The Birth and Rebirth of Gezi Protests

A protestor looks on during clashes with Turkish police near Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan office, between Taksim and Besiktas, early morning on June 4, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

June 4, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images) Source.

A year ago, the Turks poured into the streets to voice their demands of freedom, justice, and their right to live in a non-concrete environment. Young and educated people had been fed up being constantly alienated, insulted and discriminated by the ‘pious’ rulers of the country. And they defied. In a great sense of solidarity, people of very different ethnicities, political thoughts and socio-economic backgrounds got together and stood against police brutality, oppression of basic rights. Gezi Park protests inspired songs, various artworks, documentaries, other protests in even faraway countries… It was elegant, it was colorful, creative and magnificently humorous. I daresay, even too post-modern for a country like Turkey. Gezi changed lives of many.

It was Gezi protests that prompted me to start to write this blog. I had always been a political person but the last summer was the first time that I felt compelled to write. Not in Turkish, as the Turks already knew what was happening. But in English, as I thought the world had to know about our perspective of the events, too.

I am not talking about a memory. Even as you read this, protesters are trying to get over the roads that are blocked by the police and access to Taksim Square. We are marking only the beginning of Gezi. It did not end and nor will it, any time soon. Because firstly, when you create something that beautiful and powerful, it will not die out easily.

And secondly, the problems that sparked the protests off remain unresolved. Actually, they got even worse. The PM who was accused of lacking sense of empathy in 2013, now goes to a disaster-hit town where 301 people died and physically attacks a mourner, turning what was supposed to be a solemn national mourning into a farce. He can interrupt a ceremonial speech, shout at the speaker and storm out. He can ignore court decisions and refuse to answer for strongly-substantiated corruption allegations. Now in this a country social media can easily be banned. There’s now a bigger deficit of empathy, understanding and tolerance. Compared to the Turkey 2013, we now face more authoritarianism, less justice, rule of law and individual freedoms…

We shouldn’t think Gezi didn’t achieve a great deal, though. It did. Things may get much worse before getting better. But we don’t have the luxury to fall into despair. To eventually prevail, right should at least be as persistent as wrong.

Will Corruption Scandals Turn Turkey into Ukraine?

Turkey has been in an exhausting cycle for quite some time: just when you think the country has hit the rock bottom, something extraordinary comes up and proves that there is always capacity for things to get much worse. Last week, it was proven again by a scandal tape. Now this kind of tapes have become a very usual part of Turkish politics, but it’s the first time that we encounter with something this big and this nasty.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Viktor Yanukovych

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Viktor Yanukovych

The eleven minutes long tape purportedly revealing five phone calls between Tayyip Erdoğan and his son Bilal went viral last week. (By the way, weirdly, the video was blocked for a time due to a copyright claim by a Montreal based company called Canipre Inc.) In the tape, PM Erdoğan tells his son to ‘zero’ the money stock in his home in wake of the December 17 graft probe. He also wants his son to have a meeting with other family members -the conversation suggests that they, too, are involved in the whole thing and have some amounts of cash at their homes- to figure out how to ‘melt the money’. In the fourth call, Bilal says “We (handled it) mostly” and adds “But there’s still 30 million euros that we could not yet dissolve”. And in the last call, the PM tells him that he is being listened and warns him not to talk openly.

On January 17, in relation to the graft probe the PM said “I will say this very clearly: If any of my children is involved in such corruption, I will disown him”. But from the conversation one understands it to be true that Bilal is not the mastermind and is just doing the tasks the PM gives, thus serving as a tool to his father. And not a very smart one, considering that in one call he didn’t know whether it’s him who called his father or it’s his father who called him.

