Erdogan's 'Independence War' and Turkey's future
Since 17 December when a corruption scandal erupted in Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has labeled his struggle against graft charges as a new ‘Independence War’.
He says the war is being waged against almost everyone, both inside and outside Turkey. In short, anyone who has dared to refer to the December events as high-level corruption.
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For a Turk the term Independence War resonates strongly as it refers to the nation’s fight in the wake of the First World War against invading armies of European powers.
In the midst of these unprecedented corruption allegations, an ordinary local election has been turned into a vote of confidence; a ‘life or death’ issue for Erdogan. He has indicated that winning the 30 March poll would be to defeat of all of Turkey’s enemies.
Erdogan claims he is fighting against shadowy foreigners - which he refuses to specifically name - who envy Turkey’s rise as a global power and do their best to torpedo it.
With foreign powers, of course, come domestic collaborators. In this case the traitor is the Hizmet Movement whose leader, Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, had until very recently been regarded as one of the strongest supporters of Erdogan’s drive for democracy, rule of law and EU-related reforms.
Erdogan has openly called the 17 December ‘coup’, a continuation of Gezi Park, the scene of anti-government protests in 2013. The ‘traitors’ of Gezi, the urban, mostly secular, and well-educated Turks have now been replaced by the followers of the Hizmet movement.
Erdogan continues to insist on his version of events for 17 December. He says there was a fully-fledged coup against his government carried out by foreign powers and "the parallel state", a term he himself coined hastily in the wake of the corruption charges.
However, Hizmet is not the only target. TUSIAD (The Turkish Industrialists and Business Association), the influential business club, and the Dogan Group (owners of Hurriyet Daily and CNN Turk) have also felt Erdogan’s wrath and threats.
To overcome the “coup” and consolidate democracy, Erdogan has initiated a series of so–called reforms with a vigour not seen in his one-party rule over the last 12 years.
The reforms include the restructuring of the High Council of Judges of Prosecutors (HCJP).
The change, which came as a shock to Brussels, has now effectively subordinated the judiciary to the executive.
He has also overseen the removal of almost 10,000 police officers and hundreds of prosecutors, most of them having nothing to do with the corruption cases.
He restricted freedom of expression on the Internet and moved to widen the powers of the intelligence service - the latter change has been postponed until after the election.
Turks overwhelmingly believe the reason behind the reforms is Erdogan’s fear that more corruption allegations are yet to emerge.
To the disappointment of many in Brussels, both the laws on HCJP and internet were signed into law by President Abdullah Gul, normally regarded as the pro-EU heavy weight of Turkish politics.
In the meantime, a series of recordings have been leaked to press via Twitter. In one of them, Erdogan is apparently heard telling his son to remove a huge amount of money from his house. The prime minister dismissed the wire tape as fabricated.
As the number of leaks increased, Erdogan announced he would “root out” Twitter. He said it was being used by dark forces not only to smear his government but also to destabilise the country.
A few hours after his threat, Twitter was banned, sending shock waves globally and putting Turkey in the same league as North Korea and Saudi Arabia.
As could be expected from a self-confessed hero fighting an ‘Independence War’, Erdogan declared he did not care about the international outcry.
He is now threatening to do the same with Facebook and Youtube if these two companies fail to learn from Twitter and don’t “behave” themselves.
Just three months after the corruption charges shook the country, Erdogan has reversed almost everything positive he has done over the last 10 years for Turkey’s embattled journey to become an EU member.
Brussels now thinks Erdogan is taking his country away from the EU despite all the pledges he gave when he was in the EU capital in January.
Most believe the so-called Independence War is Erdogan’s personal struggle to cover up corruption charges.
The concern is that if he does well in the local elections, he will take it as justification to continue on this path. In fact, the prime minister has repeatedly said that if he wins he will be cleared of all corruption charges.
If Erdogan is punished at the polls, however, it may encourage people within the AK Party to challenge his anti-democratic and polarising actions.
The writer is the Brussels Bureau Chief of ZAMAN Daily.