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Regime Change in Contemporary TurkeyPolitics, Rights, Mimesis$

Necati Polat

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474416962

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474416962.001.0001

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Anything Goes?

Anything Goes?

(p.227) 8 Anything Goes?
Regime Change in Contemporary Turkey

Necati Polat

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter is on a set of dubious government practices following the regime change, as reflected in the OSCE reports on Turkey elections, in securing success at the ballot box, including the way in which the ruling AKP allegedly financed politics. The discussion details the unfair poll environment, which left the opposition practically crippled, and the state of the basic rights crucial for the ballot box to make full sense. The chapter also provides an account of the corruption claims from December 2013—chiefly bid-rigging and money laundering that allegedly involved Erdogan and his family, beside cabinet members—filed originally by Gulenist prosecutors relying mostly on wiretapped conversations, to be posted anonymously online from early 2014. The chapter ends with a section on the role of the military in the aftermath of the old regime, with an assessment of its possibly resilient reflexes, prior to the abortive coup of 2016.

Keywords:   AKP, corruption, coup, Erdogan, Gulen cult, military-civilian relations, political opposition, political rights, Turkish politics, unfair elections

Intransigent to the end, the popular republican opposition in the media and everyday life kept questioning before and during the regime change the democratic credentials, nay, the sheer legitimacy, of the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP), given the allegedly concealed ‘sinister designs’ of this political party that had emerged out of Islamo-nationalism (Millî Görüş). In so doing, the republicans were often teased for the purported anachronism of those ‘prejudices’ by the group of liberal intellectuals who supported the transformation. Accordingly, the republicans had never really ceased hankering after a ‘golden age’ that had lasted just over two decades from 1923 when modern Turkey had been set up, effectively until the advent of the liberal-populist era in the country in 1950, considered by the core republicans as a ‘counter-revolution’ towards aborting and undermining the earlier advances. In the wake of the regime change from 2011, the bitter confrontation between these two groups of ‘white Turks’ – the diehard republicans on one side and the formerly pro-government liberals on the other – would prove to be somewhat double-edged. The joke would now appear to have been very much on the over-optimistic liberals, increasingly embarrassed with the suddenly ‘Islamistic’, gauche and clumsy policies of the government. Feeling a betrayal of sorts, most liberal intellectuals would soon become almost more raging than the long-time critics in opposing the AKP rule. More ironically perhaps, the republican ‘wish’ for a return to the (p.228) earlier era, as mockingly claimed by the former pro-government intellectuals, would seem to have come true in some measure: the promised order under a growing Islamo-nationalist populist sway, to be dubbed ‘the new Turkey’ by the government-sponsored media literati, would appear to be turning more and more into the old Turkey of the single-party rule that had branded the early republican regime.

Only, it was dubious that the oppressive political atmosphere that had marked the early republican era had in fact been this stifling. That the feel in sections of society was now getting palpably heavier compared to the historical period in question was probably to do with three novel factors. (1) Mass media and telecommunication technologies arguably gave the new power holders an unprecedented and increasingly daunting edge. (a) Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister, later to become the president, was not only on television and thus in living rooms practically every day, and at all times, but he was on all of the mainstream television outlets, as well as the pro-government ones, at the same time, being broadcast live from wherever he was for the day, as viewers would surf through channels busting a gut to find something else, ultimately to no avail, save for those few marginal and rather irrelevant outlets. That was for a good reason. A television station not joining the national live stream could almost instantly be understood as none other than wilful opposition to the government, which was rather petrifying to the media bosses, as discussed in the preceding chapter. (b) The invasion of privacy, of private communication in particular, enabled by the latest interception and distant-tracing systems meant nearly total lack of conceivable space for breathing for the wider society. The issue of political surveillance that would come to the fore with the set of the king-making investigations and trials from 2007 (see Chapter 3) would be a concern, though exaggerated in places, and dominate the first few years in the aftermath of the old regime. (2) What is more, the political opposition now was far feebler than that during the early republican regime, which had had genuine pluck, even if mostly amorphous. The testing of the strength of the regime in the single-party era through some short-lived and partly experimental new political parties had often revealed a dormant political opposition that had survived and remained terrifyingly strong and threatening to the regime. (a) The main opposition formed by the republicans against the AKP government, on the other hand, was yet to (p.229) learn the basics of day-to-day party politics to be able to steal votes from the ruling party, a skill they had had little need to achieve previously, having felt secure enough under the wings of the bureaucracy – military, judicial and academic. (b) More significantly perhaps, the republican voter base – before the republican politicians – seemed hardly more democratic in popular sensibilities than the Islamo-nationalists, in a context where the masses appeared to have acquired a form of level-headedness that ushered them away from the former republican sectarianism based on identity politics. Not only throughout the long and glorious past of this political force that had practically set up modern Turkey, but also now, the popular republican opposition seemed to continue to be afflicted with the malaises of the early republican regime, such as some rather inane prejudices about international policy circles as restless conspirators targeting Turkey, deadly discrimination against the minorities, anti-Semitism, nationalism, even a paranoia – hard to believe as it was – about Christian proselytisers newly active in the country, despite the well-advertised aspirations of this political force towards a strong cast of secularism. Much of this bigotry would be aired almost on a daily basis on the front pages of the daily Sözcü, the highest-circulation mouthpiece. The clear obsolescence of the voter base seemed greatly to incapacitate the main opposition. (3) Finally, the overwhelming support behind the government, enabled, as it seemed, chiefly by a democratically shallow and inept political opposition, at least until the rise of the Kurdish-led Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP) for a spell starting just before the general election of June 2015, meant an obvious advantage that the erstwhile rulers under the early republican regime did not have. This in turn considerably facilitated a self-righteous, majoritarian oppression that marked the initial phase of the use of power after the old order had been defeated.

The first few years of the emerging order from 2011 could thus plausibly be viewed as more severe perhaps than any period before in the recent political history of the country. Further, the ‘democratic’ leverage enjoyed by the government, namely its smug majoritarianism, did not mean that the government would not bother to resort to the techniques of political domination notoriously employed during the authoritarian single-party era of the 1930s and 1940s. Using some of those old instruments of hegemony and subjugation against the opposition would render even worse the already suffocating (p.230) political atmosphere. This climate, highly frustrating for the formal opposition, would be in full view ahead of the local and presidential polls in 2014, with two parliamentary polls shortly to follow in 2015. For an idea of this climate of repression and of exploitation of authority, the purportedly autonomous and neutral body of judges supervising elections nationwide and at various levels, the Supreme Board of Elections (Yüksek Seçim Kurulu, YSK), would decide in November 2013, upon a question put to it by the ruling AKP, that the cabinet members running for mayoralty in local elections in March 2014 would not have to resign from their posts as ministers.1 That is, in those towns where the AKP had nominated serving ministers, the competitors could include, locking horns with the rest, a candidate who had at his or her disposal all that this position of the highest possible legal authority in the system offered – especially critical in a political culture where government ministers had more pomp than royalties elsewhere. The formal reasoning behind the decision of the YSK was that

if [the minsters nominated for mayoralties] would have to withdraw from their posts before the [local] elections, that would be like suspending, for as long as four months [during the election campaign], the right to administer on the part of the political party that [had] … obtained the [parliamentary] majority … [This state of affairs could not] possibly be reconciled with … the democratic functioning of the state.