Are the recordings real?
Erdoğan furiously dismissed the tape as fake calling it “a vile attack”. He said “They published a play that they have montaged and dubbed themselves”. Reportedly, AKP produced “proofs” that the tape was fake. Pro-government Haber7 reported that AKP sent the tape to USA to “one of the most advanced studios in the world” and the studio confirmed that the whole thing was doctored “word by word”. Haber7 reported also that “a worldwide famous criminal lab in New York” confirmed the same conclusion. But apparently neither the advanced studio, nor the worldwide famous criminal lab has a name. Though later, they published a report that was written by Robin Lai, owner of Jou Production and an employee of John Marshall Media. He signed the document with only his own firm’s name but Haber7 put a business card of JMM on top of the document, misleading the readers into thinking that it was from JMM. JMM’s CEO John Marshall Cheary strongly denied that they ever gave an opinion on the recordings in question, adding ‘To those news agencies that reprinted this obvious forgery: Shame on you” on his Facebook note. After Cheary’s condemnation, pro-AKP Haber7 changed its article, removed JMM’s card and gave credit only to Jou Production and its owner. But Lai said that the interview and statement were obtained from him via deceptive and underhanded methods. ‘Statements and document reported in the Turkish media attributed to me are not to be trusted in the context in which they are being reported’ he told in his Facebook post.

The opposite argument seems to have way more solid expert opinions: An American cyber analytics firm that analyzed the audio at the request of McClatchyDC and has a name –Guarded Risk– found the recordings to be authentic. ‘If it’s fake, it’s of a sophistication that I haven’t seen,’ said Joshua Marpet, a cyber-analyst and the managing principal of Guarded Risk. Also, two Turkish audio engineers, Atilla Özdemiroğlu and Erdem Helvacıoğlu, who analyzed the recording confirmed it to be genuine.

On the other hand, the PM doesn’t really seem to bother trying to get exculpated or even offer a satisfying explanation. Although opposition deputies urged him to have a test by TÜBİTAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey) to reveal whether it’s really his voice or not, he has done nothing so far to present any kind of proof that the tape is fake.

The ‘f-type organization’ or the ‘parallel state’
During Ergenekon and Balyoz cases Turkey saw many irregularities and illegalities: cooking evidence, illegal wiretappings, leaking tapes to the media, way too long detention times and so on. (To know more, check out Pınar Doğan and Dani Rodrik’s blog.) Of course, while all the soldiers, journalists, officers who are critical of AKP were becoming victims of these, Erdoğan and his party watched it in joy. The victims and their supporters believed that it was the Gülenists in the police force and judiciary -then allies of the government- who were responsible of these brutal practices of injustice. It was first Adil Serdar Saçan, a former security directorate and later a convict of Ergenekon case, who coined the term “f-type organization” referring to Fethullah Gülen’s loyalists within the police organization. Then Hanefi Avcı who was also a security directorate, wrote a book revealing the existence of a Gülenist structure in the police organization with documents. Avcı that was once close to the Gülen Movement, is a known right wing person. Yet after writing the book, he got convicted for being a member of a far left terrorist organization and was given 15 years in jail.

Despite compelling evidence from various sources, existence of “f-type organization” was mostly treated as a crazy Kemalist conspiracy theory by AKP and its supporters. Moreover, pro-government and pro-Gülen media didn’t see any problems with broadcasting illegally-obtained tapes for hours including some private conversations. The military, Kemalists, some others in opposition were cruelly humiliated by fierce smear campaigns, some of which even led to suicides. Now it looks like that some of those injustices came back to haunt Erdoğan. As the Frankenstein that Erdoğan created and allowed to nest within the state, turned on him; he had to embrace the theory he wasn’t so eager to accept. But instead of “f-type organization”, he called Gülenists in the police organization and judiciary “parallel state”.

The PM believes that December 17 graft probe was not a corruption probe but a coup attempt by the “parallel state” seeking to unseat him. Now he is so angry with the Gülen Movement that he even used the words “viruses” and “assassins” -a medieval terrorist cult in Seljuk Empire- in relation to them.

