28 December 2013

Turkish blues

Turkey is a turmoil, its strongman Erdogan is rapidly losing his grip on the public opinion. And going to desperate lengths to douse the fire. In his usual maddened bull manner, Erdogan lashes out at anything that crosses his field of vision:
Shaken by a massive corruption scandal sweeping his government, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has publicly lashed out at many diverse groups which he accused of conspiring with foreign elements abroad to take down his ruling Justice and Development (AK Party) government.
While the sweeping accusations, so typical for the character in question, are as usual worthless and baseless, there is one point where Erdoğan could be right:
In several veiled references to the Hizmet movement, inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen who has been critical of the government for trying to derail the corruption investigation, the prime minister claimed that the operation was orchestrated by “gangs” and a “parallel state.”
Fethullah Gülen: this name may appear more and more in future reports about Turkey.

(No, it's not one of the Robert De Niro's sourpuss moments)

The big question is: what, if anything, does Fethullah Gülen's possible dive into Turkish politics promise? And the answer is: we should be wary.

Turkey is, most probably, a single most important ally of United States and European Union in the area. With its population of 76 million, rapidly growing economy and traditionally strong army, Turkey's strategic location, bordering Balkan states on its European side, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria on its Asian side and straddling the only sea route from the Black Sea to Mediterranean, is unique. This location provided priceless service to the Western allies during the Cold War and continues to be extremely important nowadays, even with the courting of Iran by the current White House dweller and his administration. The following statement from a Congressional research paper gives a brief of the Turkey-US alliance.
The United States and Turkey have enjoyed a decades-long alliance. The calculations that led the United States to invest heavily in Turkey’s defense and its military and economic development during the Cold War have evolved as the dynamics within both countries and the regional and global environments have changed. Another change has been Turkey’s decreased dependence on U.S. material support and its increased assertiveness as a foreign policy actor.

At the outset of the Obama Administration, U.S. officials made clear their intent to emphasize the importance of a multifaceted strategic relationship with Turkey. In April 2009, President Obama, speaking of a “model partnership,” visited Turkey during his first presidential trip abroad and addressed the Parliament in Ankara. He said that “Turkey is a critical ally.... And Turkey and the United States must stand together—and work together — to overcome the challenges of our time.”
The next paragraph, however, introduces a rather chilly note:
However, subsequent Turkish and U.S. actions and statements on issues relating to Armenia, Iran, and Israel revealed possible tensions between the United States and Turkey on values and priorities. A vote in March 2010 by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to report a proposed resolution (H.Res. 252) for consideration by the full House on the question of a possible Armenian genocide led Turkey to temporarily recall its ambassador. A number of events that followed — especially the Gaza flotilla incident and a U.N. Security Council sanctions vote on Iran — led some Members of Congress and Administration officials to openly question Turkey’s orientation as a U.S. and Western ally. They expressed concerns that Turkish leaders’ rhetoric and actions were (1) undermining a top U.S. priority in the Iranian nuclear issue and (2) at odds with the U.S. characterization of Israel as an ally and Iran as a threat.
These critical remarks, which are only a part of a lot more criticism (see the paper), don't reflect Turkish views on the matter. Turkey has its own reasons to be unhappy with the treatment it receives from its Western allies, especially from European Union. The unending saga of Turkey's attempts to qualify for the membership of that august institution is a permanent open sore in Turkish view, one that is made more irritating from time to time by a thoughtless and condescending remark of this or another European politician. And, of course, the rising wave of Islam in Turkey is only assisted by this European behavior in Turkish growing tendency to look Eastward.

But of course, nothing could be considered said about the modern Turkey without mentioning its mercurial and bullish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A charismatic leader, further buoyed by undeniable strides in Turkish economy during 11 years of his party's rule, he has used these years to get rid of all possible competition, starting with a consistent persecution of the heads of Turkish army. The army that was supposed to be a main part of the safeguarding mechanism, protecting Turkish republic from turning into a Islamic theocracy. Erdoğan doesn't mince words and doesn't suffer any kind of opposition. Turkey is at the head of the list where incarcerated journalists are concerned (70 journalists in Turkey are currently being prosecuted and kept in jail all over the country). And his way of dealing with opposition of a "pedestrian" civil kind became clear after the Taksim park.

On international scene Erdoğan got infamous due to his outbursts, threats and "diplomatc histrionics", frequently using expulsion (or recall) of ambassadors and similar measures to register his displeasure with what he perceives as acts insulting his personal or Turkish honor. During the years of his rule he didn't make many friends abroad, mildly speaking.

The man is nearing the end of his last term as prime minister, and there are persistent rumors that he intends to run for the post of president, with subsequent redefinition of the roles and responsibilities of presidential and PM's positions. No guessing about his reasoning allowed...

And here we come to the mystery of Fethullah Gülen. The mystery is not related to his bio. The first paragraph of his Wiki entry is quite clear:
Muhammed Fethullah Gülen (born 27 April 1941) is a Turkish writer, former imam and preacher and Islamic opinion leader. He is the founder of the Gülen movement. He currently lives in a self-imposed exile in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, United States.
The mystery lies, first of all in the somewhat controversial description of a man as a moderate Muslim:
Gülen teaches an Anatolian (Hanafi) version of Islam, deriving from Sunni Muslim scholar Bediüzzaman Said Nursi's teachings and modernizes them. Gülen has stated his belief in science, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, and multi-party democracy. He has initiated such dialogue with the Vatican and some Jewish organizations.
Which description kind of clashes with the next paragraph:
Gülen is actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state, and Islam in the modern world. He has been described in the English-language media as "one of the world's most important Muslim figures." In the Turkish context Gülen appears relatively conservative and religiously observant.
So, a conservative and religiously observant Muslim, who also denounced terrorism more than once - witness his condemnation of 9/11 attack and his criticism of the Turkish-led flotilla with its tragic consequences. Anyway, it is a rather complicated picture of a man who is allegedly behind the current drive to depose the Erdoğan's government. The picture is made even more complicated by the fact that, while in the U.S. in 1999 for medical treatment, Gülen was charged in Turkey with attempting to create an Islamic state. Notice that charges were brought by pre-Erdoğan, ostensibly secular government.

