Trump’s War on America: #MuslimBan and TPP

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I knew Trump era would be full of bigotry, discrimination, violation of rights. But I didn’t expect the deterioration to be at this speed and scope. It definitely took Erdoğan years to truly screw Turkey. It seems that at this pace, it will not take Donald J. Trump that long. It is mind blowing how fast the world’s most powerful democracy can start turning into a protectionist, discriminative country where people from seven designated Muslim-majority countries are handcuffed at the airports, subjected to religion tests, denied entry to the U.S. where they have been working and living for years.

The Muslim ban significantly diminished the U.S.’s moral authority. Be assured that from now on, all the human rights reports, condemnations of rights violations from the U.S. will be mocked like never before.

There is resistance within the country. There are major protests against him and his actions which reveals that the American society, or at least a big segment of it, refuses to sit and watch while their president violates basic principles of democracy and the rights of their fellow citizens.

America’s economic interests are also at stake.

It has only been a week and his actions already weakened the American position in various parts of the world. Take the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It was an agreement that would set very high standards on environment, trade in services, employment. It would set a framework protecting American investors in the TPP countries whose combined GDP accounts for around %40 of the global economy. The deal was repeatedly denounced by Beijing as an attempt to contain China. None of these facts were able to prevent Trump from pulling his country out of the arrangement. Now that USA withdrew from TPP, China is expected to fill the vacuum. Yes, the man who constantly talked about taking on China, gave the Chinese the candidacy of commercial leadership in the Pacific Rim on a silver platter. In search for an economic engine for the TPP, Australia and New Zealand now encourage China to join TPP. China is also the dominant power in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which is not yet finalized. It is a smaller deal compared to the TPP and TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). RCEP countries’ combined GDP makes up around 30.5% of the world’s economy. But with the TPP’s future in question, it has now a better chance at setting its own (China’s) standards covering a big portion of the global commerce.

Trump’s trade policy is strictly neo-mercantilist and belongs to another age. Economic protectionism always ends up hurting all. The U.S. has experienced it with Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930 through which the U.S. joined the protectionist bandwagon of the time. It was trigged multiple retaliations and created much resentment against the U.S. Moreover, it contributed to the rising economic nationalism of the era that eventually led to the World War II.

It is not China or Muslims abroad who could fix all this. The task is up to the independent institutions of the U.S. as well as American civil society.

 

 

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Turkey – U.S. Relations to Collapse over Fethullah Gülen?

FILE PHOTO -  Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan listens as U.S. President Obama addresses a joint news conference at the White House in Washington

FILE PHOTO – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) listens as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) addresses a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo – RTSEXJC

The U.S. Vice President Joe Biden who is set to visit Turkey very soon will find an intense anti-Gülen and a little anti-American environment in Turkey, hopefully he will understand why.

The country is still staggered by the horror unleashed by the coup plotters that poised to suspend rule of law and democracy, ran over people with tanks, opened fire on civilians from gunships, bombarded the parliament with F-16s and tried to assassinate the country’s president… It is an unprecedented national trauma whose effects will shape Turkey’s future internal and, to some extent, external politics. The country has been politically fractured in the recent years. Yet the coup attempt created an unusual sense of unity among all political parties, civil society and beyond. Their eyes turned to Fethullah Gülen and his movement, the prime suspects of the bloody attempt. If the U.S. fails to read the post-coup attempt mood in Turkey, it will not risk losing only the Turkish government but also the Turkish public.

Conspiracy Theories

For some, USA is also involved in the coup attempt. The pro-government media in Turkey offers a wide range of conspiracy theories. An official joined: The country’s Labor Minister Süleyman Soylu on HaberTurk TV openly accused USA of being responsible for not only the recent coup attempt but also “all the calamities” like 1960 coup, Gezi Park protests and 2013 corruption scandal… Of course, this is as crazy as claiming, like some in the West do, that the coup attempt was just a ploy by Erdoğan to grab more power.

