very May 2010.
It’s remarkable that Gülen waited until February 2012 to send Istanbul deputy chief prosecutor Fikret Seçen, to try to arrest Fidan at the MIT offices. Along with other senior MIT personnel, he was charged with conspiring with terrorists in an Oslo hotel on five occasions between December 2009 and January 2010, when there had been meetings between MIT and the PKK. He had leaked wiretappings of these conversations to the press already in September 2011.
It appears the reason was that he had to catch Erdogan off guard, and this had only been possible when the AKP leader had gone into hospital for an intestinal operation. Gülen had the courtesy to wish Erdogan well, but Erdogan was onto his caper and countermanded Seçen’s warrant right away. Why try to arrest Fidan? It was a messy affair: apparently Erdogan even heard gunshots when he called Fidan on the phone from his hospital bed.
Interior Minister at the time, Beşir Atalay who was, and still is close to Erdogan, as an active member of the İskenderpaşa Community, had announced the ‘Kurdish Opening’ in May 2009. Clearly, the PKK was listed as a terrorist organisation and despite Turkey cleaning up its act somewhat since the dark days of Tansu Çiller in the 1990s, PKK supporters still were sanctioned for their massive involvement in the European drug trade (US Dept. Treas. 01Feb12). Nevertheless, it was government policy to make peace with the Kurds, and arresting government employees going their job was a bit rum, surely?
The thing is that the idea was so unpopular with the ‘White Turks’ that Atalay had quickly to rebrand it as the ‘democratic opening’. The General Kenan Devren 1980 coup had led to the writing the 1982 Constitution which said quite clearly that Turkey was a country of ‘Turks’. Nowhere did it mention Kurds, and so Erdogan and Fidan were being delusional. But Gülen was a Muslim. It is not credible that he would want to sabotage talks which might unite Turks and Kurds.
After all, when you think of the enormous variety of ethnicities amongst the Companions of the Prophet, which included the Kurd, Jaban Abu Maymoun al-Kurdi, you would think that it was obvious that any religious person would want to unite different ethnicities in a common polity. Scratch your head as you may, but trawling the Wikileaks Files, it is undeniable that Gülen and his followers consistently follow a ‘pro-Western’ approach, are pro-Israel, and take a hard-line on the Kurds (Assange 2015: 230).
So if Gülen is not a Muslim, what does he believe in? Well the thing is that when Devren executed his coup in 1980, the Islamic Revolution in Iran had just happened the year before, and so he set out to pre-empt any such problems. He designed his own type of Islamic revolution, which would be consistent more or less with the wording of the 1982 Constitution. The State Directorate of Religious Affairs (DIB) made Islam compulsory in all schools and distributed a textbook called Ataturkism, which explained that Mustafa Kemal had really been a pious individual, who sought to purify and return Islam to its rational roots.
However, these were genetic roots. Turks were Muslim from the start, even before reading the Qur’an – there was one moral way of being, and the Turks had it from the beginning. This was called the ‘Turkish-Islamic synthesis (Yavuz 2003: 69-75). Logically, this defended the erasure of anything Kurdish, because if Kurds thought they were Muslims, they were really Turks anyway. Salaheddin al-Ayyubi (Saladin) wasn’t really the Kurd he thought he had been, this also was sheer delusion.
Gülen became wedded to these doctrines and was an avid supporter of Devren’s coup, just as he later supported the 1997 coup against his pal Necmettin Erbakan. Coups were good, because they gave Gülen the opportunity of fawning to a new power, each time to be showered with favours that expanded his empire. He was close personal friends with of all people, Tansu Çiller, who defended the hired killer Abdullah Çatlı, after he had been found dead in Susurluk in his crashed Mercedes, alongside a ‘beauty queen’, a police chief and a Kurdish politician, with dope, cash and guns in the trunk of the car.
The whole episode actually drew attention to a secret organisation called JİTEM, which it is understood had allegedly been responsible for around 5,000 ‘unknown assailant’ murders and 1,500 enforced disappearances between 1989 and 2008 in the Southeast, including the Kurdish politician Vedat Aydın (Söyler 2015: 147). It subsequently formally became the counter-terror arm of the Gendarmerie, which is what the separate heavily armed police are called in the Turkish Southeast.
It was a unit of this same Gendarmerie, who in May this year, armed with a warrant by Adana prosecutor Ozcan Sisman, uncovered MİT arms shipments to Syrian rebels, and immediately broadcast the catch in the Gülen news. I’ll come back to whole Syrian imbroglio shortly – but surely this was one in the eye for that anti-Israeli snake Fidan. Sisman and the gendarmes became yet another arrest the government had to make to defend the integrity of its command structure against the loose collection of gangs that ostensibly draw salaries from the state, but are inspired by the quite separate mission of the FGC.
Whatever you think of the Turkish government’s Syria policy, surely these revelations must be one of the most extraordinary cases of the pot calling the kettle black, considering Seymour Hersh’s revelation that the gendarmerie was known by the CIA to be “working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability” (Hersh: 17Apr14). Think Ghouta. Was it Assad, was it Erdogan? Or…
Or had the arms trade now simply replaced drugs as the chief source of profits for uncontrollable gangs within the deep state? Mehtap Söyler concludes in her thick study of the Turkish deep state that “[w]ithout recognizing the deep state’s symbiotic relationship with the Kurdish question, establishing peace and making a new civil and inclusive constitution, democracy in Turkey will always be fragile” (Söyler 2015: 199).
