Never has the end seemed so near for the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). That is the word on the street, the prophecy circulating lately in various op-eds, news pieces, and messages via social media. Although this is neither the first time that the AKP has come under the spotlight, nor the first attempt to predict its expiry date, the most recent episode in the AKP’s list of crises is certainly doing the most harm to the party. But why now? How is this crisis any different from previous ones?
December 2013: the great corruption probe, a.k.a. #AKPGate
Image Source: roarmag.org
First, a brief description of the current crisis. On 17 December 2013, shady business deals that involve members of the AKP were brought to light by the Istanbul Police Department. Scandalous corruption charges were directed at the sons of AKP ministers—of Interior, Economic Affairs, and Environment and Urban Planning—along with the Mayor of Fatih district of Istanbul (Mustafa Demir/AKP), the general manager of the biggest state-owned bank in Turkey (Suleyman Aslan/Halkbank) a construction magnate (Ali Agaoglu), and an Iranian-Azerbaijani businessman (Reza Zarrab). There were bribes involved, sent from the construction magnate to the Minister of Environment and Urban Planning in exchange for illegal construction permits. Hidden transactions of a similar nature allegedly took place between Reza Zarrab and the other ministers. The accusation was that Zarrab bribed the ministers’ sons, and the general manager of Halkbank in order to carry out illegal transactions between Turkey and Iran, and to obtain Turkish citizenship for himself and his family. The amount of transaction Aslan had undertaken between 2009 and 2012 was an alleged 87 billion Euros. An amount of 4.5 million dollars, which was found at HalkBank general manager’s home, stacked into shoeboxes, was the most striking evidence that opened the door to this dubious affair.
Although this is not the first time that the AKP is charged with corruption, the case this time appears to be better grounded. Previously in 2008, the AKP faced a similar challenge when a sum of 41 million Euros collected by the transnational Islamic charity organization, Deniz Feneri e.V, was embezzled by the organization’s chairpersons. Although the Frankfurt court in charge of the case found no trace of money transfer from Deniz Feneri e.V to the AKP, eyebrows were raised in Turkey. Various media outlets affiliated with the biggest media conglomerate in Turkey, Dogan Holding, pointed out alleged ties between Deniz Feneri e.V and entrepreneurs close to the AKP’s circles. In 2008, ministers of the AKP interpreted the case as a “conspiracy” that aimed to bring down their party. It was seen as a foul scheme deployed against them. Today, the same rhetoric is in play. However, with Erdogan asking for the resignation of the ministers involved, corruption appears to be more established as a reality that surrounds the AKP than it was in 2008.
Furthermore, powerful actors in the diaspora are also irritated by these shady deals. Two days after the transactions were discovered, another blow to the AKP came from their long time supporter, preacher/scholar Fethullah Gulen and his transnational hizmet movement. The movement, which is an integral part of the larger Islamist movement in Turkey, represents an important transnational network in the US, Europe, Middle East and Central Asia, and is connected to a considerable body of supporters as well as business circles in Turkey. Many members of the Cabinet come from the hizmet circles and are known for bringing the AKP into close proximity with the hizmet network. Nevertheless, the relations between Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and Erdogan have been lukewarm for quite some time—with the cracks becoming all too apparent in their divergent responses to the Gezi Protests (and before that, to the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident). These relations now are en route to a speedy collapse as Erdogan threatened Gulen with the closure of prep-schools in Turkey, which serve as an essential financial and intellectual lifeline for hizmet.
Soon after the corruption charges were publicized, Gulen commented on the developments on his website by staging a public stunt where he literally cast a curse on all those involved with corruption. A day later, the three ministers involved with the scandal resigned following a request from the Prime Minister, which led later that day to the reshuffling of ten ministers of his Cabinet. As the court case continues, what is now on the horizon is that new charges will be summoned, eventually reaching the Prime Minister himself and his own family (sons), bringing them to Court and thus putting an end to his power. Rumour has it that Erdogan’s son has already received a notification inviting him to testify in the General Public Prosecutor’s Office.
May - June 2013: the Gezi Park protests
May-June 2013: Gezi Park Protests. Wikipedia/Public Domain.