Soylu is hardly the first Turkish minister to lose his temper and make such crazy statements. The Turkish people’s thought is somewhat different: A poll suggests that 64.4% of the respondents blame Fethullah Gülen for the coup attempt, only 3.8% think it was USA. But undoubtedly, anti-American sentiments are likely to rise, should the U.S. refuse to extradite Gülen. After articles like that of Graham Fuller describing Gülen as a cuddly Islamic monk with nothing but endless love for humanity and the humble face of “moderate Islam” in the world, it is actually surprising that only 3.8% of the usually conspiracy-minded Turks see an American hand in this.

They may not believe the U.S. was directly behind the putsch attempt but many do believe that it is behind Fethullah Gülen who has been living in the U.S. since 1999. It is true that conspiracy theories are hardly uncommon in Turkey and blaming Americans for just about anything is deemed normal. Those who blame the U.S. do it partly because they regard it as almost an omnipotent force. “A country with the most advanced information gathering technologies and the history’s most effective intelligence apparatus must have known about the coup attempt much before it happened”, they think. And since the U.S. did not warn Turkish authorities, they conclude that there is an American hand in this – and also in pretty much everything else. But the suspicions about Gülen do have grounds. Dani Rodrik, who exposed many illegal practices of Gülenists within the state like cooking evidence, illegal wiretapping etc., listed some of these reasons. For him, “it is not farfetched to think that there are some groups in the [U.S.] administration – perhaps in the intelligence branches – who have been protecting Gulen because they think he is useful to U.S. foreign policy interests”.

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Fethullah Gülen (Source: Ensonhaber).

The Case against Gülen

There are more than just opinions against Gülen. During the uprising, a police officer suspended for being a Gülen loyalist in 2014, was found in a rebel tank wearing military uniform. The coup attempt occurred just before upcoming anti-Gülenist purges through Supreme Military Council and an ongoing investigation in İzmir. Having discovered the coming sweep, the putschists rushed the coup attempt which, luckily, reduced the chance of success. Levent Türkkan, the Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar’s aide-de-camp, confessed to be an obedient Gülenist and that he was tasked with neutralizing Akar during the uprising. He says in his testimony he was given questions of military high school entrance exam by his Gülenist superiors in 1989. The Gülenist influence in education is well-known but Türkkan’s testimony defies the common belief that Gülenist infiltration in the military is a relatively late phenomenon. (By the way Gülen, through more than 130 charter schools, is educating American kids, as well.)  It should be noted that the detainees’ statements should be treated with caution since in their recent pictures they are looking pretty roughed up, which raises questions about the circumstances of their detainment. Hulusi Akar says in his testimony that Hakan Evrim, commander of the Akıncı Air Base where the putschists held anti-coup generals as captives and coordinated their aerial operations, told him “something like ‘If you wish, we could get you in touch with our opinion leader Fethullah Gülen’.” Akar says he angrily rejected the offer. Evrim, however, denies that he has any ties to Gülen or his movement, claiming that he, too, was a captive of the putschists.

Americans, on the other hand, avoid speaking in certain terms but it seems that also for them, the Gülenist involvement in the coup attempt is beyond doubt. Wikileaks cables reveal that U.S. diplomats stationed in Turkey repeatedly warned their government about the Gülen Movement. In an interview to CNNTurk after the attempted putsch, John Bass, the U.S. Ambassador in Ankara, told “Now, clearly as a resident here in Turkey, Friday night’s actions, and the apparent involvement of a large number of his [Gülen] supporters, is a compelling and grave threat to the security of this country…”  Bass’ predecessor James Jeffrey said “most indications… point to the Gülenist movement”.

Gulen Compound

Fethullah Gülen’s Compound in Pennsylvania (Source: Business Insider).

It is not very likely that solid written evidence directly incriminating Fethullah Gülen will ever be found. For any kind of action, his verbal blessing to his followers would be more than enough. Even in his private sermons he uses a very ambiguous language full of metaphors and similes. Gülen Movement has control over many schools, NGOs, businesses etc. but the movement itself does not have an institutional identity and, therefore, a legal personality. Its members do not have something like Gülen Club IDs proving that they are Gülenists. Membership does not require registry but only obedience and commitment to leader. Hence, it will not be easy to expose them for what they are. Dealing with them may prove especially hard in the U.S., considering the presence of a well-oiled Gülenist PR machine there.