He blames them also for a recent mass wiretapping scandal. On February 25, he said “They are listening to the government’s encrypted phones; that’s how low they have sunk.” This statement, of course, raises an important question: was the PM’s son using an encrypted cell-phone? If so, that would definitely explain why the PM and his son are speaking so freely in the recording without feeling to need to use a more subtle language. Apparently, these devices are so fancy things that only six NATO countries can produce them. Turkey’s one of them and these phones, as website of TÜBİTAK that produces the devices states here, are for use of Turkish Armed Forces, President, Prime Minister and some other top state officials. If Bilal Erdoğan uses one, that’s another scandal in the scandal. An opposition deputy also asked whether Bilal Erdoğan has an encrypted cell-phone. Yet the question, like many others that were asked before, remains unanswered. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology launched an investigation on five employees of TÜBİTAK who are, apparently, suspected of being Gülenist moles. Minister Fikri Işık said “TÜBİTAK, unfortunately, is one of the institutions that the ‘parallel structure’ wants to infiltrate.”

Open war: Erdoğan vs Gülen
The PM thinks it is open war and thus, extraordinary measures are warranted. After the graft probe was launched, he saw no problems in sacrificing four cabinet ministers. But when it was edging near him, the purges began. Hundreds of high ranking police officers were relocated at midnight. Prosecutors, including those who launched the corruption probe, were also removed from their posts.

Erdoğan is using also legislative power in full to deal with Gülenists in state organs. Now two newly passed laws and a proposed legislation are regarded to be huge blows to separation of powers, rule of law and individual freedoms in the country. The first law greatly increases Justice Minister’s power over High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). The main opposition CHP filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court, stating “it (the new law) makes judicial control over administrative moves nearly impossible.” The second is the internet bill that was recently passed into law by President Abdullah Gül. The law authorizes the president of TİB (Telecommunications Directorate) to block websites for a privacy violation without a court permission and forces internet providers to keep records of users’ activities for two years and make them available to authorities. However, some changes were made at the request of the President. Now the TİB was made to have to take its blocking decisions to court within twenty four hours. The court would either approve or cancel such decisions within forty eight hours. Meanwhile, the blocking decisions of the TİB would be in effect. And thirdly, a proposed legislation that would give immense additional powers to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) was approved by Internal Affairs Commission and is planned to be voted on after local elections. The bill will enable the MİT to get unrestricted access to records of state institutions and also private companies without a court order. It means that if demanded by the MİT, private firms will have to reveal their trade secrets to the MİT personnel.

The Turkish Constitutional Court

The Turkish Constitutional Court

The secret service seems to be a particularly important player in the government’s battle against the Gülen Movement. Much before the corruption investigation, in 2012, a probe was launched into Hakan Fidan, the chief of the MİT, is thought by the government to be an operation of the “parallel state”. In response, the government had passed a law making any probes into the MİT personnel impossible without the PM’s permission. Critics argue that soon the MİT will be pretty much above the law. So, in short, ironically, Erdoğan is empowering the MİT against the police organization that he once used to empower to encounter the military’s influence.

The people’s mood
In a normal functioning democracy, even ten percent of this tape’s content is reason enough for resignation. Whereas in Turkey now, nobody truly expects the PM to resign. AKP’s base thinks that all this is a coup attempt by the ‘parallel state’ and ‘the strong will’ Erdoğan should not and will not give in to it. And most of the rest just think that a PM who is shameless enough to turn into a blatant dictatorial thief cannot feel ashamed enough to resign.

Social media is full of brilliant jokes and gags mocking Erdoğan and his son. There’s even a website called “zero the money” that features a game in which users try to melt $1 billion in a minute. But in all this, there is also a defeatist attitude, a hopelessness to get rid of the filth that each day Turks discover to be worse than they thought it was. Such jokes are very much like the Soviet Russia jokes that Ronald Reagan used to tell. And just like them, perhaps they are a way to cope with the indignities that people are hopeless to change.

A gag mocking the PM. Source: Bobiler.org.

A gag mocking the PM. Source: Bobiler.org.