In light of these recent corruption charges, one of the first reactions by thousands in Turkey was to go out on the streets - a spirit rediscovered over the summer and adopted by the masses since then. The protests of the Summer of 2013 started with the occupation of a public park and later spread to dozens of cities around Turkey. Millions were out on the streets for weeks, protesting against the government’s authoritarian role, lack of accountability, and its dismissal of the rule of law. Protestors asked for a more responsible government and a more critical media. In return, they received brutal treatment at the hands of the police forces.
Gezi Protests may be seen as “the beginning of the end of Erdogan's era”. It was, after all, an “awakening” in itself. Although the Turkish state’s use of violence against its own citizens comes as no surprise to those even vaguely informed about the armed conflict that has been taking place—mostly—in southeastern Anatolia since the mid 1980s, nevertheless, with the exception of May Day protests, state violence has never been so clearly deployed in western Turkey. This was the first time. The state took the lives of young protestors and left dozens without eyes or limbs. Streets were no longer safe but at the same time, streets were the places where the fight had to be lost or won. It was a profoundly shocking discovery that the power people fought against lacked even a modicum of tolerance and sympathy. At Gezi, the AKP lost whatever humanity was left within it.
Moreover, Gezi was also a breaking point for the AKP in terms of retaining international prestige. With Gezi, AKP lost not only legitimacy at home, but also abroad. Countries like the US could not longer turn a blind eye to Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record—as has been clearly spelled out by the US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone both during the summer protests and today. Unlike the pre-Gezi days, international media is now much more critical in its analysis of the AKP’s deeds. Hence, all the bitter headlines accusing Erdogan of misdeeds and pointing out to him his own limits.
May 2013: The Reyhanli Bombings
Image Source: Milliyet / www.milliyet.com.tr
In May of 2013, two car bombs exploded in the Reyhanli district of Hatay province, killing 51 and injuring over 140. The event was to be recorded as the biggest terrorist attack on Turkish soil to date. Bombings in urban settings are a relatively rare scene in Turkey, so people have questioned the forces behind the attacks. Although the organization responsible for the killings is yet to be identified, many looked for suspects at the Turkish-Syrian border and blamed the attack on the escalating tension between the two countries. The Syrian state was unofficially deemed guilty of the crime, and the bombing has been interpreted as a warning by the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad against Turkey’s increasing involvement in the Syrian Civil War.
The escalation of violence in Syria must come under the heading of Turkey’s discretion with regard to Turkey’s foreign policy emphasis in the region as a whole. Hosting a large number of Syrian refugees, Turkey took an active role in the Syrian conflict—a matter widely contested by the opposition in the Parliament, as well as in the Turkish media and among Turkish voters. In addition, relations with Syria were particularly tense due to Syria’s Sunni majority population ruled by the Alawite al-Assad family. Certain commentators pointed a finger at the AKP for using the bombing as an excuse to undermine Syria’s Alawite government and play the Sunni brother card.
From this perspective, the conflict has reached a point of no return with the Reyhanli bombings. They make crystal clear the Alevi (in Turkey)/Alawite (in Syria) element that the AKP is allergic to, and urgently needs to come to terms with in orienting its policies towards the Middle East. In short, Turkey’s Middle Eastern policy in general and the AKP’s Syria policy in particular has been undermined by this severe failure. With NATO/American forces not intervening and Assad regaining power in Syria, Turkish policy has reached a dead-end. The Reyhanli bombings were a stern warning sign flagging up the AKP’s foreign policy as dysfunctional.
December 2011: the Roboski Massacre
The Turkish public woke up to a late December day watching a massacre committed by its own armed forces. The fact that this one—unlike many others—was televised, aggravated its effect. People saw dead bodies being wrapped up in body bags on their screens. These bodies, unlike the initial expectation, turned out not to belong to the “enemy”. In brief, a group of smugglers carrying diesel oil and cigarettes across Turkey’s Iraqi border—a common practice at the border—were taken for the enemy, that is, the Kurdish guerillas (PKK) and consequently, the Turkish Armed Forces, already ostracized due to previous neglect in taking action against PKK raids, bombed the smugglers' convoy. The F-16s took the lives of the country’s own citizens. The burned and mutilated bodies of 34 people were discovered in the morning, and visual images of the destruction zone were shared with the media. What followed—in addition to a broadcast ban—was a blame game between the Kurds and the AKP, with no formal apology granted to the families of those killed by the bombing.