The unprecedented attempt that took lives of more than 260 people created an unprecedented anti-coup and anti-Gülen environment in Turkey. The Turkish side sees Gülen’s deportation primarily as a political issue rather than a legal one. Thus, any legal bumps in the way of his expulsion will be regarded by Turks as political obstacles set by Americans to protect him. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said “Our relations will be affected if the U.S. rejects to give us him (Gülen). We do not want to come to that point.” PM Binali Yıldırım was considerably less diplomatic: “They (Americans) told us ‘present evidence’… We will lay before them more evidence than they want … While you did not seek evidence for Bin Laden, why are you insistently demanding it for FETÖ despite the incident is very clear and all the evidence is already there? I am asking you. Do not protect this murderer, this traitor, this arch-terrorist any longer! There is no advantage in it for you.” Though, strangely, despite these seemingly passionate remarks, the Turkish government has not yet made an official request for Gülen’s extradition.

Hopefully, Americans are reading Turkey correctly. The way the U.S. media underemphasizes horrific the coup attempt and how its initiators that took the country’s high command captive and killed their own people on the streets of the capital, and prefers to focus almost solely on Erdoğan is utterly discouraging.

According to PEW polls, Turks are generally suspicious of foreigners and do not see USA, or any other country, favorably. But given the current circumstances, it is safe to suggest that the coming days have the potential to create a special dislike for the U.S. which could be poisonous for future cooperation. With ISIS continuing to be threat, Middle East being even more unstable than before, and Russian expansionism making a push, Turkish-American relations still hold their high value. Nobody should think to sacrifice them for someone like Fethullah Gülen.

 

Seven Pieces to Read to Understand the Coup Attempt in Turkey

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The Turkish Parliament After the Coup Attempt (Source: Sheknows.com)

Now that a major thing happened in Turkey, all TV channels in the West are flooded with Turkey “experts”. Also, social media is swarming with the op-eds of the expats living in their cozy bubbles in Turkey and the overrated analysts that are oceans away from the reality.

Assuming that you would like to avoid the righteous wrath of Ziya Meral, I selected some of the best pieces that are written by the people who really know and follow the country. For good quality analyses and stories, you would do well to follow them.

 

  • The view from Taksim Square” by William Armstrong – The times Literary supplement (TLS). William is an İstanbul-based writer and a journalist. He regularly writes a column for Hurriyet Daily News in which he reviews books on Turkey and has a blog that he uses to publish his podcasts/interviews with the authors of the books he reviews.
  • Turkey’s Baffling Coup” by Dani Rodrik – Project Syndicate. Dani Rodrik is a Turkish economist at Harvard University. In 2011 his father in law was jailed in Balyoz inquiry. His and Pınar Doğan’s relentless efforts exposed many unlawful practices -especially those in Ergenekon and Balyoz cases- of the Gülenists nested within the state institutions.

What is behind Erdoğan’s Palace Fetish?

Definitely, Erdoğan has an obsession with palaces. Journalist Murat Bardakçı recently reported that Yıldız Palace, a 19th century Ottoman palace most famously used by Sultan Abdülhamit II, was now allocated for use of the Turkish presidency. In her last state visit to Turkey, Erdoğan hosted Chancellor Merkel there. Only in İstanbul, presently there appears to be three presidential residences: Huber Villa (Tarabya campus), Çengelköy Villa that is lately renewed and Yıldız Palace. Now I say “villa” and “residence” but you should know that they are actually compounds comprising of many buildings.

Mabeyn Pavillion at Yıldız Palace Compound.

The Great Mabeyn Pavillion at Yıldız Palace.