It was only out of respect for the principles of democracy, in other words, that the YSK licensed a competition for the same post in the coming local elections between ordinary candidates in a municipality, who were private persons, and a cabinet minister who would lack practically no material means, nor enthusiastic personnel, in the election campaign and, more importantly perhaps, during the subsequent arrangements towards processing the poll results. This nonchalance towards grave breaches of fairness in the elections would hit new lows in the phase leading to the general election of June 2015, when ‘the state’, the public authority – not the ruling AKP – would appear to be the one to vie with the rest of the political parties at the polls. The government on one side, and the supposedly non-partisan President Erdoğan asking for votes for the ruling party on the other, would use public funds, lavish public resources, the state television network (Türkiye Radyo Televizyon (p.231) Kurumu, TRT), the official news agency (Anadolu Ajansı), even mosques and the military, in the election campaign. Governors in provinces and districts, and state employees under direct written orders from such superiors, would also be mobilised to ensure success for the ruling political party.2

The indifference to all this by the highest election authority would be only one, among quite a few, of the parallels with the old, single-party era political domination, which basically equated the ruling party with the state. The clear hegemony of the ruling AKP during the spells leading to the polls would be manifest not only in the exercises of the supposedly neutral state institutions, but also in the performance of key civilian or private bodies. Typical in this regard was the apparent resistance that the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP), would experience in December 2013, when this political party would contact the commercial firm in charge of outdoor billboards nationwide for an election poster. Only mildly critical of the government on the new budget, being debated in the parliament at the time, this innocuous poster pointed out the effective evasion of the state auditing body (Sayıştay) in relation to certain questionable and ostensibly embarrassing expenditure, with the government practically putting a lid on some of the losses incurred by public offices, as indicated in some of the relevant, yet suppressed, auditing reports. The poster read: ‘If people are accountable, paying taxes, so should be the government!’3 The billboard firm, part of a conglomerate careful not to be on the wrong side of the political rule, would refuse to put up the posters. Intercepted phone conversations between Ankara’s mayor and an Erdoğan aide, to be posted online anonymously in February 2104, and not disowned subsequently by the parties involved, would reveal that the posters had been rejected by the billboard company not only unlawfully, but also through a direct intervention of the government.4 Predictably enough, nothing would come out of either the criminal complaint filed by the opposition party against this intervention or the application to the YSK demanding appropriate measures.

Some of the blatant irregularities, alongside the questionable nature of the campaign finances of the ruling party, would find their way into the report of the observation mission on behalf of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in the country for the presidential election campaign of July–August 2014.5 According to the report, the (p.232) ‘misuse of administrative resources and a lack of clear distinction between state and party activities’ during the electoral process were ‘at odds’ with the established democratic principles.6 The prevalence of this unusual practice would be reiterated in the OSCE observation mission report for the general election of June 2015.7 The latter election would have to be ‘repeated’ in the following November, with the AKP having lost the parliamentary majority and a possible coalition government having been prevented by President Erdoğan. The election environment this time around, about five months later, would come to include added peculiarities, as previously noted (Chapter 1) – new even for Turkey. The polls would be ‘tarnished by violence’, as the preliminary report by the OSCE mission monitoring the election would put it. ‘During the campaign, offices of the HDP were targeted, a high number of HDP members were taken into custody, HDP affiliated mayors were suspended, and its campaign leaflets were confiscated.’8 Denied media coverage, the HDP would also cancel its rallies due to the lack of safety after the Ankara massacre of 10 October, with more than 100 dead, only about three weeks before the election. Talking to the national media just before the polls, the OSCE delegation would express ‘concern’ also about the apparent oppression of free speech and the intensified harassment of newspapers and television stations.9 Once again, the pre-election period would be marred with the use of public resources on the part of the ruling AKP. By the figures of the official radio and television watchdog (Radyo ve Televizyon Üst Kurulu), of thirty-seven of the politicians involved in the contest and entertained by the state television (TRT) during the month before the polls, all thirty-seven had been AKP politicians.10 For the duration, the TRT had had a coverage of about thirty hours for the AKP and twenty-nine hours for Erdoğan, while the air time accorded to the opposition had been as follows: five hours for the main opposition CHP, one hour and ten minutes for the Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi), and only eighteen minutes for the HDP.11 Also in Turkey for the polls, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly delegation head would make the following observation the day after this critical election that would give the ruling AKP back its clear parliamentary majority, sealing the future of the political mandate in the country until 2019: the ‘campaign was unfair and characterised by too much violence and fear’.12 This was how the heading of (p.233) an op-ed in The New York Times would describe the poll results: ‘Erdoğan’s Violent Victory’.13

This chapter details the use of power in the first few years in the aftermath of the old regime by looking into a host of dubious practices, not only the unfair and undemocratic election strategies that left the opposition practically crippled, but also the state of the basic political rights, the full observance of which could be understood as crucial for the ballot box to make full sense, ensuring the free circulation of ideas and information in the election environment. Further, the chapter looks into the way politics was ostensibly financed by the ruling party all along, notably as alleged by a set of leaked tapes from early 2014. Finally, the discussion profiles the military as an enduring actor, responsible in the recent past of the country for a series of interventions in, and ‘adjustments’ of, the political rule.

Ballot Box Democracy

To be rather effectively used in silencing the opposition with the demise of the old order from 2011, the physical object of the ballot box would become virtually the sole marker of democracy in the country.14 There should be little dissension of the fact that the ballot box was indeed the most striking measure of a democracy. Yet, simultaneously, this formal tool of popular enfranchisement was known to make scarce sense in the absence of a specific set of rights that complemented it. The term ‘rights’ here refers to those few that were essential for the formation and exercise of choices in a democratic setting, rather than the whole range of rights and freedoms that might be considered as inalienable in more evolved democracies, such as those termed by Arend Lijphart ‘consociational’ and ‘consensus’ democracies.15 That is, the notion of ‘democracy’ employed here in assessing the characteristics of the emerging order in Turkey is rather elementary – roughly the assumption famously reflected in Lincoln’s Gettysburg address as ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’. Robert Dahl has defined the main contours of this concept as a ‘polyarchal’ regime of government, communicating the simple, majoritarian democracy.16 A polyarchal regime as such, Dahl explains, assumes preferences, each with identical weight, made by identical members of society, usually the voters, who have identical access to information and ideas about the formally identical choices. The choice that (p.234) attracts more preferences wins. The fundamental entitlements of (1) free and democratic elections, (2) free speech and (3) free assembly and association arguably see to the strictly identical chance accorded to those in contest.17 The ‘illiberal democracy’ occasionally suggested in relation to some nominally competitive political systems that are clearly heedless of these basic rights appears therefore to be little more than an oxymoron.

The first of these rights, free and democratic elections,18 extended protection not only against electoral disenfranchisement and possible voting irregularities, typically covered in the principle, but drew also on the other two, namely the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly and association. Yet, even in its restrictive sense, the right to free and democratic elections seemed to be rather crippled locally by at least three grave issues: (a) the 10 per cent national threshold for political parties vying in parliamentary elections,19 (b) the apparent discrimination in financial assistance provided by the state for political parties,20 and (c) some of the rather arbitrary constraints placed on independent candidates in the process leading to the polls.21 All three of the curtailments were greatly a consequence of the long-settled bureaucratic policy towards disenfranchisement of the Kurdish nationalist voters, which the AKP would continue.

As for free speech, recall the problems of media independence locally, or lack thereof, as described in the preceding chapter. Journalists were fired, intimidated and imprisoned. A somewhat bizarre, and unprecedented, media engineering by the government reallocated the ownership of media outlets, silencing dissidence. A casual Internet censorship, without a court order, appeared to be the case. Arguably worse than these instances of plain interdiction were forms of eerie authoritarian surveillance. For an idea, the government reportedly had an ‘army’ of paid social media watchers patrolling live comments.22 Even slightly offending remarks about the government or about the patriotic and religious ‘values’ championed by the rulers could spell trouble. On top of all this, known for his rage, Erdoğan would often personally denounce some of his publicly recognised ‘offenders’, including media bosses,23 in spectacular mass rallies complete with shroud-donned supporters ready to die for the cause.24 Those who would still find the valour to engage in exercises of free speech and criticise the government would be terrorised by slayer media and assassin web sites created with the regime change, enjoying (p.235) virtual impunity. The question therefore was: to what extent would it be possible for elections to be free and democratic in a setting where this was more or less the state of the freedom of expression?