Erdoğan seems to be ready to risk anything -freedoms, rule of law, separation of powers and stability- to keep his seat and not to answer for strongly-substantiated corruption charges. The consequences are not only political, it is a fact that the corruption probe, Erdoğan’s attitude towards it and his civil war with Gülenists within the state affected the Turkish economy negatively. Turkish Central Bank’s interest rate hike is also expected to diminish growth rate this year and the move was not very successful in stopping the decrease in Lira’s value. So justice has long been forgotten by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, not before long development may share the same fate.

Naturally, like many Turkish citizens, I am full of rage. But out of respect for presumption of innocence, I tried and am trying to choose my words carefully. For that’s what the law requires – the law that is often bent or ignored for wicked political purposes here. So what should we do, if the law that is supposed to protect citizens has become the shield and toy of the corrupted? What do you do when the law isn’t used to punish the corrupted but is used to censor and suppress those who are after corruption? In short, what happens when the word “law” doesn’t have any shred of meaning left? I guess what happens then is a more intense level of instability and uncertainty, violent social explosions, economic collapse; guns, smokes and corpses… In sum, what happens then is Ukraine! I am not saying we are there and I wholeheartedly hope and believe we never will get there but that seems to be the direction we are headed. Speedily.

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.

İstanbul’s Third Bridge: Why So Grim?

The 2nd Bosphorus Bridge, named after Mehmet the Conqueror.

The 2nd Bosphorus Bridge, named after Mehmet the Conqueror.

In 1995, then the Mayor of İstanbul Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said:

A third bridge is a murder for İstanbul. It is nothing but massacring the remaining green areas in the city’s north by zoning the area for construction. I hope the government will change without this murder being committed.

The government of the time changed and so did Erdoğan’s position, dramatically. Now he is taking the credit for building that third bridge that he once fiercely opposed. As can be seen from Erdoğan’s past remark, topic of a new bridge on Boshphorus has always sparked controversies. But distinctively, the current debate focuses more on the bridge’s name than on concerns about urban development. Without any open criteria, surveys or consultations with NGOs, the government announced it had named the bridge after 9th emperor of the Ottoman Empire Yavuz Sultan Selim (Yavuz being his nickname, usually translated as “the Grim” or more correctly “the Stern”) who is, to put it mildly, a highly unpopular figure among Turkey’s large Alevi community that practices a uniquely heterodox way of Islam.

Alevis openly expressed their opposition, due to the fact that many Anatolian Alevis were persecuted and killed during Selim’s campaigns against Safavid Iran at the beginning of the 16th century. Ali Balkız, head of Alevi-Bektaşi Federation, said “We, Alevis, will not pass through that bridge.” Columnist Yavuz Semerci stated he would continue calling it “The Third Bridge” instead of “Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge”. Prof. İzzettin Doğan, honorary president of an umbrella association of many Alevi NGOs, said “A mistake was made at a time when sectarian wars are being provoked in the region. Selim is believed to be responsible of massacre of countless Alevis…” Renowned historian Prof. İlber Ortaylı suggested that the name Mimar Sinan who was the chief architect of three Ottoman sultans, would be more appropriate. Even Fethullah Gülen, a cleric who is controversially close the ruling party AKP, spoke up: After talking of cultural and emotional “bridges” between Sunnis and Alevis in Turkey, he said “Because of one bridge, let’s not destroy many others”. Other intellectuals also voiced similar concerns and suggestions.

Of all the thirty-six sultans the Ottoman Empire had, choosing Selim the Stern sends a message, people believe. This issue is clearly a part of a wider “war of symbols” that is now occurring within an extremely polarized Turkish society. But to understand this domestic squabble that has historical roots, we should separate it from the bigger picture and take a look at Selim’s legacy and what it means for both conservatives represented by the ruling AKP and also Alevis.