Çengelköy Villa is also known as Vahdettin Villa, named after the last Ottoman sultan who is regarded as a disgraced figure by many. Mostly because he ordered Atatürk’s death as he opposed İstanbul’s rule in his bid to start war of independence. The sultan eventually left İstanbul by a British vessel. Yet, unsurprisingly, in the “alternative” history writing of the Islamists, he is a revered ruler who actually sent Atatürk off to Anatolia to start the war of independence. But then the sneaky Atatürk betrayed him and abolished the sultanate, Islamists believe. Erdoğan’s choice to utilize Vahdettin Villa says a lot. The same thing goes also for the Yıldız Palace that is associated with Sultan Abdülhamit II who is another a poster boy for conservatives. A very smart leader, Abdülhamit II sought to unite whatever remains of the Ottoman Empire through Islamic identity as the Empire had lost most of its provinces in Europe and held generally Muslim-populated lands. Some Islamists go as far as seeing him as a saint and his rule as an anti-thesis for secular system. In addition to being a figure of greatness, he is also a victim as he was deposed by the progressive Young Turks that restored the Ottoman Constitution of 1876. Of course, Islamists do not know and/or go great lengths to overlook the fact that Abdülhamit was pretty much a European monarch: he loved opera, theater, Sherlock Holmes novels and, according to one of his grandsons Ertuğrul Osmanoğlu, drinking rom.

Changes in Ankara are pretty much in line with those in İstanbul. In an unprecedented move, Çankaya which was built in Atatürk’s time and had been the residence of the Turkish presidents since, was given to the Prime Ministry. In historic Çankaya’s stead, a new palace with 1150 rooms that could be rivalled by only Ceausescu’s palace in size and tastelessness, was built in 2014. The official cost was $615 million but Turkey’s Housing Development Administration (TOKİ) rejected to state the real cost of the presidential complex because it could “hurt the economy”. With a bigger palace came also a much bigger budget: from 55 million Turkish lira in 2008, the Presidency’s budget increased to 397 million ($137.7 million) in 2015. The money wasted was not the only cost, however. The complex was built on Atatürk Forest Farm. The construction destroyed much of the one of Atatürk’s most important legacies, hundreds of trees were cut down. Though from the Gezi Park protests, you may already know that Erdoğan is no big fan of green spaces. Nor is he a fan of the law. So the construction went on despite the court decision to halt it.

Much as I dislike the reasons behind choosing these specific historic structures for use of presidency, I support restoring and renewing them as well as occasionally using them for various state events. That would be a perfectly reasonable way to keep them alive. But does the office of presidency need this many palaces? Or is it one man’s ego that needs them so much? Erdoğan’s supporters seem to believe that the recent presidential extravagance displays “greatness” of Turkey. For them, it is a display of power both in international stage and in the domestic arena, a restoration of the former glory of the Ottoman Empire. Though I think the Ottomans fancied by them so much would have strongly disagreed with them. In the peak of its power, the vast Ottoman Empire was being ruled from Topkapı Palace that was indeed very modest compared to palaces in Europe and Russia. The greatest Turkish architect Sinan, the head architect of Suleiman the Magnificent, never really built a single mighty palace but many mosques, bridges and baths… Until the protocol of 19th century made it necessary, Ottoman emperors did not think to build and live in lavish palaces. Of course, the Empire was weak in the 19th century and perhaps, through the palaces matching those of Europe, it needed to show that it was still in the game. In the 15th and 16th centuries, might of the Empire could be observed in its mosques, military structures, fountains not in its original, practical but extremely modest palaces… So, a look at the history shows that there exists a negative correlation between power of the Turkish state and the level of fancy for palaces.

Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace

Restoring residences of Sultan Vahdettin and Sultan Abdülhamit II as presidential offices, destroying much of Atatürk Forest Farm, abandoning Çankaya as presidential residence and holding state events in İstanbul so frequently as if it were the capital of the country are intensely ideological choices. In the process, laws are ignored, as is economic rationality. The whole thing that is costing too much and gaining nothing for the people, is being presented as a necessary step to increase the country’s international recognition. The people who are still obsessively envisioning an Ottoman comeback are more than willing to swallow this.

