Analysis

Turkey Goes to Battle on Behalf of Erdogan's Good Name

Turkey's various institutions seem to be engaged in a world war over preserving Erdogan's reputation, more than a war against the real enemies of the state

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, stands as he listens to the national anthem, prior of delivering a speech at a conference in Istanbul, Saturday, April 29, 2017.
STF/AP

The Turkish judicial system has been very busy in the past year, conducting investigations and drafting indictments against tens of thousands of citizens, former soldiers and journalists suspected of involvement in the failed military coup attempt in July 2016. The legal establishment is also involved in intensive negotiations with the U.S. administration for the extradition of the “head of the terror network,” Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish preacher and U.S. resident whom Turkey blames for planning the coup.

Among other things, senior officials are collecting data to prove the involvement of Kurdish activists living in European Union countries in the failed bid to overthrow the government. To that end, they are not skipping over anyone – in Turkey or elsewhere – who has spoken out, tweeted or written posts on the social networks that include any criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Thus, Turkey’s various national institutions seem to be engaged in a world war over preserving the president’s good name, more than a war against the real enemies of the state.

Last week, for example, Mehmet Kanter, father of NBA player Enes Kanter, was detained in Istanbul because of posts publicized by the outstanding basketball player.

On Friday, Kanter, Jr., who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, attacked Erdogan’s regime on his website, claiming it has “suppressed free media, blocked opposition parties in countless ways, changed the constitution granting unprecedented powers, and altered democracy.” He added that his father “may get tortured for simply being my family member.”

The basketballer doesn’t conceal his support for exiled oppositionist Gulen. His father, on the other hand, has publicly renounced his son’s views, but nevertheless found himself in detention, apparently in a move to pressure his son to return to Turkey and stand trial.

In addition, last weekend Erdogan’s lawyer, Huseyin Aydin, filed a criminal complaint against Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a former senior Pentagon official, for his statements against the Turkish leader. Rubin, who in the past was one of the architects of the Pentagon’s policy on Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, is a Zionist and conservative right-winger who supports Israel. Rubin also edited the Middle East Quarterly, which keeps track of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic reports in the American media.

This week Rubin wrote on the research institute’s website that “Erdogan has nobody to blame for the coup but himself,” and added that support for the president means support for corruption.

As we know, the leader does not take criticism lightly, since according to his lawyer, “an insult to Erdogan is an insult to the Turkish people.” Rubin, a Yale University graduate who has taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at universities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, will apparently be unable to visit Turkey in the near future. But at least he doesn’t have to fear extradition.

Also exempt from such fears are the editors of the German newspaper Die Welt, which was strongly condemned for publishing a report stating that several European countries, including Germany, Denmark, Holland and France, are opposed to holding the NATO summit in Turkey next year.

Those who have something to worry about, however, include the owner of Sozcu (The Spokesman) – the newspaper with the fourth-largest circulation in Turkey – as well as two of its senior editors and its accountant. Arrest warrants have been issued against the four on suspicion of involvement in the coup. This important newspaper is perhaps the last voice of opposition and criticism against the regime. Its views are right of center and it espouses the principles of Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern republic of Turkey, among them secularism and nationalism.

It is hard, if not impossible, to find any ideological common denominator between that newspaper or its owner and Gulen’s opposition movement. But as in hundreds of other instances in the past year, the ostensible link to the exiled leader or to the attempted coup is only an excuse to settle accounts with political rivals, and Sozcu is definitely such a rival. And the aforementioned examples are from the past week alone.

Earlier this month, Turkish author Gorcel Kurat won the prestigious Orhan Kemal Novel Award. Kurat’s book, “The Forgetful Mirror,” tells about the lives of residents of the central Turkish region of Cappadocia during the period of the Armenian expulsion in World War I. In his remarks upon receiving the prize, Kurat dedicated it, with proper caution, “to all the people who are suffering from injustice” – without specifying to whom he was referring.

The one person who did offer an explanation was Isik Ögütçü, son of Orhan Kemal (Orhan Kemal was the pen name of the late novelist Mehmet Raçit Ögütçü), head of the awards committee, who said: “We all miss Turhan Gunay.”

Gunay, a member of the awards committee and the editor of the literary supplement of the newspaper Jumhurriyet, has been in detention for over 200 days now. The charge: support for Gulen’s organization and for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The absurd thing is that these two organizations are ideological rivals, and the accusation of supporting both of them is like accusing a person in our part of the world of simultaneously supporting Hamas and Fatah. Or Meretz and Habayit Hayehudi.

Such conduct is usually attributed to totalitarian countries. Turkey, a respected member of NATO, an ally of the United States, a very important trading partner of the EU, is not considered such a country. For just that reason we could have expected that international pressure could have softened Erdogan’s attitude towards his rivals. But the fact that the Western countries are ignoring Turkey’s attacks against its intellectual elite is turning them into Erdogan’s most loyal partners.