What about the freedom of assembly and association? Some of the more flagrant violations of the right to peaceful assembly, particularly conspicuous with the Gezi protests of May–June 2013, were charted in Chapter 6. The arguably plausible ‘notification’ of a planned demonstration to the public authority for the purpose of possible measures to be adopted towards public safety and prevention of disorder was in practice (long pre-dating the AKP rule, truth be told) an effective demand for permission or authorisation. Further, the choice of venue for assembly as part of the right was almost invariably denied to the protesters, who, resisting, no matter how peacefully, faced in each and every case ill-treatment. The freedom of association would be either hampered altogether, as would often be the case with the Kurdish political opposition, Alevis, and the collective entities based on non-conventional sexual and gender identities, or, in places where the right would appear to be respected, such independent non-governmental organisations would not infrequently be subjected to harassment via unwarranted, malicious inspections of alleged financial irregularities, as with the secularist charity25 that was pivotal to one of the political cases during the regime change (see Chapter 3) and a host of Gülenist organisations from early 2014.

Liberal democracy, resting on the majority rule, simultaneously assumed an intermediary, a public sphere, enabled precisely by these rights for that unadorned majoritarianism to make sense. Clearly, in the absence of a fully functional plane of mediation in society to facilitate public criticisms, discussions and exchange towards empowering possible alternatives to the political rule, the love of the ballot box alone would be little more than mere demagoguery. Jürgen Habermas, who has theorised the life and times of the concept of the public sphere (Öffentlichkeit), argues that from the nineteenth century this sphere gradually became trivial, though paradoxically widening in its remit. That is because, he points out, the main constituents of the public sphere, chiefly the media, were successfully turned into vehicles of trade, with public opinion itself increasingly made a commodity subject. Presently, therefore, he claims rather hyperbolically, the public sphere ‘is a mere scrap of liberal ideology that a social democracy could discard without (p.236) harm’.26 In the immediate aftermath of the regime change in Turkey, it was this ‘scrap’ that seemed to have practically vanished, leaving in tatters even the ‘formal’ democracy that was locally aspired to.

Corruption Allegations

The nation woke up on 17 December 2013 to the news of a police round-up of suspects in what turned out to be a mammoth corruption probe. Some of the suspects, who could not be taken in custody, were unusually high profile, with no fewer than four cabinet ministers, including the minister of the interior, being implicated. One of them would phone in on a live television news bulletin in the following days to announce his resignation, not only from the post, but also from the parliament. In so doing, he would openly accuse Erdoğan for the irregularities claimed in the criminal charges (a statement to be mysteriously retracted by this former minister about a month later): ‘I have been pressured to take the blame, but I did everything under his knowledge and orders. I’m resigning, and I think so should he.’27 This thunderous opening of one of the most frenzied episodes in the domestic politics, astonishing even by the local standards, would come to be known as only the first wave of a series of corruption and bribery investigations into more than a decade-long rule of the AKP government. The second wave would be initiated on 25 December, with suspects that would include, besides Erdoğan’s own son,28 such illustrious persons as the son of the enigmatic Saudi businessman Yasin al-Qadi, once suspected to be an al-Qaeda benefactor, and the nephew of one of the most iconic of the Islamist ideologues, Sayyid Qutb.29 Yet, something quite extraordinary would happen within hours, as this second wave got under way. Acting quickly, the government would uproot and scatter around across the country thousands of police officers suspected to be disloyal, change the law that guaranteed the secrecy of pre-trial investigations under the sole authority of the prosecutors, and take steps to make the judiciary dependent, as much as possible, on the government. As a result, soon on the same day, the law enforcement body, now controlled almost fully by the government through loyal police chiefs, would refuse to comply with court decisions to bring in more suspects.30 The prosecutor in charge of the second wave would hand out a written statement, of a kind hitherto unheard of, to the media positioned outside the courthouse in Istanbul, putting on (p.237) record for the benefit of the public the apparent defiance of court orders by the police.31 Next, hundreds of public prosecutors and judges not trusted by the government would be transferred from their posts, with those directly involved in the investigations to be eventually debarred from the profession and put on trial for ‘abuse of authority’ on duty.32 Finally, prompt injunctions would be obtained from courts, now friendly, to censor the media on the unfolding details of the blocked investigations.33

Not wholly inaccurately, Erdoğan would define the corruption investigations, furtively conducted and orchestrated, as an attempted coup by the Gülenists within the police and the judiciary.34 The Gülenists, as he would communicate to the nation, were acting as stooges of global centres of power, which essentially sought to contain the new, economically powerful and politically assertive Turkey that was on the rise. He would call on the supporters to tighten the ranks in response and rally behind the government for a tough ‘liberation struggle’ that would be no less life preserving than the one that had been fought by the nation after World War I. A purported coup, and the need for a unified and no-nonsense national campaign to engage it at any cost, would in turn enable the government to practically set aside the whole legal order. Yet, what would happen next would be the real Pandora’s box. As the investigations would be suppressed, the ‘evidence’ formed mostly by intercepted phone conversations would be leaked and posted anonymously online in instalments. Pointing to more and more alleged irregularities, the tapes would give the urban popular opposition, if not the whole public, an idea about the enormity of the purported financial irregularities. A set of the leaked tapes not directly related to those claims would at once reveal the confounding dimensions of the pressure on the mainstream media under the AKP rule. Not denied – unlike the purported evidence on corruption – by any of the parties involved,35 the tapes would depict the systematic censorship of the media to suppress opposition, often executed by none other than Erdoğan himself personally on the phone, as partly recounted in the preceding chapter. In one single incident, a seasoned editor in the mainstream media had been forced to doctor public opinion poll results ahead of elections, in order to manipulate ‘the popular will’ otherwise much treasured by the government.36 The response to the leaks, through incessant legislative rewriting, would be a tighter grip on the web, the main tool of the dissemination of the (p.238) allegations, and an increase of the legal privileges of the State Intelligence (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı) operatives, granting them virtual unaccountability before the law. Counteracting this, the revelations and the following government dread would enable the mainstream media to become daring enough to crush, if temporarily, the fear barrier that had rendered the news outlets singularly docile for years.37

The critics would start likening the administration, in desperate and largely impromptu efforts to limit the damage, to a heavy truck with failed breaks, going recklessly downhill. This, arguably, was somewhat too straight a reading of the state of affairs in the immediate aftermath of the corruption revelations. The scandal could plausibly be construed, on the contrary, as a blessing in disguise at a particularly tricky juncture, benefitting on the whole possibly all of the principal forces in domestic politics, also including, quite ironically, the government. With the timeline pulled a few months back within the year, the exploding revelations conceivably eased the enormous pressure in politics – accumulating since the Gezi protests along much more perilous fault lines than those that could possibly be cracked by the corruption allegations – by letting some of the steam out. Just as an early and relatively less damaging cardiac arrest, to use another metaphor, the scandal would sort of slow down an administration that was already very much on a downhill course and without brakes. Once the regime change was complete, from 2011, the government would begin conveying a series of alarming messages understood by large sections in society as none other than part of a bid radically to transform the established secular system. The confusion would rapidly increase with some of the government policies following the Gezi protests of May–June 2013, as Erdoğan personally would tactically embrace a more aggressive posture and bolder new initiatives to contain dissent, at least for a while. Recall that one such policy announced in the days before the corruption revelations was as daring as the questioning of the privacy of the home. As related before (Chapter 5), Erdoğan would declare his sudden displeasure at off-campus mixed-sex private homes of students in university towns by disclosing a plan to authorise local governors, to be alerted by informants, to have the police raid those accommodations. This, obviously, was barely tenable in a legal system that was technically blind to the gender of the tenants in private homes. Yet it would cause justifiable alarm, combined (p.239) with the fact that a number of public opinion leaders in the pro-government circles had for some time been egging on Erdoğan as the long lost caliph, the leader of all Muslims, for some even ‘the shadow of God on earth’.38 Some public figures had boldly declared their unquestioning Islamic obedience (bay‘ah) to Erdoğan, calling on others to do the same.39 In this highly unnerving and agitated setting, the breakout of the corruption scandal would shortly start functioning as a virtual brake, inhibiting what looked like an increasingly loose cannon of a policy leadership that raised serious questions of survival among the secular masses. The scandal would bring a measure of much needed control on the deliberate agitation by Erdoğan, stalling him – a new policy course to be betrayed in his subsequent claims of an international conspiracy behind the corruption allegations, ostensibly in order to try and save face before the core supporters, while at once putting on the brakes. Fearing the worst, soon the government would promise a fresh so-called ‘democratising’ package,40 though with nothing much to come of it eventually, and would feel the need to renew the commitment to the practically abandoned project of integration with Europe, with Erdoğan meekly visiting Brussels for the first time after four long years.41 With the corruption allegations erupting, all of the actors and stakeholders in domestic politics, including the ruling Islamo-nationalists, had possibly avoided a catastrophe that would have potentially dwarfed in its effects the last actual military takeover of the administration in 1980.