Hence, behind every shining object in these palaces, there is a something very rotten.

Why Turkey Can’t Afford a Military Adventure in Kobani

Kobani

Kobani

After days of siege, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) entered the Syrian town of Kobani on the border with Turkey, is now trying to take full control of the town. Recent reports indicate that fall of Kobani, also known as Ayn Al-Arab, seems imminent, though YPG fighters (The People’s Protection Units) under the command of PYD (Democratic Union Party) still continue to resist. PYD is an offshoot of PKK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party) that is a Marksist-Leninist terror organization that has been fighting Turkey since 1984 to create an independent Kurdistan. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization also by USA, UN, NATO and EU. Although the Turkish government has been in peace talks with PKK’s captured leader Abdullah Öcalan and there is a so-called ceasefire in effect, PKK continued its attacks, launching rockets into Turkish military outposts and setting dozens of schools on fire. PYD itself also attacked Turkish Armed Forces in June killing three Turkish soldiers.

 PYD-PKK and Turkish Help

Turkey is naturally concerned by the prospect of a new neighbor ruled by an organization affiliated to PKK that has cost lives of thousands of its civilians and security forces. But still, it has been doing much for Kobani. Almost all Kobani civilians fled to Turkey and are now being sheltered and fed there. Even wounded YPG fighters who should normally be regarded as terrorists by the authorities because their affiliation to PKK, are allowed to receive medical attention in Turkish hospitals.

On certain conditions, Turkey said it is willing to make more efforts to help with the situation in Syria. Turkey desires a multilateral ground action in Syria, buffer zones to protect its borders and commitment to a post-Assad future. If these happen, ‘if others do their part,’ Turkey will even put boots on the ground in Syria, Ahmet Davutoğlu said to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Drums of war played by ‘liberal’ columnists

For some, none of this is enough. Many foreign and Turkish commentators, often with unfairly accusatory remarks against Turkey, push for Turkish military involvement in Kobani, although PYD leader himself told they would regard a unilateral Turkish intervention in Rojava -the area that includes also Kobani- as an act of invasion. Now that is the primary reason for Turkey not to interfere: the locals there simply don’t want it. Nor do the Turkish people want their military to go into Syria. So it is indeed a mystery why so many columnists suddenly started to insist on a Turkish intervention and think there are grounds for it. Foreign columnists may want the ISIS problem handled by Turkish Armed Forces instead of theirs and the Turkish ones may be trying to ease their ‘Turkish guilt’ towards the Kurds or fearing that the peace process would end. Or they have other concerns. In any case, it is worrying that so many want something so wrong.

The Border, KRG, Future

Kobani won’t be the first Syrian town bordering Turkey to fall into claws of ISIL. ISIL already holds a significant number of settlements neighboring Turkey, meaning that a military involvement in Kobani could mean war almost all along the border. And there is the risk of attacks in city centers and touristic areas. Even the rumor of this is harmful for a country that relies on tourism incomes to cover its huge current account deficit.

A Turkish action in Kobani is likely complicate things with also KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) in Iraq. The KRG is an important economic partner of Turkey and have long been at odds with PYD. Considering that even ISIL threat didn’t unite them, one may have an idea how bad their relations are. Needless to say Assad regime, that has quite a good past with PKK, won’t be happy, either. Already furious at Erdoğan, Syrian president will want to get back at Turkey. And so will Iran that provides a good deal of Turkey’s energy needs.

And say that Turkish military entered Kobani and defeated ISIL. Then what? Will it fight also the PKK militants there which would automatically end the peace process? Will it fight also PYD that said it would regard the Turkish intervention as an act of invasion? How many Turkish soldiers will die? How long will the military stay there? How deep into Syria will they have to go? Will there be an anti-war social explosion in Turkey? Military strategists and analysts with fancy Ph.Ds can give some answers to these questions. And they would all be wrong, as they were in their predictions about Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, the wisest thing is having not to make these calculations and avoid the military option as much as possible.