As can be understood from his nickname, Selim was ferocious: he killed his brothers Prince Korkut and Prince Ahmet along with their sons and dethroned his peaceful father Bayezit II in a coup. (This kind of makes Erdoğan’s praise of Selim ironic, considering how he dramatically portrayed himself and Mohamed Mursi as victims because of “coup attempts” in Turkey and Egypt’s actual coup.) He was always very war-like. Even when he was Sancakbeyi (a title close to governor) of Trabzon and a prince, he attacked Georgians, took Kuban and made bold moves against the Safavids — actions greatly exceeding his authority. He had a very angry character. He never tolerated the officers who failed and lied to him, was famous for having his Grand Viziers executed. There’s no doubt that he was a military genius: He won every battle he fought decisively, used the latest technology of his time to bring his enemies to their knees. İlber Ortaylı points out that he passed through Sinai desert with fewer casualties than Cemal Paşa did during World War I.

Selim’s reign was not long -only 8 years- but in his short era the Empire’s lands more than doubled. He visited İstanbul only once, in his childhood and during his rule, he spent almost all his time on military campaigns. So, he barely lived in İstanbul, which according to some, makes his name less relevant for the bridge which will become one of the symbols of the city.

At the beginning of 16th century, Shah İsmail I of Safavid Empire made Shia the official sect of Iran, had it embraced as also a kind of ideology and was trying to export it to Anatolia. The Shah sent his militants to Anatolia to spread the Safavid doctrine of Shi’ism. Even as a young prince Selim was aware of the threat and angry at his father for not taking action against the Safavids. So after taking his father’s throne by force and eliminating the possible candidates for emperorship, he started his Iranian campaign in 1514. After following Shah’s army for months, Ottoman army met Safavid forces on a plain called Chaldiran. There, the Safavids suffered a disastrous defeat that forced the wounded Shah flee from the battlefield. The Ottomans advanced even further and took Tabriz which was then the capital of Iran. During the war, many Alevis were killed and the incidents left a mark in the memory of their community. It’s said that 40.000 Alevis were killed, although some experts question this figure as 16th century’s census documents (a.k.a. tahrir defterleri, special documents that include many statistics for taxation) do not indicate such a loss of population.

There was also a cultural side to the war. The Safavid dynasty and its army were Turkish, as well, which made it easy for some Turkmen Beys in Anatolia to pledge their allegiance to the Shah. The Ottoman Empire was more cosmopolitan, urban, and orthodoxly Islamic. The Safavids, however, were representing a more rural and Anatolian culture, more tolerant of Turkmen Alevis’ nomadic roots and heterodox ways, therefore, I daresay they were “more Turkish” in some respect. For instance, today an average Turk in Turkey would understand poems of İsmail I much better than he would understand Selim’s poems, for Selim used a Turkish that is mixed with Persian and Arabic (in some poems he used only Persian), whereas İsmail’s Turkish was pure, clear and closer to modern Turkish.

The conflict was ultimately more strategic than sectarian. Selim was relentless towards Anatolian Alevis not because he believed their faith was twisted but because he saw them as collaborators of the Shah. He didn’t give Alevis the kind of autonomy that he granted the Kurdish tribes who were located to today’s South-East Turkey to encounter Iranian influence.

His Mamluk campaign is another factor that enhances Selim image in minds of today’s conservatives. Between 1516 and 1517, with three battles, Selim annihilated Mamluk Sultanate, ruled by a Turkish-Circassian dynasty, conquering much of the Middle East including the sacred cities of Islam. For that he took the title “Servant of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina”. Most of the sacred objects exhibited today at Topkapı Palace in İstanbul were brought in his time. More importantly, he was the first Ottoman emperor to officially take the title “Caliph of Islam”.

Tomb of Selim the Stern (Photo taken by Sinan Doğan)

Tomb of Selim the Stern (Photo taken by Sinan Doğan)

Hence, for most of those represented by AKP, Selim is a hero, whereas, for Alevis, he is an oppressive and atrocious figure. A well-known law professor Hüseyin Hatemi, went as far as saying “For Alevis, Selim is what Hitler means for Jews.” Undoubtedly, the bridge bearing his name will be a reminder of past sufferings and bloodshed for the country’s large Alevi community. And instead of pride, they will take offense from that grandeur structure. Among all Ottoman emperors, Selim is perhaps the most divisive figure. That’s why many other names that are more relevant and less controversial were recommended to the PM. But his “my way or the high way” attitude still continues.