One of the two major actors that could readily spawn this – now averted – drastic end to the AKP rule was the new opposition that had emerged rather spontaneously at the Gezi protests (see Chapter 6), embracing and unifying dissent across the political spectrum. This strong fusion that was discernibly novel had appeared rapidly to reconcile with the wider world, advocating integration – a clear departure from the established republican opposition that was still hesitant on what lay open beyond the country, denying international public opinion and policy circles bona fide intentions. In the short stretch before the corruption scandal, the resistance inspired by the Gezi protests appeared to have the potential to grow into unmanageable proportions. With the scandal flaring up in December 2013, the scene would change dramatically: now that the government had turned almost into an object of pity and a laughing stock, this unusual and highly effective opposition that (p.240) had sent Erdoğan on a panic trip earlier in the summer of the same year could calm down. The young urbanites increasingly stirred and ready to take to the streets in new rounds of protests would thus look practically spared of the likely violence that would ensue – violence that would possibly be graver than that they had experienced before, in May–June 2013, at the hands of the law enforcement body.

Again, had it not been for the corruption scandal, the old republican mindset resilient within the military – the second major actor that could readily end the AKP rule – could imaginably resurface, assuming duty; especially in a context traumatised with escalating protests and attendant upheaval, to be followed, no less significantly, by a possible economic disaster, with the market suddenly to be hit by the political turmoil. The corruption allegations that emerged in December 2013 would seem also to ease this tension. Moreover, as the scandal broke out, the government, seeking apparently to secure the backing of the old guard towards survival, would start feigning innocence and blame the Gülenists for the miscarriages of justice in the set of political investigations and trials from 2007, with numerous members of the military, serving or retired, having been incriminated (see Chapter 3). Arguably, the republican elements within the military would relax considerably in the subsequent spell, just seeing how unsettled the government was with the erupting allegations, to leave it to stew in its own juices.

The Gülenists would also plausibly benefit from the scandal. The split with the government was already life threatening for this group prior to the scandal (see Chapter 5). Fast ostracised, they could now seize a chance for fresh space towards some form of moral claim, at a time when the morality of this Islamic cult was strongly questioned. The increasingly blundering policies of the government, which only served to isolate it vis-à-vis international public opinion and policy-makers, had little power to completely destroy the Gülenists. The latter were greatly amorphous, everywhere and nowhere, while the government, by contrast, was a wide open and sensitive target. More importantly perhaps, what followed in the aftermath of the corruption allegations could give some perspective to this complacent little community with a chilling streak of secrecy, surveillance and intrigue, ostensibly in the grip of some prodigious lust for power, and steer them away from the state apparatus. The community could now return to its settled activities in civil (p.241) society, principally education, to which they had owed their energy and influence in the first place. It would look more and more dubious in the ensuing phase, however, that, bent on a compulsive, all-or-nothing confrontation with the government, the Gülenists had at all taken stock.

How about the Kurdish political movement, another critical actor? Increasingly looking in the period immediately before the corruption scandal as only played and exploited by the government, the Kurdish nationalists also stood to benefit from it all. Able, almost within a matter of hours, to pull the necessary strings, amending legislation and scattering around thousands of the members of the judiciary and the police, just to suppress the corruption allegations, the government had consistently pleaded powerless (making an excuse of the judiciary), to take steps and end the persistent Kurdish plights, such as the unwell and dying prisoners awaiting release (see Chapter 10), and elected politicians long in captivity for alleged links to the armed wing of the Kurdish political movement, namely the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê). Kurdish politicians had supported the government, at the cost of alienating the Turkish left wing and democrat sympathisers, during both the Gezi protests and, later, the corruption scandal. This backing had been simply vital for the government. Seeing how crucial this taken-for-granted alliance with the Kurdish political movement was under the circumstances, it was possible that the government would now be more anxious not to lose it and start responding to the Kurdish demands more seriously. Yet, to be consumed with frustration over the enhanced Kurdish role along the border in Syria from 2014, the government would fail to appreciate the Kurdish nationalists as allies in the following period, and alienate the Kurds. The increasingly conspicuous insouciance on the part of the government in the matter of a lasting peace and its ‘anti-Kurdish’ policies in Syria would attract to Kurdish politics some of the pious Kurds from the AKP. A clear anti-government position would in turn unite Kurdish politics with the democratic opposition that had emerged at the Gezi protests, enabling the Kurdish-led HDP to achieve the 10 per cent electoral threshold for the first time in June 2015, a success this political party would repeat at the snap polls of November in the same year.

Conceivably, the ruling Islamo-nationalists also appeared to benefit from the corruption scandal. The government would come to gain some perspective for survival in the face of (1) the embryonic yet potentially devastating (p.242) Gezi opposition, (2) the increasingly restless military and, no less significant, (3) the global actors that, with Erdoğan behaving as only a little subtler than a bull in a china shop, could have either supported, or turned a blind eye to, a possible military takeover, which, once again, was fast turning into an option, as addressed in the closing section in this chapter. With the corruption scandal detonating in December 2013, they would all largely stop fretting and leave the Islamo-nationalists to decay in their own time. This would arguably render the ruling elite much less injured than they would otherwise have been.

Finally, the future of the country would seem to reap benefits from the alleged corruption and bribery revelations. Islamist duplicity and menace in the use of power was already evident. Yet, later to be strongly reinforced with the until then barely seen jihadist carnage in the greater region, the scandal would considerably accelerate this perception, denying Islamism a future in the country. Hamid Dabashi has famously argued that the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a triumph of Islamism ostensibly, inspiring various Islamisms in the greater region, including that in Turkey, paradoxically marked the end of Islamism, a historical force that had been around since the nineteenth century.42 Itself proving to be a formidable and growing problem, rather than a solution to the existing issues, the regime in Iran was able to go on subsequently only as a sort of rentier instrument and a clientelist apparatus supported by brute force, rather than through compelling ideas like those of Ali Shariati, who had won the hearts and minds of even secular Iranians in the 1970s.43 The same seemed to be very much the case in Turkey. As represented by the ruling AKP from early 2011, Islamism was holding up only through the huge network of patronage it had created, and through a feeble formal opposition, rather than enduring ideas. More importantly perhaps, the Islamists had dramatically lost the main asset that they had acquired locally in the last couple of decades, namely an exchange and informal alliance with the secular intellectuals, which had granted the Islamists both some democratic moral authority and a measure of political and intellectual credibility.

Financing Politics

In one of the set of wiretapped conversations allegedly between Erdoğan and his son on 17 December 2013, when the graft probes started, and the (p.243) day after, Erdoğan would be heard to give instructions to his son to ‘lose’ the cash stashed away in his home and in the homes of a number of other family members. The weightiest ‘revelations’ in the corruption scandal, conversations posted online on 24 February 2014, would soon be replayed by the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to the deputies in his CHP parliamentary group.44 On a later tape of an alleged recording depicting, again, Erdoğan and the son on the phone, leaked on 26 February, the person claimed to be Erdoğan would sound only a little different from the archetypal mobster after protection money. He would purportedly instruct his son not to take the money offered by one businessman because the sum offered (about $10 million) was less than what had been originally promised. ‘Don’t worry’, the alleged voice of Erdoğan would add, ‘they will fall into our lap.’ Possibly a first, the contents of this second tape would make it into a news report by Reuters.45 According to some independent analysts, the recordings did not appear to have been tampered with.46

Hard as it was to believe, there had been a time in the country when business leaders could utter in public offhand remarks about Erdoğan. On a TV show in August 2001, before the AKP came into power in November of the following year, one of the top-ranking business leaders in the country would state that politics was a matter of finances first and foremost, referring, rather casually in this context, to the then newly founded AKP. ‘They say’, he would articulate, ‘that Tayyip Bey has a lot of money; apparently his people have been able to put together as much as one billion dollars – who knows how.’47 The allegations of colossal corruption and bribery from December 2013 would seem to offer some pointers in that regard. The alleged evidence, collected by the original prosecutors to be taken off the cases briefly afterwards, and formed mostly by wiretapped phone calls legally sanctioned, indicated two major sources of revenue for the ruling Islamo-nationalists: (1) bid rigging, and (2) money laundering. The latter would receive a lot of emphasis in the media for the sheer vastness of the lumps of money that purportedly changed hands over a rather short time. According to the prosecutors, the government used a state bank and a shady businessman with Iranian and Azeri origins for a gas-for-gold scheme, bypassing the then in force economic sanctions against Iran.48 The transaction lasted over a period of time, from which some cabinet members and the executive of a state lender were claimed (p.244) to have benefited immensely. Arguably more important, however, would be the first source, namely the alleged practice of public tenders rigging.