Turkish tanks roll to take positions along the Turkey-Syria border near Suruc, Turkey, Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. U.S.-led coalition air raids targeted towns and villages in northern and eastern Syria controlled by the Islamic State group, including one strike that hit a grain silo and reportedly killed civilians, activists said Monday. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Turkish tanks roll to take positions along the Turkey-Syria border near Suruc, Turkey, Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

HDP fighting for Kobani in Turkish cities?

The attitude of pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) is important and lately very unhelpful. The party called for demonstrations in support for Kobani but things got violent, as they usually do in their rallies. Atatürk statues, private and public vehicles were burnt, some businesses were looted. HDP also threatened Turkey that ‘If Kobani falls, the peace process (with PKK) will end.’ Of course, the pictures of city centers turned into hell during these demonstrations don’t help with the acceptance of Kobani cause in Turkish eyes. Turkish society is so polarized lately that it is child’s play to provoke a major internal conflict. And sadly it may be happening already. The reports that Turkish nationalists try to stop HDP demonstrators are really worrying. We are facing a Kurdish social explosion. And a Turkish one may be on the way, as the Turks still hate PKK almost as much as they hate ISIL, if not more. The Turkish police’s always problematic way of handling protests isn’t likely to help with the situation, either. The more violent these protests get, a bigger and harder matter the involvement in Syria will become.

In conclusion, Turkish military is unlikely to enter Syria under these circumstances and nor should it. Turkey has a moral responsibility to help the people of Kobani fleeing from ISIL but not to go there and get in a military adventure whose costs are hard to calculate. It is fair to say that Turkey’s Syria policy has been a monumental failure and that it is partly to blame for the tragedies in Syria. But we should not forget that there is a long list of countries, including Western ones, that failed in Syria and deserve to be blamed at least as much as Turkey.

A Possible Game Changer in Turkey’s Presidential Race: The She-Wolf of MHP

Meral Akşener at Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Meral Akşener at Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Turkey will go to polls to choose its first elected president on the 10th of August and still no party officially announced any candidates yet. Rumors are a lot, though. It is considered almost certain that PM Erdoğan will run for president. Whereas what the opposition’s choice will be remains more mysterious. The idea of a common candidate endorsed by both Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Republican People’s Party (CHP) is the hope of many who are weary of Erdoğan’s increasingly egoistical and authoritarian rule. Among the possible candidates mentioned, one name seems more distinctive than the others: Meral Akşener.

Undoubtedly, Akşener, currently serving as Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, is the best option of MHP. She is so adored by her party’s base that some even see her as their next leader. She is nicknamed Asena, that is, according to Turkic mythology, the female wolf that led the Turks out of their legendary homeland of Ergenekon. Unlike most Turkish female politicians, she doesn’t owe her position to male guilt of extremely male-dominated Turkish politics, or shallow and symbolic PR attempts to gain women’s votes. A historian by training, she holds a Ph.D and worked as an academician at three different universities. She has been actively in politics since 1994. She was the right hand of Tansu Çiller, Turkey’s first and to date the only female Prime Minister, and served as Minister of Internal Affairs in her government.

Gender, Modesty and Balkans

She was born in İzmit but her parents are from Drama, Greece. And there has always been a sense of solidarity among the Turks originating from Rumeli that is the European part of the Ottoman Empire. It is hard to give a number but suffice to say that they comprise of a good percentage of the country’s population. Akşener is likely to enjoy their support, if she decides to run for president. Also she addresses women quite masterly. Being able to hold key positions as a woman in Turkey’s harsh and male-dominated political climate has to inspire a special admiration among women. In an interview to daily Vatan in 2007, she described herself as an “ordinary, average Turkish woman”. She has lived a rather modest life, stayed with her husband’s crowded family in the same house for 12 years.

Akşener visiting Tatarstan.

Akşener visiting Tatarstan.

MHP-CHP Alliance?