For long, Alevis have been at odds with the AKP government over a number of matters. They have been expecting reforms regarding the status of their temples, structure of Directorate of Religious Affairs, contents of compulsory religion lessons at schools and so forth. Yet the PM’s recently unveiled democratization package addressed none of these issues, causing disappointment and anger. For that, they now feel even more excluded.

Plus, choosing Selim the Stern seems to be a promotion of an identity that is more Muslim and “Ottoman” less Turkish, more “imperial” less national. That’s why he has a special place in conservative minds. That’s why 122 schools in Turkey bear his name. That’s why the bridge’s foundation ceremony was conducted with prayers and lots of references to Ottoman glory. Yet, a part of the society, the part that is socio-economically more developed, the part that joined massive Gezi Park protests, does not intend to wear this identity whatsoever. This is not because they hate “Ottoman” and “Selim” images particularly, but because they hate the fact that the government tries to make them to be like its own voters who are more pious and obedient.

A bridge is supposed to connect, but considering the motives of the government, it seems that this one is doomed to divide.

Meet the Turkish PM’s New Chief Advisor: Yiğit Bulut

Four days ago, Turkey was staggered by yet another development that some thought was a joke. Columnist, financial commentator and TV personality Yiğit Bulut, nicknamed Jöleli (the Gelled One) by young internet users for his over-gelled hair, who lately claimed that he was “certain that in many centers they constantly try to kill PM Erdoğan through telekinesis and many other methods” was appointed as the PM’s chief advisor.

Yiğit Bulut and PM Erdoğan.

Yiğit Bulut and PM Erdoğan.

In fairness, unlike his recent remarks, his résumé doesn’t look like one that of an incompetent comedian. He is graduated from Galatasaray High School, one of the best and oldest schools in Turkey, and Bilkent University’s Banking and Finance department; and he got his MA from the Sorbonne.

Probably it wasn’t only his résumé that helped him with his rather swift rise. Family politics, economic rivalries in media seem to be extensively involved, as well. After marrying to Şule Zeybek who is the beloved niece of media tycoon Aydın Doğan, the head of Doğan Holding which is one of the biggest conglomerates in Turkey; Yiğit Bulut started to host a TV program on CNNTürk and write on daily Vatan. Allegedly, further rise of Bulut who worked for the Doğans for years, was blocked by two important journalists of Doğan Media, Ertuğrul Özkök and the late Mehmet Ali Birand. Turning against his former editor-in-chief Özkök, Bulut took the offer of Doğan Media’s rival Ciner Group and began to write against the Doğans. Later, not surprisingly, he became the editor-in-chief of HaberTürk TV; and worked there until he fell from grace and got fired, most likely because his love of AKP got to a level of worshipping and caused a loss of confidence in the channel. While working at HaberTürk his wife, kind of expectedly, divorced him. Then, in June 2012, he became the editor-in-chief at pro-government TV 24 and was still working there when the big appointment -which he surely had been expecting for a time- finally came.

Before 2009, his writings were more on economy and generally critical of the AKP, especially of its privatizations, relations with IMF and the growing debt stock… In 2006, on Daily Radikal, after fiercely criticizing the government for irregularities in privatization of Park Hotel in İstanbul, he says “In this country, people go to work in the wee hours of the morning, in hope of bringing bread to their children, providing them education; while their government says ‘Solve your own problem’ to nut producers, ‘We can’t listen to you now’ to the families of fallen soldiers, avoids giving money to its own civil servants. But when it comes to Sami Ofer -the late Israeli businessman who briefly owned Park Hotel- they are all ears, they even change municipal plans for him. Seeing what has been happening in municipalities under AKP, the profit and capital transfers, I can’t help rebelling. This kind of obvious favoritism and money transfer that make fools of everybody, cannot be happening.”