Leaving the precarity of life aside, what was additionally troubling was the lack of communication between the Armed Forces and the Prime Minister, as well as both actors’ disregard for the gravity of the scene. While Erdogan took no responsibility for the act (“I certainly did not give the order”), the Chief of General Staff dismissed the case as an accident. The case, which was under investigation by the military prosecutor, reached a non-jurisdiction decision on 8 January 2014, meaning that the army officials under investigation were cleared of accusations. According to the statement issued by the Military Prosecutor’s Office, the “mistake” made at Roboski was “unavoidable”, thus necessitating “no reason to file a criminal case against the actions of the suspected persons.”
The Roboski bombing was a sad yet revealing moment in Erdogan's history and that of the AKP. Not only did it provide the opposition with material to exploit, it also gave Turkish people a snapshot of the AKP’s lack of authority over the country’s Armed Forces (both the President and the Prime Minister chair the National Security Council’s bimonthly meetings, and other select members of the cabinet attend these meetings), and the extent of the mutual mistrust between the party and the Kurdish population—whose votes Erdogan had oriented towards the AKP quite successfully in previous elections.
May 2010: MV Mavi Marmara Flotilla incident
Mavi Marmara, also known as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, brought Turkey into a diplomatic crisis with Israel in 2010, a year after the much cited exchange took place between the Turkish and Israeli Prime Ministers at the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos. While en route to Gaza, the Turkish flotilla carrying a number of activists and bringing aid was stopped by the Israeli navy (who claimed the activists were armed). The resistance to the military operation led to the killing of nine activists on the ship and the wounding of many others.
Although Erdogan’s ardent stance in requesting an apology from the Israeli Prime Minister (which he received in 2013) was lauded by his constituents at home and his supporters in the Middle East (thus granting him the “Sultan” title), the aggravation of relations with Israel (such as expelling the Israeli ambassador) was also read as an immature and hastily taken diplomatic move that was directed only at gaining a more favourable position in the Middle East (particularly among the Sunni Muslims) at the expense of losing Israel. Furthermore, the growing tension with Israel was also read as a sign of growing anti-Semitism in Turkey. Neither the Jewish citizens of Turkey nor its Jewish investors felt safe under the rule of a government that openly detested Israel. Erdogan and the AKP may have won the hearts of their Muslim constituents, however, this only came at the expense of the sympathy of their Jewish friends.
October 2007; October 2008; June 2012: PKK raids and intelligence crises
Image Source: Today’s Zaman / www.todayszaman.com
AKP’s legitimacy in handling Turkey’s longstanding conflict with Kurdish guerillas (PKK) has been severely tested numerous times. Although ending the conflict was one of Erdogan’s promises in collecting his votes, his attempts have been intermittently interrupted. The latest major occasion was the Daglica raid of June 2012, which led to the killing of eight Turkish Army soldiers, with 16 others wounded. The raid was reminiscent of another attack that took place in October 2007, in the same district of Hakkari, where Kurdish guerillas killed 27 members of the Turkish army, wounding many others and kidnapping eight as prisoners in two separate instances. In response, the Turkish army retaliated. Thousands of protestors came out on the streets to condemn the PKK, proffer solidarity to the Turkish army and call on the AKP to take immediate action.
The AKP was challenged by the PKK also in 2008, when over 600 guerillas carrying heavy arms raided a Turkish outpost located at the northern Iraqi border, killing fifteen members of the Turkish military and wounding many others. What particularly spurred public debate this time was the lack of intelligence in detecting the movement of such a large group in an organized fashion. In addition to blaming the PKK, the public also sought to blame the army, as well as the AKP. Public attitude took a particularly sharp turn when a Turkish newspaper, Taraf, headlined a piece stressing the gravity of the neglect in handling the raid. It emerged that intelligence regarding a forthcoming raid was passed onto the General Staff almost a month before the raid took place. This signaled a lack of professionalism and more importantly, miscommunication between the Turkish Army and the AKP in handling Turkey’s most critical threat.