Some of the observers, chiefly the few liberal intellectuals that remained loyal to the former broad coalition against the old order, going on to support Erdoğan through thick and thin also after 2011, would dismiss the corruption claims for being far from purely ‘legal’, motivated instead, as they would maintain, by an anti-democratic drive from within the bureaucracy against the elected government, seeking an imminent overthrow. They would argue that, although the government may have messed things up in the last few years, with some substance to the allegations, the fact remained that the government was a democratic force that could always be voted out of the administration, whereas the Gülenists in the bureaucracy, ostensibly behind the corruption probes in the judiciary, were scarcely accountable in the same way. This argument would often liken the Gülenists in the state apparatus to the republican bureaucracy of the old order. Yet these liberal apologists of the government that appeared to treat the ballot box as an ultimate security valve looked rather oblivious to the state of the basic rights in the country to secure free and democratic elections, detailed earlier in this chapter. Just how free and reliable could the elections be in some such setting? Could the opposition possibly compete with, and people readily vote down, the political rule? Under the circumstances, on the contrary, assuming a democratic authority based on elections, when elections were barely democratic and free, could well be viewed just as sinister a threat to democracy, if not more, as those ‘unaccountable’ yet wayward elements within the bureaucracy. As the unfolding events would show, those unruly strands of the bureaucracy could indeed be purged by the government rather easily and within only days, in clear testimony to the menacing authority of the political rule in a system that cared little about the rule of law.

More significant still, this ‘argument from democracy’ on the part of government apologists would conspicuously evade the issue of the finance of politics that broke out with the alleged corruption revelations. In addition to consistent violations of rights that had for some time hindered free and democratic elections, this issue made the democratic credentials of the government doubly problematic. If true, it seemed to be rather unrealistic for the democratic opposition to have the chance to topple at the ballot box (p.245) a political rule that had access to vast financial resources formed by routine financial irregularities, ostensibly the source of the handouts to the voters in election times as well as that of a relentless pro-government media on the offensive. The alleged finance of politics by the ruling Islamo-nationalists appeared effectively to render the ballot box only a sham of an authentic and fair venue of competition between political parties.

That is, the allegations from December 2013 were possibly a delayed response to the question asked by the business tycoon above back in 2001, namely the enigma around the finance of the ruling party from its inception, which went possibly as far back as 1994, when Erdoğan had been elected the mayor of Istanbul. The dubious practice under the AKP rule in public tenders, if not its extent, was long known, addressed and hinted at in the public opinion, if nothing else, from the sheer number of times the law on public tenders and procurement had been amended by the ruling party, as noted before (see Chapter 5). The wiretapped conversations apparently from the files of the prosecution, to be posted online anonymously from early 2014, would only reveal the extent of the practice. The leaked tapes would indicate that the kickbacks purportedly acquired from the contractors had been a routine deal for years, and that the major state lenders had been supplying the government contractors with cheap and generous credits so that they could promptly contribute to the infamous ‘pool’ (see Chapter 7) when requested by the government, and without delay.

According to some observers, an integral part of this practice in the allocation of public tenders was an Islamic legal opinion, a fatwa, issued by an Islamic legal scholar known to be close to Erdoğan,49 whose ideas on democracy ruled by Muslims were recounted earlier in some detail (Chapter 5). The fatwa reportedly enabled some non-governmental entities close to the government, chiefly one charity organisation led by Erdoğan’s son, as claimed by Kılıçdaroğlu, to receive contributions from public contractors. Several impassioned responses to the assertion by this Islamic scholar would, if somewhat indirectly, simply affirm it. He would avow that he had indeed been asked to give an opinion in the matter, and yet what he had provided in response was nothing more than the following: if the contractors after public tenders, ‘encouraged and directed to do good’ by the government, would not normally have made the contribution in question, and would be doing it only (p.246) because they were demanded to, or because they thought that they would no longer get public tenders unless they did it, then the contractors could not ‘spiritually benefit’ from the good deed of donation; notably, however, this would not be a problem, he would add, for those non-governmental entities alleged in the revelations to have received the donation, because they would have no knowledge that the donation had been made under pressure.50 What exactly did this Islamic legal opinion really say, even in its presumably cleansed version communicated by its very author, with some emphasis on the public good? Quite apart from the tricky issue of defining ‘pressure’ here (since there would be no arm-twisting to speak of, as the benefactor/contractor, in effect making profit rather than losing money, would be only too happy to make the contribution); interestingly, the fatwa tended to whitewash the contributions extended even under pressure.

Another Islamic scholar, with a long past in local Islamo-nationalist politics and once rather close to Erdoğan, although later departing, would join the debate and note:

The ‘pool system’ that has come out and become publicly known lately is the means in Turkey behind both the financing of politics and the support of specific communities [cemaat] and groups close to the ruling power for about twenty years now.51

The statement was deliberately vague, attributing the practice to Turkish politics generally, as opposed to a specific tradition in it, yet clear enough for those who could read between the lines: (1) the term cemaat used in the statement referred to Islamic communities, thus plainly assuming Islamo-nationalist politics as the specific strand, which formed the context of the so-called pool system, and (2) the time period of the last twenty years specified in the statement took its start from a milestone development in Islamo-nationalist politics in 1994, when Erdoğan became the mayor of Istanbul. This statement by a leading Islamic scholar would raise next to no question of authenticity when it came out, as its owner was known to have been a formal aide to Erdoğan when the latter was the mayor. Not surprisingly, therefore, this specific description of the pool system would subsequently be pointed out as ‘first hand information rather than an assumption’.52 That is, the system of kickbacks pivotal to the corruption claims (p.247) would appear to have allegedly been ‘invented’ by Erdoğan in 1994, and his soaring rise in politics since, often noted as an outstanding achievement, was to do not only with his political genius and persuasive oratory. The purported practice was an appalling compromise of clean politics by introducing into it blatantly anti-competitive exercises, let alone the host of legal and moral issues that the whole thing entailed.


