It would appear that Turkey is coming apart at the seams. On December 17, a landmark probe into government corruption, bribery and tender rigging was launched by public prosecutor Zekeriya Öz. The investigation was initiated through the arrest of many high profile individuals including the sons of three ministers from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the head of HALKBANK. Since then, three cabinet ministers have resigned, seven AKP MPs have stepped down in protest of the way the AKP have handled the investigation, a number of local AKP municipal cabinets have collectively resigned and over 2500 police officers and many prosecutors have been re-assigned to different posts by the government in an effort to contain the damage caused by the ongoing investigations.
In connection to the current upheaval, the AKP’s implementation of a number of speedy legislations (a last ditch effort damaging democratic principles) that aim to undermine the independence of the Judiciary has brought the courts (judiciary) and the government (executive) into opposition. Currently, the AKP are pushing for a re-structuring of the HSYK – Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors – that will in effect tie the chain of command within the judiciary to the Ministry of Justice. In short, the very principle of a separation of powers, the division of responsibility and power into different branches of state is being completely shattered. Arguably, this is the most dangerous development given that the public trust in the independence of the judiciary has been perilously damaged.
Having said that, lack of trust in the independence of the courts – in the sense that major trials have always been ideologically driven and not based on an uncovering of facts – and the perceived injustice of the justice system in Turkey is not a new phenomenon. There are many, including myself, that do not believe in the fairness of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials or the KCK trials to make note of only a few.
However, when taking note of the authoritarian impulses of the AKP, the amount of power that the party has consolidated over the past 12 years and the successful way in which forces in opposition are effectively marginalised on a continuous basis, a number of questions arise. For example, how is it that the AKP are on the ropes? Who is strong or bold enough to attempt an attack against the AKP? If the public prosecutors are ideologically driven, what is their motive and why this sudden change in their stance against the governing AKP?
At this point, it is the Gülen Movement that takes centre stage. Without going into much detail as I only aim to set the scene in this post, the Gülen Movement is a religious and social movement that takes its name from its leader Fethullah Gülen Hoca, a Turkish Islamic Scholar and preacher. The movement has been around since the 1960s and has weathered the stormy seas of Turkish politics for over 50 years, growing in stature where parties that were proponents of political Islam have fallen over and over again. The movement was initially aided by the line of parties associated with political Islam and its central figure Necmettin Erbakan. As the movement gained strength, it distanced itself from this trajectory of parties and found support from traditional conservative centre- right parties. With the arrival of the AKP on the scene in 2002, the Gülen Movement seems to have reached its zenith in terms of its influence in Turkish politics. After all, the Gülen Cemaat became a partner of AKP in ruling the country until 2012.
The Gülen Movement is able to influence Turkish Politics due to its successful infiltration of the Turkish state institutions. Thousands of members of the Cemaat have penetrated state institutions ranging from the judiciary, the police force and other security agencies, educational institutions, civil administrative offices and boards. Whilst this trend has taken place over the best part of 40 years, such advances were intensified under the consent and support of the AKP. If the claim sounds too far fetched, keep on reading as I shall do my best to provide the findings of a number of studies that detail the way in which the Gülen Movement has been systemically increasing its presence within state institutions.
Coming back full circle to events that concern us today, the lengthy political partnership between AKP – Gülen seems to have collapsed. This is most likely a result of disagreement over power sharing and political vision. As a central agent within state institutions, the Cemaat were able to document the dealings of the government. Now that the relationship has turned sour, the movement has decided to undisclose evidence of corruption and bribery on the part of AKP deputies and closely associated businessmen as a way of undermining AKP’s power.
It is also unclear how objective the prosecutors are, whether some are in fact members of the Cemaat and follow instructions from the organisation, and whether the corruption case will in fact go ahead in a just manner guided only by the rule of law. Unsurprisingly the AKP have referred to the Cemaat as a ‘parallel state’ structure within the state that must be stamped out. It is by falling on this reasoning that the legislative changes which undermine the independence of the judiciary are being carried out.
Due to the complicated and heterogeneous nature of the current political crisis, I thought it best to provide a brief summary of the depressing state of affairs by situating the main actors, institutions and concerns within context. In following articles, I will provide more detail on specific aspects/ issues like; background on the Gulen Movement; the state of the Judiciary and concerns with regards to the balance of power; potential impact on upcoming elections; AKP’s reaction to the corruption graft, and so on.