With the September 2010 constitutional declaration, Erdogan and the AKP had changed Turkey from a tutelary democracy to a delegative one de juro, ending the military supervisory status over parliament, tying the appointment procedures for Constitutional Court Judges to parliament and to a now popularly elected president. Trade union rights were addressed, freedom of collective bargaining was brought in, and businessmen in dispute with the government were guaranteed freedom of travel.
But de facto the deep state had shifted from the military to the police and prosecution service and it was necessary for MİT, under a strong executive, to reach out and structure the security services as a whole so that there weren’t gangs operating in parallel to the state. The Ankara bombing it is said had all the hallmarks of an ISIL atrocity.
But that’s just the point. The November 1 elections are now about Erdogan and his desire to have a third constitutional referendum to put the whole Kurdish matter behind Turkey and to strengthen the executive. Both of those things ring the death knell for the deep state, and it is fighting back with all the power it can muster.
Erdogan will survive as president of Turkey for the next five years, and the AKP will return perhaps with a majority just short of what is necessary to finish the job. When Erdogan is gone, what are the structures that will be left behind for the Turkish people when electing their presidents and prime ministers? Beneath those figures, what kind of justice can citizens expect in the courts in the future? Do Turks really want to continue living in country in which 509,516 illegal wiretaps were discovered in 2014?
In August 2010, Hanefi Avcı, an ex- Gülenist police chief had published a book about the manipulation of judicial processes and the fixing of internal appointments and promotions in the police force by the FGC. Then in early 2011 Ahmet Şık, a reporter for the daily Radikal, wrote a book on the same subject, which is still unpublished called “The Imam’s Army”, which revealed that the movement had been trying “to infiltrate the police forces since the 1980s. They could not get organized in the Turkish Armed Forces and chose the second big armed force, the police.”
Both men were arrested on trumped up charges of conspiracy against the state, Avcı on September 28, 2010 and Şık on March 14, 2011, as part of the ongoing ‘Ergenekon’ legal cases against the military. It was upon the subsequent arrest two weeks after that, on March 30, 2011, of seven Islamic scholars and theologians on ridiculous charges of massacring Christians, that Erdogan saw to it that Zekeriya Öz was removed from prosecution of the Ergenekon case.
Gareth Jenkins said of Erdogan’s role in ‘Ergenekon’ that “… he has not been driving the case; often only learning of arrests after the suspects have already been taken into custody. However, in recent months, what was once a political benefit has become an embarrassment; particularly as the increasingly blatant persecution of critics of the Gülen Movement has coincided with mounting international criticism of Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism.”
Ergodan was learning that if you sleep with dogs you catch fleas. But as far as the deep state is concerned, it isn’t just one-dimensional. As Söyler implies in her analysis, it takes two to tango.
The bomb that exploded in Suruç on 20 July 2015 was no less fateful than the Ankara bomb. It was this which seems to have begun the latest war in which countless policemen and innocent people have been killed by IEDs, and in ambushes. It was also blamed on ISIL. But it is hardly credible that 30 or so overtly Marxist-Leninist students, on their way to rebuild Kobani, wouldn’t have had JİTEM operatives tailing their every move. Blaming ISIL was just convenient, or maybe in the Turkish Southeast, just like in Syria today, people just morph from one role to another, as the wind takes them, or more likely, as the money trail directs them.
Be that as it may, if it was a red flag incident, Öcalan could still have ignored it, given the historic opportunity the HDP (the new consolidated Kurdish party), and its leader Selahattin Demirtaş, had to be in government. The incident occurred at the time of coalition talks with the AKP.
If indeed a red flag, the Suruç incident would have been intended to embarrass the AKP with its Kurdish reconciliation stance, in the midst of coalition talks. Whatever – the absolutely massive PKK response was an unmistakable public statement.
The collapse of Syria had opened up the opportunity for a Kurdish state there, and the HDP had, to the intensely military mind of PKK leader Abdulla Öcalan, planning and scheming from the splendid isolation of his island prison on Imrali, breached the defences of the Turkish polity.
As happened in 2009, Öcalan would seek at all costs to avoid any collusion between Kurdish civil parties and the AKP that would trump his authority (Wikileaks 02Dec09). A paranoid leader reignited violence from his cell, to scuttle the possibility of a coalition between the HDP and the AKP. The HDP could have secured historic constitutional amendments favouring the Turkish Kurds in a coalition with the AKP, but chose not to.
Given the HDP is unlikely to increase its share of the vote from the current status, and that any coalition with the CHP and the MHP is highly unlikely, the Kurdish party’s stance was understandably viewed by the AKP as disruptive in intent – whatever the honeyed words of poster-boy Demirtaş.
Maybe he is a good guy, but this is politics and Öcalan has his claws into him. Where the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) is ostensibly an organisation ostensibly promoting Kurdish civil society, we actually find a network of commissars on the ground overseeing with their beady eyes the activities of all Kurdish civilian associations.