The reckless Islamo-nationalist sectarianism that came rather quickly to define the political power once the regime change was complete from 2011, and the following restlessness in wider society, would inevitably prompt the question of whether or not the military would resort to old tools of ‘adjustment’ in civilian politics, coupled especially with an economic downslide that seemed increasingly to be threatening. Bluntly put, was a military coup out of the question? The answer to this query would probably have been negative on the part of most observers until the second half of 2013: a military takeover no longer looked to be an option. This was the overall vista, not only because the country was now, compared especially to the period of the last ‘outright’ coup in 1980, considerably more integrated with the wider world in untold forms – a possible disruption in civilian politics thus likely to lead to truly catastrophic consequences, turning some such attempt into nothing but a suicide mission by the military – but also because the democratic alliance spearheaded by the ruling AKP until late 2010 overthrew the old bureaucratic order by notably befriending, and relying on, the globalising forces that prevailed in international policy circles. The fierce political opposition against the AKP, especially the neo-nationalist (ulusalcı) fringe, had become anti-Europe, anti-US, anti-NATO, and anti-Semitic during the regime change not without a reason. The reforms achieved domestically, successfully translated into a trendy global discourse for the world public opinion by the liberal intellectuals almost unconditionally supportive of the government, could hardly have come about without the strong and crucial international backing at various levels. The most significant deterrent taking a somewhat daring military off the cards as an option, in other words, was neither the new political climate brought about by the political trials in the country from mid-2007 (see Chapter 3), nor the largely symbolic amendment in the Law of Active Duty (İç Hizmet Yasası) of (p.248) the Turkish Armed Forces, which the military had formally used in the past to justify disruptions in civilian politics.53

The latter, which took place not before July 2013, was little more than a token ‘democratising’ act in the immediate aftermath of the Gezi protests, in response to the growing disenchantment of the liberal public opinion leaders, who had originally made the democratic control of the armed forces a priority in extending intellectual patronage to the government. The amendment formally ended the purported justification for coups in the law regulating the internal service of the military, which had made it part of the overall duty of the armed forces ‘to protect and watch over the land’. The rewriting removed the notorious phrase and limited the duty of the armed forces with ‘the threats and risks from out of the country’. Yet, it was clear already in 2007 that neither the extensive trials against the members of the armed forces nor the later revision in the law of the military was the real deterrent against a possible and sudden military takeover. On 27 April of that year, with the old order fully in place, a coup had seemed rather imminent, following a clear threat issued on the official website of the Office of the Chief of Staff.54 An amendment in the normative framework in order to block a possible adventure by the military was not something even contemplated by the government at the time. Nor were there formal criminal charges against its members to intimidate the military. Still, the coup boldly threatened would never come, despite the clear defiance of that military memo by the government – urged, once again, by its liberal supporters at the cost of considerable personal risk not to bow down under pressure, and braced instantly in this act of defiance with a multitude of global forces extending encouragement.55

What had happened since? How did a military coup once again become an option from the second half of 2013? Primarily, what happened in the interim was the increasing contempt rather blatantly displayed by the government from early 2011, largely through statements by Erdoğan, for the lifestyles and preferences of the secular, urban masses. The shift in discourse had followed the ultimate blow to the old regime through a heated referendum in September 2010. Seeking to re-regulate the system of high courts, advocated and aided by the liberal supporters as a step forward in the process of democratisation, the referendum had became a momentous victory for the government.56 The endorsement by sections in the secular intelligentsia of (p.249) the government initiative had helped to defeat the sole remaining bastion of the old regime (see Chapter 1). The liberal promotion of the constitutional amendments put to the vote, memorably as reflected in the slogan during the referendum campaign ‘Not enough, but yes (Yetmez ama evet)’, would be interpreted by the popular republican opposition as the naive liberal complicity (if not a case of plain sell-out for material gains) in the forthcoming despotism. The amendments were arguably a step forward though, regardless of how the government would use this historic step subsequently, freeing politics once and for all from the yoke of the bureaucracy. A necessary course of action towards the long awaited ‘normalisation’ of politics, the move would enable genuine political struggle for the first time in the recent history of the country, to be uninterrupted by a vicious, partisan bureaucracy that implicitly relied on a radical distinction between the ‘state’, in charge of lasting policy lines, and the ‘government’ greatly emaciated in relation to the main policy areas.

‘Genuine political struggle’ seemed indeed to be a key notion towards justifying the shift advocated by the liberals; with hindsight, a good part of the reason for the subsequent excesses of the political rule once the regime change was complete would be the almost total lack of dexterity and finesse for ordinary democratic contest on the part of the main opposition. Having felt no need to acquire those skills in the past, as noted before, the republican opposition would simply be unable to steal votes from the ruling party in the immediate phase following the old order. This formed a big contrast with the Islamo-nationalist and Kurdish strands in domestic politics, respectively, which, long shunned by the bureaucracy, had had to resort for decades to painstaking grassroots politics to survive. The main opposition had yet to adjust to genuine political competition. Even after the second half of 2013, with an authoritarian regime in full swing, the ruling Islamo-nationalists would still ‘sound’ somewhat more progressive and democratic in places than the republican opposition, in relation to such issues as Kurdish rights and free speech on assessments of the political history, as in the case of the systematic annihilation of Ottoman Armenians during World War I. In other words, the republican opposition appeared to be rather rough and unrefined compared to the ruling AKP, despite the growing authoritarianism of the latter, and it had yet to adapt itself to mundane democratic politicking. (p.250) This applied not only to the main republican opposition, the CHP, but also to the self-styled ‘socialists’. The socialists went on to generally understand political struggle as little more than a form of psychological relief for the benefit of those who were already in the same camp. These apparently much ‘needed’ gestures towards mere ‘reassurance’ of the like-minded used an old, bitter and inflexible discourse in day-to-day politics, as opposed to seeking realistically to defeat the Islamo-nationalists at the ballot box through labour intensive grassroots work and patience. The unusual wit and skill displayed by the Gezi activists (see Chapter 6), presenting a convincing blend of wide solidarity, fury and humour in response to the contempt increasingly displayed by the government towards secular lifestyles, was yet to be adopted by the settled opposition. A new and promising way of doing politics, the protests would also rekindle the old ties of the urban masses with Europe and North America, still held at an arm’s length by the old guard republicans and socialists as sinister meddlers. Genuine political struggle to replace the former bureaucratic system of balances against the excesses of the political rule was possibly emerging.

The lasting effect of the Gezi protests, later only to be reinforced by the crippling corruption allegations on one side and the debilitating incompetence in regional foreign policy on the other, would be the growing self-confidence among the secular urbanites in politics. The restlessness behind the protests would calm down from December 2013 in testament arguably only to this self-confidence, with the dissidents starting to perceive the government, especially after the corruption and bribery claims against it and its sudden isolation in the international community, as much less of a threat for lifestyles in the long run. It should perhaps be added that the overall picture of this self-assurance included, besides formal politics, the grave likelihood that millions could once again and readily take to the streets, as in Egypt in June and July 2013, and refuse to go back home if the government went on behaving in reckless disregard of the secular urbanites. The restlessness possibly resurfacing in some such form, this time plausibly with a vengeance, could indeed render the military much more audacious. The main deterrent that kept away a possible military takeover in April 2007, as related above, would no longer be in the way. Increasingly alone internationally, the government appeared from early 2014 to have little trust of the wider world. It seemed no longer (p.251) inconceivable therefore that that the military acting somewhat daringly could receive a helping hand, or at least a generous ‘understanding’, from various global actors – vital for the success of the act. As for the collective domestic perception against the involvement of the military in politics that had developed rapidly during the regime change, greatly shaped by the liberal intellectuals supportive of the government, this newly found awareness could prove to be short-lived for a threefold reason. First, the overuse of the word ‘coup’ by the government from the second half of 2013 in labelling all forms of dissent, including the corruption allegations, came close to emptying the word of its whole content, gradually turning it into an object of ridicule in large sections of society. Second, the collective democratic perception on the role of the military in favour of civilian politics had formed only recently and in a rather brief spell. It could just as quickly fade away. Justifying a military coup could become increasingly easier than defending the mostly vacuous love of the ballot box of a government not only brazenly oblivious to the basic rights and freedoms but also devoid of international credibility. Finally, prosecuted from mid-2007 for alleged deeds towards a possible takeover of the administration, the members of the military, serving or retired, standing as suspects in a set of widely debated trials, would come to be vindicated by none other than the government itself from early 2014, ostensibly as dictated by its new strategy in the war against the Gülenists. In the following period, the military would clearly regain part of its old, bolder ways, as in its defiance of the government in two key policy areas after the June 2015 election, when, notably, the AKP had lost the parliamentary majority. Reportedly, the military refused to confront the civilians in urban settings during the resurgent Kurdish unrest, now in cities rather than the countryside, and, on the second issue, asked the government to secure some prior international legal legitimacy for a possible military deployment in war-torn Syria.57 The army would only give in after the snap polls in November, with the AKP having reacquired the parliamentary majority, and begin confronting the Kurdish insurgents in town centres. That is, nothing much appeared to be in the way to intimidate or deter the military if and when the conditions would be ‘ripe’ for a more assertive posture; namely, if and when a Gezi-like chain of protests would break out, soon to be accompanied by an inevitably drastic impact on the economy. The Gülenists strongly suspected to have some presence in (p.252) the military, left intact unlike those in the judiciary and in the law enforcement system, could be expected to play a part in stepping up, if not wholly bringing about, some such end. The result, if this happened, would be the transformation of a successful democratic ‘shift’ into a downright blunder of tragic proportions, setting the political normalisation in the country back for years to come.

