ISTANBUL BLOG: Turkey entering an era of violence

ISTANBUL BLOG: Turkey entering an era of violence
Erdogan: tired, old, the squanderer of a lot of domestic and international ground. But he still has the army, the police, paramilitaries...
By Akin Nazli May 28, 2021

Shaken, and indeed soiled, to its core by the relentless YouTube corruption allegations levelled at top officials by fugitive gangland boss Sedat Peker, the Erdogan administration has this week attempted to mount a response. That reponse is chilling in the extreme. One fears that Turkey is on the point of descending into an authoritarian and poisonous era of violence as efforts are made to press down the lid on revelations—watched with fascination by millions upon millions—that the country’s serpentine links between mafia gangs, politicians, police and business circles that were supposed to have gone away with the 1990s are still very much alive, and are perhaps stronger than they have ever been.

As W.B. Yeats had it, “what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” For “Bethlehem”, we might read “Ankara”, given the sense of foreboding now felt by so many in Turkey.

With his AKP party sinking in the polls, the economy on the rocks—the Turkish lira hit another all-time low on May 28—and his government's botched response to the pandemic dismaying the country, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as he so often does when faced by a new crisis, bided his time before providing a reaction to the Peker scandal. And it is an extraordinary reaction, for Erdogan, on May 26, addressing the AKP parliamentary group, openly endorsed a mob attack on Iyi Party leader Meral Aksener (pictured below) as offering a “good lesson” to his critics.

To many seasoned observers of Turkey, Erdogan’s speech can be seen as marking the official beginning of a new stage in the nation’s ongoing collapse.

Turkey’s politics can be perplexing to correspondents sent into the field by the global news outlets—it can be difficult to believe what is relayed by your ears and eyes—but Erdogan unmistakably threatened Aksener.

Six days earlier, Aksener was visiting the towns of Ikizdere and Cayeli in the Black Sea province of Rize, the home province of both Erdogan’s late father and Aksener’s husband. During one stop on her tour, she and her entourage were surrounded by dozens of Erdogan supporters, with the incident eventually descending into a brawl between the mob and Aksener’s aides. Aksener was led away, unharmed, to her car.

The telling moment in the episode, however, came before the violence, when a woman approached Aksener to accuse her of cooperating with the pro-Kurdish terrorist organisation PKK. Those who know Turkey are familiar with this character of a shrill woman who stirs the pot during occurrences of social violence amid political animosity. This character (not the same woman, we are talking about a typology here) was also in the mix when Istanbul opposition mayor Ekrem Imamoglu endured a similar incident on May 25.

And those with a keen memory of the lynching attempt made on April 21, 2019 against Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, will recall the woman on a roof, yelling: “Burn the house, burn it.”

When you see this woman character, you can be sure that the incident is an operation of the Turkish state.

Aksener had previously, on May 18, called Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu “the Israeli version of Erdogan”.

On May 26, following Aksener’s experience with the street assailants, Erdogan responded: “One should know where and how to take steps. This is Rize. If you insult a man of Rize, put him into the same equation with a baby killer like Netanyahu, this is what would be done.”

Take a minute, remove yourself from the mainstream media comfort zone when it comes to coverage of Israel and the Palestinians. Take a look at Haaretz. See how “populists” utilise social violence when they start feeling the heat.

“They taught a good lesson to Ms Daughter-in-law [of Rize] without going too far. And this shows the good manners of the people of Rize. Ikizdere wasn't enough, she also went to Cayeli. And people there did what was necessary as well. And in Trabzon, you [Aksener] couldn't even show up, you got on the plane to return to Ankara,” Erdogan also said on May 26.

“This is a first. There is more and more to come. … These are your good days,” Erdogan said, threatening Aksener. 

What we see in Turkey right now is the state clashing within itself.  Again, those who know Turkey are familiar with this kind of scenario. The most crystallised moment of this type in the present era was the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

As things stand, it is unclear how the gangs and cliques within the Turkish state are grouped and who is attacking whom.

