Published on january 29, 2010; How a Leftist-Islamist Alliance is Subverting Democracy in Turkey.
by Barry Rubin
Scary stuff is happening in Turkey. The stealth Islamist regime is increasingly threatening critics and creating phony plots against itself to justify taking more power into its hands. The process is a slow-motion one but the direction is away from moderation and democracy.
Foreign admirers of the AKP regime like to say it is a moderate Islamic government which proves that Islamism is compatible with democracy. It is possible that a few years in the future—when it is too late—observers will look back on its example to prove the opposite.
But here’s an obscure angle on what’s happening that tells a mountain-load about contemporary politics. Stick with me as we expose a covert operation that ties up the far left with the drive toward an Islamist dictatorship. Briefly, here are the themes:
- A nominally left-wing newspaper is an Islamist front fed disinformation by the regime in order to discredit the regime’s rivals, both the army and the left of center political parties.
- This front is praised by leftists in the West as a heroic venture when it is funded by Islamists and does their bidding.
- The Turkish regime is moving increasingly toward demonizing its secular enemies to the point where they can be repressed and Turkish democracy is, at best, limited and the country is moved toward being at least a partial Islamist state with authoritarian rule by a single party. While there will continue to be elections, the AKP is using extra-parliamentary means to ensure that it always will win.
And this is a pattern we’ll see repeated elsewhere. In fact, we’re already seeing it, in the West as well.
Slick neo-Islamist prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is quoted in Today’s Zaman, which with its Turkish-language partner Zaman is owned by the Islamist Gulen movement and supports the regime, warning of a new alleged coup plot, supposedly called the “Sledgehammer Security Operation Plan,” to overthrow the government. The army is accused of planning a terrorist campaign of placing bombs in mosques to blow up innocent worshippers.
Creating such phony plots is one of the AKP regime’s main techniques for discrediting opposition and putting critics on trial. Previous alleged plots have included ones called Blonde Girl, Moonlight, Sea-sparkle, and Glove. But the main so-called army-opposition conspiracy is called Ergenekon. Those who have waded through thousands of pages of indictments and the disparate group of those arrested point out a rather important fact: there are no specific acts that took place and no real evidence against anyone.
One of the accused, for example, is Turkan Saylan, a secular leader in the grassroots opposition to the regime who has organized several mass demonstrations. The pro-AK media has accused her of being an Armenian-lover, supporter of the terrorist PKK Kurdish group, and a Christian missionary. But the missionary charge was only made in the Turkish-language Islamist media so it would not become known abroad so that the regime can still pretend to be tolerant and non-Islamist.
The real defenders of Turkish democracy are slandered as those who want to destroy it, while the destroyers are portrayed as the defenders.
The Ergenekon label is used to smear all critics of the regime. When an AKP parliamentarian close to Erdogan attacked my daring to point out how the Islamists repressed women’s rights, she accused anyone of agreeing with me of being part of the Ergenekon conspiracy and thus traitors to Turkey. Erdogan, who is portrayed abroad as a democratic leader, is now accusing the opposition of every political assassination in modern Turkish history, which is pretty serious incitement, and threatening newspaper columnists who criticize his government.
Here’s Today’s Zaman teaming up with the prime minister to make false statements labeling the peaceful parliamentary opposition as a group of terrorist coup-makers:
“Erdoğan said he was unable to understand why some parties act as advocates of illegal groups. He was referring to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), whose leader Deniz Baykal declared that he was an advocate of Ergenekon. Ergenekon is a clandestine crime network that has alleged links within the state and is suspected of plotting to topple the government…[charged with being] a terrorist organization.”
Baykal leader of the left-of-center opposition party, is hardly an advocate of Ergenekon, terrorism, or overthrowing the regime in a violent coup.
And what is the source of the latest accusation? A mysterious leftist newspaper called Taraf. If you were to read the media column of the world’s leading leftist English-language newspaper, the Guardian, you’d think Taraf is a heroic champion of free speech. It calls Taraf “Turkey’s most courageous newspaper” and regards Ergenekon as a completely true story.
While pointing out there seems to be a mystery about how this newspaper is financed it explains that the editor does so out of his own pocket. In fact the editor is a journalist who owns a small bookstore which does not explain how he comes up with $6.6 million a year.
So where does the money come from? Apparently, though this requires further investigation, from a group of pro-Islamist, Gulen-connected businessmen of whom the most prominent is Ahmer Calik—in other words to the same people who back the regime and run Today’s Zaman. Calik gets big favors from the government, for example a major pipeline project.
Despite supposedly being a leftist newspaper, Taraf never criticizes Islamism or the government. When the regime’s police beat up leftist demonstrators on May Day the story went unreported in Taraf.
The newspaper’s sensationalism is pretty extreme. For example, last year it ran a story accusing NTV television network, a pro-secular station, of sending out electronic signals to crash the helicopter of an Islamist/ultra-nationalist extremist politician to crash. This is an accusation of murder. When NTV released its full phone records showing the accusation was false, Taraf and other pro-regime newspapers ignored the fact that their story was wrong and moved on to new accusations.
Intimidating newspapers and television stations—as well as buying them up–is one of the regime’s main tactics. For example, the main media empire supporting the opposition was hauled into court and given a fine of several billion (that is not a typo) dollars on trumped-up charges. The message is: shut up or we’ll put you out of business.
The real threat to Turkey’s remaining a free and democratic state is not the made-up Ergenekon nonsense but Erdogan, Gulen, Today’s Zaman, and Taraf, with help from varous foreign dupes.
So there you have it. An Islamist regime pretending to be moderately conservative, a “leftist” newspaper set up to smear the opposition, false charges of terrorism against rival politicians, the use of the courts to jail or intimidate democratic critics, and the cheers of the Western left for all of these techniques.
Coming soon (if not already there already) to a country near you.
About the Author:
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, He is editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal and of Turkish Studies. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).