So Öcalan is going to create this new Kurdish state right – breakaway like South Sudan? Fantastic, wonderful! Is that going to be a statelet on the Turkish border, or is a war going to start to try and include the Iraqi Kurds?
It’s odd, given all of this, that everybody blames Erdogan personally for everything. The guy is bad-tempered and lashes out at people right, left and centre. But that’s because he is a fighter and has survived 30 years in the dung-heap that is Turkish (and Middle-East) politics. He’s the only guy still standing up straight facing you down on top of the heap of shit, so I suppose he is the only one people can point to. Everybody else is down there scurrying around in the dung.
For all us ‘observers of international affairs’ Erdogan is supposed to be responsible for the Syria imbroglio; or at least for making it much worse.
Really? So the CIA, MI6, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all needed his permission to enter Syria? The fact that the new commercial Turkey has open borders is what the country survives on, it is what Iraqi Kurdistan survives on, it is what a beleaguered sanctioned Iran survived on, at least up until last July.
The illegal wiretaps that the FGC sympathizers made to embarrass the wheeler-dealers around Erdogan, uncovered the cash and the gold which Iran was using to get around the fact that the West had blocked their ability to use the SWIFT transfer system. Who exactly were the Iranians going to trust with their money in such fraught circumstances? Besides, as Seymour Hersh points out, for that period “Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country” (Hersh: 17Apr14).
The Syria situation was an uncontrollable slippery slope, caused by the regional impact of U.S. Imperial policy. For the Americans in the Obama years everything in the world depended on cutting Hezbollah ties with Iran. Nothing else mattered. Welcome to the world according to Cyclops.
Robert Naiman reports that there had been a plan for régime change in Syria since 2006, to break the Iran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis by proxy, with the help of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to foment sectarian divisions (Assange 2015: 267). While Saudi interference escalated to take advantage of the Arab Spring window in 2011, Erdogan still supported peaceful reform in Syria, and unlike Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, had a friendly rapport with Assad. He had been firmly against the bombing of Libya.
Assad went beserk though. It was inevitable that diplomatic ties with Syria had to be cut on 21 September 2011, after Ankara pleas for calm were simply rebuffed. Christopher Phillips describes in detail the gradualist approach taken by Erdogan on Syria, backing the Arab League’s plan (November 2011–January 2012) and the UN’s ‘Annan Plan’ (February–August 2012) (Phillips 2012: 6). Turkey’s involvement in arming rebels, alongside Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and aided by the CIA, from a joint operations base at İncirlik airbase, would only begin in mid-2012.
Clearly, this had to be part of a political solution. Through the SNC, Turkey would appeal to the Syrian Muslim Brothers, with whom his Iskenderpaşa Community had an affinity, for help. This policy was quickly dismissed by Hillary Clinton, who branded the SNC as a waste of time and a ‘talking-shop’, because of her opposition to the Muslim Brothers. So that was that – finito!
The U.S. State Department’s policy opposition to the Egyptian Muslim Brothers would also later become clear (House Foreign Affairs Committee 29Oct13), and this was consistent with the overall policy in the region against the Muslim brothers of “keeping critics of their [U.S.] Middle-eastern policies out of power” (Brownlee 2012: 10).
Thus the political solution that Turkey, along with Egypt at the time, could have endorsed was dismissed out of hand. When Hillary Clinton was revealed by WikiLeaks saying that donors in Saudi Arabia constituted the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide (Wikileaks Embassy Cables: 30Dec2009), this was not to be a prelude for dismantling these connections, but for gaining control of them to serve the new Obama doctrine of achieving the same imperial aims which had eluded Bush II, this time by proxy (DOD Aug 2012).
But these proxies had to be under Imperial control. The Muslim Brothers wouldn’t do, because of their traditional anti-colonial stance and their capacity, demonstrated in Gaza in 2012, to achieve regional consensus. ISIL, a different kettle of fish entirely, wouldn’t do either, because in their systematic search for financial independence, they no longer fed passively from the Saudi purse as they had done when they were al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The good ‘moderate rebel’, would be obedient. So the search for the ‘moderate rebel’ is still ongoing.
It was inevitable that Russia stepped in. The situation was a repeat of the Afghanistan problem in 1979 – an extremist infection was going to destabilise the Muslim population in Russia. Fighting another Chechen war is not what Putin had slated for his old age.
This time though the Russians have the benefit of someone else’s ground troops. Erdogan became vitriolic about Putin’s move; but then I can’t remember the last time he made a speech in which he wasn’t vitriolic about something. This is what comes of hearing gunshots while you are talking to your security chief on the phone after you have had your guts spliced in hospital.
I don’t know about you, but he seems to be the last man standing. Even Putin thinks so. He is important enough for the central Asian Muslim equation to invite along with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as guest of honour, for the opening of Moscow’s huge new mosque. He is also the only Turkish leader who will ever have the guts (what he has left of them) to deliver Turkstream in the face of U.S. objections – if it is still in his country’s interest that is.
Omar Kassem can be reached through his website at http://different-traditions.com/