CHP’s leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu dismissed the rumors that his party has decided to nominate Akşener but it is unclear whether they made up their minds on the matter. The official results of the 30th March local elections reveal that MHP and CHP have to partner up, if they have a hope of preventing Erdoğan from becoming Turkey’s worryingly strong president as described by his Putin admirer advisor Yiğit Bulut. There are signs that there could be co-operation between MHP and CHP. For example MHP’s leader Devlet Bahçeli talked of a candidate that addresses the all segments of the society and CHP’s leader seems to be open to the idea of nominating someone outside of his party. But the steps -if they are steps- are too slow, too little.

CHP understands that it doesn’t have much chance to consolidate wide support as a party that emphasizes its leftism. That’s why, wisely, it nominated Mansur Yavaş -a former member of MHP- for Mayor of Ankara and almost got the city. Seeing the perks of going a little right, CHP is likely to endorse or nominate a candidate from the right.

In case of a MHP-CHP partnership, HDP -the new pro-Kurdish party- could stand out as the player holding the key to the country’s future. Naturally, they would never support a Turkish nationalist candidate. However, depending on the AKP’s attitude towards the peace process with terrorist PKK, they may support Erdoğan. But HDP’s support could also prove problematic as it carries the possibility of upsetting nationalists thinking to vote for Erdoğan.

Consequently, Turkey’s opposition needs a presidential candidate that could unify non-AKP right and CHP, and also steal votes from AKP. I think, Meral Akşener, arguably the most influential female politician in the country, is the best option of not only her own party but also other opposition parties. With good campaigning and co-operation among opposition parties, she could become Turkey’s Margaret Thatcher and prevent Erdoğan from becoming its Vladimir Putin.

Erdoğan’s War on Koç Empire: How It Really Started and How It Will End

Claire Berlinski, a prominent journalist and a political analyst, has suggested me to write about the squabble between Koç Group (KG) and the government. I have accepted the challenge. So, late I may be but here I am, keeping my promise. On October 11th, Claire sent me Svante E. Cornell’s article “Erdogan VS. Koç Holding: Turkey’s New Witch Hunt” on Twitter which drew the attention of Turkey’s Finance Minister Mehmet Şimsek who dismissed what the title suggests.

I only partly agree with S. E. Cornell. But I strongly disagree with the Minister. Here’s my take.

Genes of the Turkish Bourgeois
When the Turkish Republic was founded 90 years ago, it was in need of a national upper class to realize Atatürk’s plan to have a private sector based economy. Moderately rich trading families enjoyed state support, flourished and over years some of them turned into the conglomerates that are now the biggest players in the Turkish economy. So, Turkey’s billionaires are not 1789 type bourgeois class whose interests historically clashed with those of the ruling class/state. And as a result, they didn’t really develop a tradition of standing up to the governments. Koç Group (KG), the biggest conglomerate of the country, more or less fits to this profile, too. Seeing it challenging the government for people would indeed be a very unusual thing. Though, as I will try to explain, that is not the case at all.

Ali Koç, member of Koç Group's Board of Directors.

Ali Koç, member of Koç Group’s Board of Directors.

People’s Desperation, the King’s Paranoia and Threats
During massive Gezi Park protests, KG’s Divan Hotel opened its doors to the protesters who had been terribly gassed by the police. This immediately sparked indirect and direct threats by the PM Erdoğan to the KG. “We know who sent food supplies to Taksim Square, who sheltered whom at their hotel. We know who collaborates with terror, welcomes it in their hotel. They’ll be brought to account for this.” he said in a speech to his voters. He also pointed out that “it’s against the law to harbor criminals.” In fact, Divan Hotel only did what common courtesy required and helped people, offering them space to breathe and get medical attention. We say ‘people’ or the ‘protesters’ yet the PM has a slightly different terminology (!) For him Gezi protesters aren’t just normal citizens using their rights to assembly and protest but criminals, rodents, looters and modern bandits, therefore helping them was defying his legitimate rule…

Although what Divan Hotel did was just a little more than a common good deed, protesters tended to turn it into a kind of legend. Stories of how Ali Koç heroically said “I’ll fire you all, if you don’t help people” to the hotel’s staff –which he denied–, rumors of him getting into politics –which also turned out to be false–, circulated in social media for quite some time. As politicization in favor of AKP and Gülen Movement got even deeper in judiciary and the police force, and the media ridiculously failed the public; in desperation, people romanticized Divan Hotel story and perhaps, I daresay, they saw the KG as a house of power that could speak for them. This is surely another reason that stirred up the paranoia of the PM whose deputy chairman and top advisor openly expressed that Gezi protests were a coup attempt.