The same year, he criticized the government for signing Ankara Protocol that, according to Bulut (and many others), meant recognizing Southern Cyprus as the representative of the whole island. He didn’t like the government’s lack of success in the war against the PKK, either. On a TV program in 2007, he said: “Why can’t they hit Mount Kandil (the HQ of PKK in Iraq)? Apparently, this isn’t only about getting warplanes. Buy those jets, only if you have the guts to do it. But this government doesn’t and that is the problem.”

In an article titled “The Danger Is Very Great”, written in 2008, he lambasts the government for its pressure on media and likens the road Turkey has taken to Nazi Germany. He says “…now this is going too far. Perhaps you’re aware or not, but from democracy, (our) system is going to fascism. I liken the road Turkey entered to Hitler’s Germany. I am very very worried for Turkey. … staffing every institution with their own people, efforts to control everywhere, attempts to get rid of 1923 foundations; and the worst of all, mouthful of attacks to the press that criticizes all this, show the (government’s) goal is clear… Let’s protect our country before it’s too late.”

When there was a closure lawsuit against AKP at the Supreme Court due to its anti-secular activities, in another article titled “The State Said ‘Enough’ to the Government!” written, again, in 2008, Bulut said on the lawsuit: “Last night, the ruling party’s increasing self-confidence and ‘We can do whatever we want and nobody can raise a voice’ attitude have come to an end by a step of a body of the state. The state told the gov’t ‘Enough, the road ends here’.” In the article, he also criticizes AKP’s attempts to impose its own ideology on the state and reminds that votes AKP got don’t make it the owner of all the system. In closing remarks, he, again, touches down selling of public firms: “Turkey has suffered a heavy blow between 2003 and 2007. All telecommunication firms, banks, heavy industry facilities, ports and docks were sold. Now the thing to be done, is to get them all back and say ‘stop’ to liquidations everywhere in Turkey, through building ‘a new national will’.”

And then, came the big U turn – one of the most epic ones Turkey has ever seen. Bulut, from an outspoken representative of the anti-AKP camp, turned into the greatest fan of the very party he often fiercely slammed, went as far as calling the PM “father”.

Now new Yiğit Bulut advocates a worldview where there’s an evil “global establishment” that has its extensions also in Turkey. Those extensions are connected to Turkey’s business class, media, mafias, terrorist organizations and Ergenekon and had been controlling Turkey through financial and political manipulations. And Erdoğan is the hero fighting against these villains to restore “the rule of the people” which Turkey has lost in 1930’s. In 2010, a day after interviewing the PM, Bulut says: “…there’s one question for the Turkish people: Are you with the establishment’s order that has been sucking this country’s blood, or not? …Since the beginning of 19th century, those who want to take over this country under disguise of modernity theses, have been showing the same movie of ‘modernization-bigotry-partition’ and building an incredible structure where only the elites control everything. …In these lands, now there’s a war of independence and, the one true matter for the people, is not to be on side of party X or party Y but being on the side of the establishment order or not.” To him, Turkey can be an alternative to all this evil order. Again in 2010, in an article titled “I Want an Imperial Turkey…” on HaberTürk he says “For years, we were exploited by global imperial order and now we are standing up and going forward on the road of being ‘imperial’ in the new world order. We’ll be the main component of the new world equation… And a note: We will not be cruel and relentless like them.” He ended some of his articles by saying “Long live imperial Turkey” which prompted his editor-in-chief of HaberTürk Fatih Altaylı to warn him. He also thinks that the country should stop its membership process to the EU and show that Turkey is “a structure that is expanding as an alternative to the EU.”