Sedat “The Botox” Peker (pictured above) seems, so far, to be acting alone in his attacks from afar (he has said he is in Dubai and has indicated he feels abandoned by the regime, with an April police raid on his home in Turkey in which police allegedly mistreated his family the trigger for his campaign of explosive accusations). No one has pledged open support to him. However, his close ties to Veli Kucuk, thought to be the founder of the JITEM intelligence arm of the Turkish Gendarmerie, are no secret.

On May 14, in our first story on Peker’s video broadcasts, we noted: “We will encounter many names in the coming days and it could get a little vexing for those who have never heard of them before.”

And we are, unfortunately, at that point.

It’s time to take more note, for instance, of the “Two Mehmets”, who ran the Turkish arm of the West’s clandestine anti-communist Operation Gladio, an arm known in Turkey as “Counter-Guerrilla” (For a timeline on the development of Operation Gladio in Turkey, go back to this article).

Mehmet Eymur, who ran the Turkish intelligence service (MIT) branch of Counter-Guerrilla, is back on stage, telling Cumhuriyet newspaper this week: “In the 90s there was not this much shady activity. It was not at this level … The end of this is going to be political murders.” Remarking on the chaos breaking out behind the scenes in Turkey right now, Eymur also remarked:“Today’s picture is even worse [than the 90s]. At that time, at least there was a functioning structure. We were doing our duty, we were doing it seriously. We were getting support.”

Peker, however, has been mainly targeting police chief-turned-politician-turned-convicted criminal Mehmet Agar, who headed the police branch of the Turkish Gladio, along with Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who, he alleges, gave him a tip-off enabling him to flee Turkey ahead of a planned arrest (Soylu denies it, along with a stream of other allegations directed at him by Peker).

Also, in his latest video, Peker threw the spotlight on former military officer, intelligence agent and criminal gang leader Korkut Eken.

On May 25, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli—Erdogan’s current crutch as he delivers the votes that keeps the AKP-led coalition in control of parliament—pledged his support to the embattled Soylu. And, on May 26, Erdogan followed suit.

Erdogan, who still holds virtually all the power in the Turkish state as “executive president”, is attempting, we see, to draw a line in the sand in tackling “The Botox”. But, partly thanks to an economy that is falling apart, his regime is too weak. The gangs within the regime are surfacing. There is backbiting and skeletons from the closet are falling into view.

Now that Erdogan has aligned with Soylu, the shadowy ‘state within a state’ Pelican group—led by Erdogan son-in-law and ex-finance minister Berat Albayrak, sometimes described as Soylu’s biggest rival—is supposed to also support him. But this is not really feasible, which means that everyone in Erdogan’s coalition is digging a pit for each other.

The fighting and regrouping among these actors and gangs will now continue, but the fight will spread to ordinary people in the form of violence in society. There is little to no foreign intervention in Turkey’s demise as yet, but when it inevitably and visibly arrives, everything will become messier.

(Note: on June 14, Erdogan has an appointment to meet US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of a Nato gathering in Brussels).

Turkey’s biggest curse is the political opposition. It is as part of the system as any component of the country’s political and governmental structures.

Kilicdaroglu, in response to Erdogan’s open threat against Aksener: It seems that Erdogan has lost hope in his thousands of trolls and that he has started talking like a troll [Kilicdaroglu is correct here, as for the first time Erdogan is indeed talking like a troll; he’s always spoken like a real gentleman up to now]. “These are your good days,” he said using mafia rhetoric. Come off it, my brother, come off it. And come to the field of contest, there is no way out from being afraid of the nation.

Bring on the polls, the polls!

Kilicdaroglu is by now a pretty big name on the scene. He’s been the main opposition leader for longer than a decade. And during his tenure, Turkey has collapsed. He should perhaps try taking it personally. What has the opposition been doing through all of this?

In 2010, a sex tape of Kilicdaroglu’s predecessor Deniz Baykal was released. Those who were able to conduct an operation extensive enough to film the top opposition leader in his office and then broadcast it on the country’s main media did not care to think who would replace the victim.

Intra-party elections were held by the CHP and Kilicdaroglu took the post.

Turkey has more holes than Swiss cheese. However, Kilicdaroglu got things right at the latest key elections, the local polls held in the spring of 2019 when the AKP lost Istanbul, Ankara and other major cities. No blood was spilled. But two years later, the stakes have become so much higher. Pray to the gods...