İzmit Facility of Tüpraş.

İzmit Facility of Tüpraş.

Rain of Lawsuits
Then came the lawsuits and inspections… First, a tax probe on Koç-owned gas firm Aygaz and oil refinery Tüpraş, the largest company of Turkey, was launched by the Ministry of Finance. The probe drove the shares of the Koç-owned firms down, causing a 900 million-lira (around 450$ million) fall only in Tüpraş’s value. The reports of the probes being unprecedented and carried out by an army of inspectors, were denied by Finance Minister Mehmet Şimsek and Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, who claimed the inspections on Koç firms were “routine” and not related to Gezi protests. Understandably, because of the timing, what the probes cost to KG and Erdoğan’s open threats, the wave of inspections was perceived by the public as a punishment.

Pro-government daily Star reported that Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs demanded 30 million lira for the land on which Koç University is located and would act against the university. But KG denied the report saying that the land was not rented. Also, the $2.5 billion MİLGEM national warship contract that KG’s RMK Marine won, was cancelled. The decision was made by the Defense Industry Implementation Committee presided by the Prime Minister himself. But I also should point out that even before Gezi Park protests there were signs that RMK Marine would lose the contract, like complaints by suppliers and cheaper offers from other competitors. Another lawsuit accusing Koç and Doğan Group of backing 1997 military intervention was filed. It was initiative of an individual. As I know, the government didn’t make a statement about the case. But we know Erdoğan thinks that KG had an undemocratic influence in Turkish politics. While slamming KG but without specifically giving its name, he said “They were used to the governments that could be controlled. They used to bring down or lift up whomever they want.”

I think it would be wrong to present every lawsuit or a negative report as evidence of a witch hunt, as the details, in some cases, don’t support that argument. So, although there’s enough evidence to suggest there’s great pressure by PM Erdoğan on the KG, the examples above are partly open to interpretation.

F-511 TCG Heybeliada corvette, manifactured by Koç Group's RMK Marine.

Turkish Navy’s TCG Heybeliada (F-511) corvette, manufactured by Koç Group’s RMK Marine.

What is to happen next?
So, how is this going to end? Will Koç Family be finished off like really shady Uzan Family? It’s highly unlikely. Because KG is simply too big to fail, as statement of Ali Koç reveals: “As Koç Holding, we make 9% of the Turkey’s GDP, 10% of (the country’s) exportation and 9.4% of total tax revenues of the government.” Erdoğan would surely not want to kill the goose that lays golden eggs. That’s why the “strategic investment” incentives, mentioned in Minister Şimsek’s tweet, were given to Tüpraş. Not because Erdoğan and his party like KG, but it was not wise to exclude the largest enterprise of the country that has a new expensive project to produce higher performing fuel, from incentives for strategic investments. Especially unwise if that enterprise controls all of Turkey’s refining capacity and the taxes on fuel constitute a big source of revenue for the government. So big that because of this over-taxation Turkish people use the most expensive fuel in the world.

Traditionally, business dynasties get on well with governments and that’s what Koç Family intends to do. Just after Erdoğan accused the KG of making moves against him, Ali Koç explicitly told “We have no goal or desire other than developing Turkish economy, making Turkey the leader of its region and an important player of the global economy.”

In short, Erdoğan’s paranoia made him punish Koç Holding over a humanitarian action of Divan Hotel’s management. It’s not likely that he’ll go further than punishment. But going this far is more than enough to suggest that freedom of enterprise –along with freedom in many other areas– is not sufficiently appreciated by him. He gave good deal of foreign investors second thoughts about Turkey. He revealed that, like the model of presidency in his mind, the way he wants to run the economy is also very Russian-style.