Government [in Turkey] replaces military in defamation tactics

Lale Kemal
Lale Kemal


Date posted: December 2, 2013

LALE KEMAL

A Turkish daily’s publication last week of a secret document dated to August, 2004 has sent shock waves through Turkish politics, which is becoming increasingly polarized ahead of the three elections Turkey will undergo before 2015.

The secret document in question, published by the liberal Taraf daily, was about the once-infamous National Security Council’s (MGK) advice on what the paper described as discrediting Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, and curbing the activities of the Gülen-inspired Hizmet movement.

The Turkish public has often heard of secret documents, mainly disclosed by Taraf, which were signed by the military-led secular establishment that was once in power. These documents were intended to keep democratically elected governments weak in order to maintain the status quo. But what makes the latest MGK revelation highly problematic is the fact that the document was signed in 2004 by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, which had itself been targeted by the military on the grounds of its anti-secular ideology.

The MGK’s advice to pressure the Gülen movement was given in 2004, a year after the council was changed from a military-dominated structure whose decisions were assertive, thus governments were obliged to implement them, to a system where governments are not obliged to enforce the decisions.

However, despite some structural changes to the MGK in 2003 which civilianized the institution, it was too early then for civilian governments to stand up to military pressure by refusing to sign the decisions made at MGK meetings. Then it was the generals’ strategy to ambush the AK Party, which came to power in Nov. 2002 and which they saw as a threat to Turkey’s secular establishment, by forcing it to sign a document that proposed action against an Islamic group, namely the Hizmet movement. The AK Party had received strong backing from both the Hizmet movement and some liberals, although it has since parted ways with both.

In contrast with the perception of the formerly military-led and fiercely secular establishment, the Hizmet movement has a positive influence, both in the world through its contemporary schools abroad and inside Turkey, in promoting moderate Islamic views and thereby bypass extremist organizations.

Ironically, the AK Party government, which Taraf revealed had signed an MGK document vowing to combat the Gülen movement, faced the danger of being closed down in 2008 when it was tried on charges of infringing the country’s secular character and supporting the Gülen movement. The closure request failed, as only six of 11 judges ruled in favor, with seven required to pass; however, 10 judges agreed that the AK Party had become “a center for anti-secular activities,” causing state funding to the party to be cut.

In the meantime, AK Party officials have not denied that the government signed the MGK document, but they insisted that they never put the suggestions outlined into force, which concerned how to finish off the Hizmet movement and its activities. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has dismissed the document, saying the government never implemented any of the prescribed policies.

However, the Taraf daily published further documents on Nov. 1 and 2 which reveal that the government has actualized at least part of the MGK decision. The AK Party classified, profiled and monitored a number of educational institutions in some way linked to Hizmet, as well as bureaucrats at various institutions assumed to be linked to the movement, which may have resulted in the loss of their jobs.

It appeared that the AK Party, at the time, was under serious pressure from the politically interfering military to sign an MGK document that proposed a smear campaign against some its own citizens. But putting these suggestions into action has caused a serious blow to the AK Party’s credibility.

For a long period, when the military tutelage system was still strong, many Turks, Turkish Kurds, Alevis and Christian minorities were subjected to defamation and smear campaigns initiated by the then-strong military and its civilian supporters from every walk of life. Now the MGK document leaked by Taraf demonstrates that the AK Party, which had itself been the victim of smear campaigns by the fiercely secular segment of society, has taken up the military’s role in conducting psychological warfare against its own people. This is a pity.

According to recent opinion polls, the AK Party is still strong enough to defeat its weaker rivals in the local and national elections which will run until 2015. The issue at the moment, however, is Turkey’s regression under AK Party rule, despite the fact that the party was a savior in its early years of governance, enforcing many reforms to democratize the country.

Source: Today's Zaman , December 2, 2013


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