So, both Erdoğan and Gülen are seemingly striving to reach the same goal: Islamic Turkey. While the former is more authoritarian and bullish, the latter is more moderate and considerate, to the point of allowing the secular state to exist, at least for some time.
According to Gulen in democratic-secular countries, ninety-five percent of Islamic principles are permissible and practically feasible, and there is no problem with them. The remaining five percent are not worth fighting for.
However, one shouldn't forget that Erdoğan owes his initial success in Turkish elections to Hizmet movement, created and nurtured to this day by Gülen.
Gulen has been running one of the most influential lobbies in Turkey today, known as the Hizmet Movement. Having been persecuted by Turkey's pre-AK Party government, that had heavily cracked down on all open displays of religion after the February 28, 1997 military coup that ousted former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, the movement was forced to go underground.

However, with the organization, funding and determination of his followers, Gulen succeeded in raising lawyers, security officials, politicians, lobbyists, diplomats, businessmen and academics who cemented their spot in influential positions across Turkey. With their support, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was voted into office in 2002, under whom their movement flourished both in and outside of Turkey.
Strangely, the first signs of mutual dissatisfaction are ascribed in the same article to the case of Turkish flotilla:
...cracks began to show in the relationship between Erdogan and Gulen in May 2010, when Turkish charity IHH organized an international flotilla to deliver aid to the blockaded Palestinians of Gaza. Following the failed attempt to break the Israeli blockade, which resulted in the killing of 9 Turkish activists when Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara ship in international waters, Gulen expressed his disapproval of the mission.
Since we all know by now how does Mr Erdoğan treat any criticism, the consequences are quite clear. With Gülen, however, the bullying doesn't work. First of all, the man stays in Pennsylvania for now and secondly, he has millions of devote followers in Turkey and tens (or hundreds by now) of thousands of grateful graduates of reportedly excellent Gülen schools, which is a phenomenon worth discussing separately.

Gülen was mostly quiet on the latest developments in Turkey, for reasons of his own, but recently his patience came to an end:
Gülen said there is an “assymetrical assault” on the Hizmet movement and that there is an effort to finish it off. He urged members of the Hizmet movement to stand firm and trust in God.

He said some crimes constitute a “violation of rights of the public” and that the Islamic law and modern legal system don’t allow “tolerance” in these cases.

“The issue is about the rights of the public. If the public property is being robbed, you cannot somehow soften this [crime] by either regulations or demagogy and dialectics. This is the right of the public. ... If someone overlooks this, then they are acting jointly with that thiefs. There you cannot ignore that,” Gülen underlined.
This article is also very interesting because of its hints about the extent of Gülen's Hismet movement and its influence in the country, such as:
Some rough statistics claimed that 95% of the police personnel department belonged to the Gülen movement.
It is early days so far, and predicting how the fight between Erdoğan/AKP and Gülen/Hizmet will turn out is not an easy task. Erdoğan has a lot of rabbits to pull out of his hat, and he is not too choosy about the means used to reach his goals. The wave of purges in the police, since the corruption investigation became public, shows this only too well, and the same fate may be in wait for the members of judiciary too keen on proceeding with this investigation further. Nothing is decided yet.

But there is another issue that keeps buzzing in the back of my mind. Remember this guy?

Remember his (not very uncomfortable) years of exile in all kinds of places, including Paris, France?

Remember how moderate and peaceful it all ended?

Lest we forget.

More nitty-gritty on the current situation in Turkey, from a man in the know.
State Department is getting pissed off.
The site of Zaman, Turkish daily news outfit identified with Gülen, seems to be unavailable most of the time.
From Hurryet: 'Ruling AKP totally corrupt, should allow full probe', says MHP leader
And so far it looks that  Erdoğan may still get the upper hand...


SnoopyTheGoon said...

OT, before I read this post I want to be sure you don't miss the latest from your favorite American author: http://preview.tinyurl.com/ltzcp92

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I would suggest Wormtongue for a giveaway, as he's well known for giving away tax money, but he's probably sympathetic to the imam's point of view.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Poor Turkey (as they used to say of Mexico) so far from God, so close to Iran. (The Mexican version was so far from God so close to the United States.)

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Oh... a real meeting of great minds. Thanks for the tip.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Could be, what do I know?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

And to Russia, never forget Russia too.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Spengler (David Goldman) says Turkey is coming apart and its future is dim:

"Ethnic Turks have a fertility rate close to 1.5 children per family, while the Kurdish minority is having 4 children per family. Within a generation half of Turkey’s young men will come from families where Kurdish is the first language."

More here: http://tinyurl.com/nrtwove

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Yes, thanks for the link, it's certainly interesting. I have a friend who was carping years ago that Turkish economy is based of overextended bank credits and is bound to crash sooner or later. So we may see it happening.

As for Kurds: good, Israel has rather good ties to Kurds in many places around the Middles East.