The failed coup of 15 July 2016, which took place as this book was about to go to press, would sharply drain the Gülenist cabal within the army. That the cult, with ‘closet’ followers meticulously placed in the ranks of the military over decades, could orchestrate or facilitate a coup, as predicted above, was no surprise. The surprise was a bloody coup ostensibly engineered by a community often promoted for its purportedly peaceful leanings. With some spectacularly miscalculated moves immediately in public view, the putschists seemed to have relied on an originally larger, yet ultimately abortive, alliance within the armed forces, or were simply after chaos (possibly through a crippling civil war), even ‘revenge’ perhaps, rather than a takeover. The devotees had long been targeted via a gradually widening sweep in the state apparatus, with the exception of the military, and in business. The putsch would occur, apparently by impulse, only a day or so prior to a rumoured round-up of the adherents, this time in the military. The attempted coup would find next to no civilian support, not only because it looked doomed from the start, but also because of the little-trusted cult generally suspected to be behind it. All four of the political parties in the parliament would extend prompt and unequivocal support to the government. The social media, usually treated as a ‘menace’ by the government, would help to coordinate the civilian responses against the coup. More decisively, Erdoğan would choose to go beyond his support base and appeal to the general public for resistance. With the putsch under way, he would make his first appearance, using a smartphone application, no less, on a mildly oppositional, mainstream television outlet. Ironically, those affiliated with this media group, regularly bashed by Erdoğan over the years, could not up until then go near him, even for routine professional activities. On the positive side, the attempted coup would issue a reminder far more indelibly than ever before: despite the overall mess the country was in politically, getting out of it with patience and democratically would not only be highly rewarding for society, but would also be the only way forward.


(1.) Resolution No. 543, 28 November 2013.

(2.) See Soli Özel, ‘Sırat Köprüsü [Wafer-thin Bridge to Paradise]’, Habertürk, 20 May 2015; Şükrü Küçükşahin, ‘Milletin “Adamı” Değil Vicdanı Konuştu [Conscience Rather than “Man” of People Speaks]’, Hürriyet, 8 June 2015; ‘Camide Siyaset [Political Campaigning at Mosque]’, Cumhuriyet, 22 May 2015; ‘Muhalefetten TSK’ya Mehter Tepkisi [Opposition Critical of Military over Mehter]’, Hürriyet, 1 June 2015.

(3.) ‘CHP Reklamlarına Tartışılacak Sansür İddiası [Controversial Censorship Claim about CHP Publicity Material]’, Hürriyet, 9 December 2013.

(4.) ‘Afiş Sansürü İddiasında CHP’den Erdoğan, Gökçek ve Varank’a Suç Duyurusu [Criminal Complaint by CHP against Erdoğan, Gökçek and Varank, on Poster Censorship]’, T24 online news portal, 26 February 2014.

(5.) OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Limited Election Observation Final Report on the Presidential Election of the Republic of Turkey, 10 August 2014, Section X(B).

(6.) Ibid., Section VIII.

(7.) OSCE/ODIHR, Limited Election Observation Final Report on Parliamentary Elections of the Republic of Turkey, 7 June 2015.

(8.) OSCE/ODIHR, Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions on the Early Parliamentary Elections of the Republic of Turkey, 1 November 2015.

(9.) ‘Türkiye’deki AGİT Heyetinden “Basın Özgürlüğü” Yorumu: Endişe Verici” [Comment by OSCE Mission in Turkey on “Press Freedom”: Raises Concerns]’, Hürriyet, 30 October 2015.

(10.) ‘TRT’den “Tarafsızlık Rekoru”: Bir Ayda Toplam 37 Konuk Aldı, 37’si de AKP’den [TRT Breaks “Record of Neutrality”: 37 Guests in One Month, All 37 of them from AKP]’, Birgün, 30 October 2015.

(11.) ‘Bir TRT Belgeseli: AKP ve Erdoğan 59 Saat, CHP 5 Saat, MHP 1 Saat, HDP 18 Dakika! [TRT Documentary: AKP and Erdoğan 59 Hours, CHP 5 Hours, MHP 1 Hour, HDP 18 Minutes!]’, T24, 27 October 2015.

(p.381) (12.) ‘Turkish Election Campaign Unfair, Say International Monitors’, The Guardian, 2 November 2015.

(13.) Roger Cohen, ‘Erdoğan’s Violent Victory’, The New York Times, 2 November 2015.

(14.) For a thorough study of Turkish experience in democracy from a comparative political perspective, see İlter Turan, Turkey’s Difficult Journey to Democracy: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

(15.) Consociational (or power-sharing) democracies are those that employ mostly informal practices for some such participation beyond the strict majority rule, typically in India. See Arend Lijphart, Thinking about Democracy: Power Sharing and Majority Rule in Theory and Practice (London: Routledge, 2008). Where greater participation of masses in policies is ensured through quantitatively measurable formal and institutional arrangements, as in the majority of European democracies; that which is at work is a consensus democracy. See Arend Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries, second edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

(16.) Robert A. Dahl, A Preface to Democratic Theory, expanded edition (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006), Chapter 3.

(17.) All three rights were formally protected within the European regime of human rights, binding on Turkey: European Convention on Human Rights, Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, Article 10 and Article 11, respectively.

(18.) On the benchmarks and criteria for acceptable, free and fair elections, see also the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an inter-parliamentary organisation of states, functioning since 1889, and the guidelines by the European Commission on Democracy through Law, also known as the Venice Commission, an advisory organ under the Council of Europe.

(19.) The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) would find no violation in this practice though, by five votes against two, in Yumak and Sadak vs Turkey (2008), later to be confirmed by the Grand Chamber by thirteen votes against four. The judgement came as no surprise, as the Court was known to be somewhat shy of being drawn into wrangles that were understood to form rather sensitive fault lines in the domestic politics of the respondent state. A later case on electoral threshold brought about by a number of individual applications to Turkey’s Constitutional Court acting as a human rights tribunal would be found inadmissible by the court, ostensibly for a provision in the law on the functioning of the Constitutional Court that left legislative acts out of the purview of individual applications. See ‘Anayasa Mahkemesi Seçim Barajı Kararını (p.382) Verdi [Constitutional Court Rules on Electoral Threshold]’, Hürriyet, 7 January 2015.

(20.) Again, deemed to be an inevitable offshoot of the earlier holding, note 19, the ECtHR would find no violation in the practice, by five votes against two, in Özgürlük ve Dayanışma Partisi vs Turkey (2012). Yet, see the strongly enunciated dissenting opinion by judges Françoise Tulkens and András Sajó appended to the judgement.

(21.) As expected, the majority of a chamber of the ECtHR would find no breach in the practice in the case Baskın Oran vs Turkey (2014).

(22.) ‘Turkey’s Government Forms 6,000-Member Social Media Team’, The Wall Street Journal, 16 September 2013; ‘Ak Parti’den 6 Bin Kişilik Sosyal Medya Ordusu [6,000-Strong Social Media Army of AKP]’, Hürriyet, 14 November 2013.

(23.) ‘Erdoğan: O Savcı Adaletin Yüzkarası [Erdoğan: That Prosecutor is a Disgrace to Justice]’, Posta, 27 December 2013.

(24.) ‘Erdoğan’a Destek İçin Kefen Giyip Yürüdüler [Shroud-donned Supporters Rally for Erdoğan]’, Yeni Akit, 10 March 2014.

(25.) ‘ÇYDD’ye Vergi Kıskacı [Tax Grip against Society in Support of Modern Life]’, Cumhuriyet, 11 December 2013.

