WTF is happening in Turkey?

here is the write-up of the short account i give to non-turkish friends on what the f* is happening right now in turkey. tl;dr: third-world power struggle. but read on if you're interested, i tried to keep it short.

turkey was ruled by a combination of the old guard (kemalists) who supplied the ideology and the security apparatus (mainly military + police + intelligence) which provided the muscles. 'ruled' does not mean they got elected and stayed by way of votes; it means that they kept under control the important points of power, such as the central election committee, or the high courts. then came erdogan, an uber-pragmatist-islamist-right-winger-neoliberal who went into a number of background coopeartions to stay in power. the most important of these were with the liberal pro-eu opinionators, and the "cemaat" (the community).

the liberals are mostly highly visible newspaper pundits and academics, but who are the "cemaat"? they are a religious organization around one fethullah gulen, an imam from erzurum. he's an ok orator, using old and supposedly cool words, talking on for hours about islam and how it relates to worldly matters. so he built this social organization that educates kids from poor families, and asks its members to contribute in return - not only money, but also significant favors, a bit like the free masons. his ambitions regarding turkish society are not only financial; there was always a will to change it in a more muslim-conservative direction, and the most important tool for doing this is infiltrating the state. so the cemaat actively sought to place not only foot soldiers, but officers of higher rank into many state institutions, most importantly the police and judiciary.

the liberals solved the image problems the islamists usually have, depicting erdogan and his party as freedom-loving turkish christian democrats (an opinion i also partly shared at some point), while the cemaat's hidden power turned out to be crucial when erdogan sought to become the real ruling power in turkey. cemaat's power in the police and judiciary was used to gather pretty much anyone who was someone within the kemalist regime, but most importantly the military. all means were used to do so, including made-up charges and planted evidence. special courts were set up to try these people, even special court rooms had to be constructed. this trial is a complicated matter, but the gist is the following: cemaat told erdogan "calm down, we've got this", and stuffed half of the military leadership into prison, where they still are.

AKP and the cemaat were bound to fall out at some point after getting rid of their common enemy, because their coalition was not democratic, and was for a temporary purpose. this falling out started when cemaat's police tried to arrest the head of mit (milli istihbarat teskilati, the turkish intelligence agency). you see, turkey has actually been in a state of "low-intensity warfare" (whatever the fuck that means) against kurdish guerillas since thirty years, and all attempts to solve the issue through the use of brute force (including murdering mp's in broad daylight) have failed. erdogan is anything but stupid, and knows that no progress on this front would cause serious problems for his political future, so he sent one of his most important men, hakan fidan, the director of mit, to actually negotiate with these guys in oslo - an incredible step that promised a lot. but the reach of the cemaat is far enough to actually get a hold of not only transcripts, but actual recordings of these negotiations in oslo. and the cemaat is very hard-line against the kurds, because ... complicated reasons. so they uploaded these recordings to youtube, and then issued an arrest warrant for hakan fidan. for erdogan, this was a direct attack on him, because the warrant was for treason, and mit is legally directly under the prime minister, so if fidan goes, he goes too. erdogan figured that he had to get rid of the cemaat somehow.

the question is, how to attack them? one of the primary human resources of the cemaat are the "dersane"s, a very turkish institution. these are private pseudo-schools that prepare high school students for the very important and selective college entrance examinations. the cemaat has many of these, and they provide them not only with money, but allows them to reach intelligent children from low-income families, who are instructed for free, and go on to study at prestigious turkish universities (i knew many of these personally, since they tend to study engineering). out of nowhere, erdogan lashed out at these pseudo-schools, and declared them to be illegitimate, and soon also illegal. i'm not a big fan of the college selection system in turkey, nor of these private pseudo-schools, and find the whole thing wrong and inhuman in many respects, but you can't just close down a whole sector of free market just because you want to - it's not like all of these things belong to the cemaat. but that's what erdogan is attempting now, and there is no stopping him at the moment.

it didn't take long before cemaat responded in the form of corruption investigations, started by the judiciary and carried out by the police. these directly targeted three ministers, but since the police couldn't arrest them due to immunity, their sons were arrested, because they were the ones handling the money. the ministers resigned, and their sons are still in jail. the allegations are most certainly significant, not the least because of telephone conservations leaked by the police once more (recognize a pattern?). the thing you have to know about turkish politics: whoever rules, feeds on the state. one minister had the nickname "mister ten percent", because he received ten percent of whatever was handed out by the state for projects to external companies. so it's not a surprise that some ministers are taking bribes, but the amounts uttered this time around are mind-boggling. one minister son is claimed to have had nine safes and a money counting machine in his home office. a bank director who was arrested is claimed to have stashed 4.5 million dollars in a shoe box at home.

what did erdogan do? he went ahead and removed anyone and everyone who had to do with these allegations, including the police officers, police directors and the attorneys. it appears that he has started a cleaning up action within the police, moving people around and demoting them like they are pawns on a chess board. the obvious question is, how can he do that? aren't there laws against something like this? and what about separation of powers? how can the prime minister mess with the judiciary? the answer here is that the turkish state function not on laws, but on decrees. there is even a weird concept called "decree in the power of law". these decrees, which are supposed to supplement laws and provide details, have been turned into a tool to quickly whip up whatever convenient laws are needed at the moment. this is exactly what happened right after the corruption investigations started: a decree was issued through the parliament that ordered state attorneys to inform their superiors whenever they started any kind of investigation into crimes potentially committed by mp's. this decree also allowed the prime minister and the ministry of the interior to play around with the police force whicever way they wish. if you sped up what has happened in the last week, and overlaid it with yakety sax, it would be much funnier than most benny hill skits. a corruption probe is started, all high-ranking police officials and attorneys (sometimes in the hundreds in total) are sent to a town in the anatolian nowhere in response, and some other people take their place. these other people go on to open some other investigation, and are sent to some other place. and it goes on like this.

it appears that this fight will go on for a few more months, and shape the future of the turkish state. as ugly as it is at this level, i have spared many much uglier details and side-stories. i hope turkish citizens are spared a deeper showdown, and things take a turn for the better soon.

coming up: my long overdue write-up on #occupygezi.