Lately, he used this rhetoric again, this time to explain massive Gezi Park protests that swept throughout the country. He called Gezi Park events a civilian coup attempt which “reveals the fact that there exists an establishment that doesn’t recognize whomever is chosen by the national will and wants to exploit resources of the realm and control it with its foreign masters.” In an article on daily Star, he likens Taksim Platform -a coalition of various local and national NGOs, became a voice of Gezi protestors and spoke to the PM- to a council of coup leaders and he calls prosecutors to immediately act against the platform. On an interview to TGRT, he clarifies the “foreign powers” he mentioned: “The fact that Merkel’s party program has anti-Turkish remarks, the fact that she insults the Turkish state, the fact that Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek was listened (by UK intelligence) and the attitude of the British newspapers, especially of the Economist… all reveal who’s connected to who.” Then the reporter asks “You say Germany and Britain are the foreign collaborators (in this)? That’s what we understand from your words.” to which Bulut answers “Yes, you understand very correctly.” He further argues that Adnan Menderes -the Turkish PM who was unseated by a military coup and hanged in 1960- was executed because he refused to collaborate with capitalists of Germany and Britain. And he thinks that the protests; where because of police brutality 5 people died, many got injured, some lost their eyes; “were handled perfectly by the PM”. He concludes “Turkish people will win this war of independence. They will get rid of the games played on us by the British and Germans and decide their own future. This is a war of independence and in this war the leader of our people is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. We are his followers… and we will make Turkey a world power.”

He is a passionate admirer of not only AKP but also of the PM personally. “He’s the most national leader in the history of the Republic… If standing behind Tayyip Erdoğan and saying that ‘If he wears his shroud (for this cause), then so shall I’ mean that I am a partisan, then yes I am a partisan. It’s not about a party. It’s a leader that I am following. The man who expelled the IMF is my father. The man who chokes the establishment is my father.” he said on an interview. He believes that Turkey has a very flawed political system that creates weak leaders but the system’s deficiencies are currently covered by strong personality of Erdoğan. For him, the country needs a presidential system that produces strong leaders like Vladimir Putin who is the second leader he admires, as he expressed it on a TV show: “There are two and a half true leaders in the world: 1) Erdoğan 2) Putin and 3) Obama -being the half leader-”. He also thinks that Erdoğan and Putin are the two leaders that the global establishment is targeting.

He assisted the PM on many other issues, as well. After Erdoğan criticized Muhteşem Yüzyıl, Bulut also accused some shows of spreading immorality (one of the shows was based on a classical novel first published 113 years ago), implying that they could be organized things and connected to the media extension of Ergenekon. After the PM said that “interest rate lobby” was behind Gezi Park protests, Bulut immediately wrote to prove him right. His reputation as a financial commentator has suffered blows, too. He once even said “The conclusion I have come to, after working all my life about the economy, on my honor I say here, is that interest is a sin.” His views on government control on media are not pleasant, either. At a meeting, Bulut suggested the PM founding a commission that would monitor internet media and could censor and put restrictions like the country’s RTÜK. Ironically, at that time, the title of the show he was hosting, was Sansürsüz meaning “Without Censor”.

It wasn’t only his opinions that dramatically changed. His discourse, his terminology, his appearance changed, as well. It was a too big U turn even for low standards of Turkish media and because of it, he lost many of his former followers and a lot of respect. Yet Turkish politics whose standards are even lower, came to elevate Bulut four days ago.

Yiğit Bulut in his new image.

Yiğit Bulut in his new image.

“Flattery and insults raise the same question: What do you want?” once said Mason Cooley, an American aphorist. With any luck, Yiğit Bulut finally got what he wanted and thus we could expect more sanity from him now. Though, when it comes to the message given by his appointment, one can’t help being more pessimistic. By appointing someone who has been agreeing with the government practically on anything and suggesting even more authoritarian practices, Erdoğan approves whatever he has done so far, dismisses the criticism that the country is getting more authoritarian under his rule and says that this is going to be the way. It also points out that his crazy theories have a following in AKP’s base. In this piece, in general, I tried not to add my personal comments directly. So I’d like to conclude my opinion on the matter that way, by quoting again Yiğit Bulut, but 2008’s Yiğit Bulut: “…now this is going too far, (our) system is going to fascism. …I am very very worried for Turkey…. Let’s protect our country before it’s too late.”