(26.) Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. T. Burger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989), p. 4.

(27.) ‘Erdoğan Bayraktar İstifa Etti [Erdoğan Bayraktar Resigns]’, Hürriyet, 25 December 2013.

(28.) ‘Corruption Scandal is Edging Near Turkish Premier’, The New York Times, 25 December 2014.

(29.) Erdoğan had shortly before described al-Qadi as a ‘friend’, who was known to have secretly visited Turkey several times while facing travel restrictions placed by various international policy bodies on suspected terror charges. On the Erdoğan and al-Qadi friendship and the business dealings of the latter in Turkey, detailed long before the corruption allegations, see ‘The Al-Qadi Affair’, Forbes online, 24 January 2008. In one of the allegedly wiretapped telephone conversations, posted online, Erdoğan would be heard to speak to Sayyid Qutb’s nephew Osama in Turkish, following a few words of greeting in Arabic. Reassuring Osama about a business deal, Erdoğan would send his regards to Mohammad, Sayyid Qutb’s brother. Osama, just as al-Qadi’s son Muadh, was apparently naturalised at some point during the AKP rule and started living in Istanbul (p.383) as well as Mecca, where his father, who would die shortly afterwards, was in April 2014. See ‘Polis Fezlekesi: Bilal Erdoğan Gizli Ortak [Police Records: Bilal Erdoğan Secret Partner]’, Cumhuriyet, 4 August 2014. According to one of the allegedly authentic tapes, al-Qadi and Qutb accompanied by the head of the then prime minister Erdoğan’s personal protection unit had had a curious road accident on 15 February 2013, with those on board hurt and hospitalised. As heard on the tape, Erdoğan had purportedly been the first person Qutb had called after the accident. Yet, for some reason, the mysterious travellers injured in the incident would be omitted in the subsequent traffic report. See ‘Yasin el-Kadı’nın Kaza Kayıtları [Recordings from Yasin al-Qadi Accident]’, Hürriyet, 24 February 2014.

(30.) ‘Savcı, Polis Şeflerine Söz Geçiremedi [Police Chiefs Refuse to Obey Prosecutor]’, Radikal, 26 December 2013.

(31.) ‘Savcı Krizi Patladı [Prosecutor Crisis Breaks Out]’, Radikal, 27 December 2013.

(32.) ‘The Second Chamber of the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors (HSYK) debars from the profession the prosecutors Zekeriya Öz, Celal Kara, Muammer Akkaş, Mehmet Yüzgeç, and the judge Süleyman Karaçöl.’ See ‘HSYK, Zekeriya Öz’ü Meslekten İhraç Etti [HSYK Debars Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz]’, Anadolu Ajansı, official news network, 12 May 2015. ‘Top Judicial Officials of Corruption to Be Tried in Supreme Court’, Hürriyet Daily News, 15 June 2015. The ‘Supreme Court’ referred to in the report was the Court of Cassation (Yargıtay).

(33.) According to the figures disclosed by Turkey’s Association of Journalists in December 2014, close to seventy journalists were on trial in 120 separate cases, with charges related to the reports on corruption allegations. See ‘Gazeteci Kabaş’a Tweet Baskını [Tweet Raid against Journalist Kabaş]’, Milliyet, 31 December 2014.

(34.) The front page of the pro-government daily Yeni Şafak on 26 December 2013 devoted to the exploding corruption charges had the following headlines from a speech by Erdoğan: ‘Liberation War of Great Turkey’, ‘It’s Me They’re Targeting’, and ‘This is a Coup’.

(35.) ‘Erdoğan Admits Calling Habertürk Executive to Change Reporting during Gezi Protests’, Today’s Zaman, 11 February 2014.

(36.) The editor-in-chief of a mainstream daily, revealed in the leaked tapes to have been censoring news and manipulating poll results for the government, would subsequently argue in self-defence that there was no other way to be able to (p.384) continue as a journalist under the AKP rule, stating on a live television interview: ‘I have been raped; go after the rapist, not me.’ See ‘Fatih Altaylı: Gazetecilik Onuru Ayaklar Altında [Fatih Altaylı: Journalistic Ethics Being Trampled On]’, Radikal, 11 February 2014.

(37.) ‘In Scandal, Turkey’s Leaders May Be Losing Their Tight Grip on News Media’, The New York Times, 11 January 2014.

(38.) This craze around Erdoğan as the new ‘caliph’ would later gear down yet effectively go on. See Adam Taylor, ‘“The Caliph is Coming, Get Ready,” Pro-Erdoğan Turkish Politician Tweets’, The Washington Post, 19 March 2015.

(39.) ‘Erdoğan’ı Halife Olarak Tanıyor ve Biat Ediyorum [I Recognise Erdoğan as Caliph and Pledge Bay‘ah to Him]’, Agos weekly, 30 August 2013.

(40.) ‘Yeni Demokratikleşme Paketi TBMM Genel Kurul’unda [New Democratising Package at General Assembly of Parliament]’, Hürriyet, 20 February 2014.

(41.) ‘Başbakan’dan Brüksel’de Önemli Açıklamalar [Critical Statements by PM in Brussels]’, Hürriyet, 21 January 2014.

(42.) Hamid Dabashi, Islamic Liberation Theology: Resisting the Empire (London: Routledge, 2008).

(43.) See Ali Rahnema, An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shariati (London: I. B. Tauris, 2014).

(44.) ‘Başbakan Erdoğan ve Bilal’in Ses Kaydının Tam Metni [Unexpurgated Text of PM Erdoğan and Son Bilal Voice Recordings]’, Cumhuriyet, 26 February 2014.

(45.) ‘Turkish Prime Minister Targeted in Second Audio Tape’, Reuters online, 26 February 2014.

(46.) Roy Gutman, ‘Erdoğan Recordings Appear Real, Analyst Says, as Turkey Scandal Grows’, Miami Herald, 26 February 2014.

(47.) ‘Koç: Tayyip Bey’in 1 Milyar Doları Varmış [Koç: They Say Tayyip Bey Has $1 Billion]’, Hürriyet, 5 August 2001.

(48.) Fehim Taştekin, ‘Iranian Gold Stars in Turkish Corruption Scandal’, Al-Monitor online news portal, 20 December 2013.

(49.) Mümtaz’er Türköne, ‘As Crony Capitalism Collapses’, Today’s Zaman, 1 February 2014; idem, ‘Islamism and Corruption’, Today’s Zaman, 10 February 2014. On this, see also revelations ‘from within’ by a former Islamo-nationalist journalist, ‘Levent Gültekin: Erdoğanistler Tayyipçilere Yalan Söyleyerek Geçiniyor [Levent Gültekin: Erdoğanists Make a Living by Lying to Tayyipists]’, Bugün, 22 March 2015.

(50.) Hayrettin Karaman, ‘Rüşvete ve Yolsuzluğa Fetva Verilmez [There can Be No Fatwa to Justify Bribery and Corruption]’, Yeni Şafak, 27 December 2013.

(p.385) (51.) Ali Bulaç, ‘Havuzun Suyu [Water in Pool]’, Zaman, 13 February 2014.

(52.) Mümtaz’er Türköne, ‘How does AK Party Finance Political Activities?’ Today’s Zaman, 15 February 2014.

(53.) Parliamentary Act No. 6496, 13 July 2013, Resmî Gazete [Official Gazette], No. 28724, 31 July 2013, Article 18.

(54.) ‘Army “Concerned” by Turkey Vote’, BBC News online, 28 April 2007.

(55.) See, for example, ‘EU Warns Turkish Army over Vote’, BBC News online, 28 April 2007; ‘US Urges Turkey to Heed Constitution, Democracy’, Reuters, 28 April 2007.

(56.) ‘Anayasa Paketi Referandumda Yüzde 58’le Kabul Edildi [Package Amending Constitution Approved in Referendum by 58 Per Cent]’, Bianet independent news online, 12 September 2010.

(57.) Deniz Zeyrek, ‘Askerden İki Çekince [Two Reservations by Military]’, Hürriyet, 5 October 2015.