Rather than taking full responsibility, the Armed Forces and the AKP instead chose to blame Taraf for revealing state secrets, installed a national broadcast ban and opened up a lawsuit. A similar attitude was shown in both actors’ responses to the Roboski massacre and the Reyhanli bombings. Rather than discussing the failures, and learning from mistakes, the AKP (and the Turkish military) chose to cover it up.
March - July 2008: the AKP closure trial
Image Source: Aksam / aksam.medyator.com
In 2008, the AKP was brought to the Constitutional Court under the accusation that its “anti-secular” activities were jeopardising the Republic. In the Prosecutor’s words, the Republic was in danger. This was a claim that had been directed at previous representatives of the Islamic movement, later banned in Turkey, such as the Virtue Party (banned 2001) and the Welfare Party (banned 1997). It was also a claim that the Turkish public did not fully support. Despite the mass demonstration of late 2006 and 2007 in which secular Turks rallied against the election of Abdullah Gul (whose wife wore a headscarf, thus bringing a “covered” First Lady to the Presidential Palace) as the President, many others were undecided about (or outright rejected) the banning of a political party—regardless of its name or political orientation.
The 'closure trial' of 2008 could in some ways be read as a test for the reaffirmation of faith in Turkish democracy, and its representative, the AKP. Not only would the decision decide the fate of the AKP and its leader, Erdogan, but it would also provide Turkish democracy with yet another chance to solve its problems by itself—that is, without having to end a political party’s existence through a judicial manouevre (what the anthropologist Jenny White called a coup by court) or a military coup d’etat. The 2008 closure trial, moreover, provided the AKP with an opportunity for a fresh start: by remaining in politics, it would come out triumphantly as the democratic face of Turkey, therefore gaining the appreciation of both national and international actors. This would be a much needed success for the AKP, especially in light of the trust lost in its (mis) handling of the previous year’s Dink assassination and the May Day events.
When the judges voted one shy for the closure of the AKP, people hoped that the AKP would take the message and make its policies more in accordance with the needs of greater publics (and not just the AKP’s constituents). However, less than a year later, members of the AKP were not there to show solidarity with the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which was banned later that year by the Constitutional Court. This was a revealing moment regarding the Janus-faced character of Turkish democracy, and its product par excellence, the AKP.
January 2007: Hrant Dink's assassination
Xenophobia may be a value-laden term, yet it is also one that helps us explain the emergent feeling in Turkey that brought about the assassination of Hrant Dink in 2007. Following the Cartoon Crisis in Denmark, which caused great disturbance among Muslim populations all around the world, Turkish citizens belonging to minority religions in Turkey have been put under the spotlight. In this environment, the (February) 2006 murder of Father Andrea Santoro, the Roman Catholic Priest of Trabzon’s Santa Maria Church, and the (April) 2007 murder of three Christians at a Bible-publishing house, Zirve Yayincilik—though unfortunate—came as no surprise.
And then there was the assassination of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. It was as much about the assassination as it was the state’s handling of the case in the following years that proved to be a major letdown for many liberals who have supported the AKP in previous elections (2002 and 2004) with the hopes of a transformed Turkey: that is, one that would come to terms with the past crimes committed against its minorities (particularly in 1915 and 1955) and turn over a clean sheet in negotiating with them today. The impression (which fueled people’s frustration) was that rather than seeking justice, the AKP used these assassinations as an excuse to further undermine its opponents in the military and among the secular elite.
Dink received death threats several times before the assassination took place. In addition to his Armenian heritage, as a journalist, Dink was under the spotlight for his statements on the Armenian genocide, and was under prosecution for “denigrating Turkishness” under Penal Code Article 301 (the same article the Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk was tried under a year before). Prior to his assassination, Dink was working on an investigation on the Armenian roots of the adopted daughter of Ataturk, the founder father of Turkey.
On January 19, Hrant Dink was shot dead in front of his office. Thousands attended his funeral, and even more participated in the demonstrations taking place in the following weeks (and years) asking the government to open a fully-fledged investigation into Dink’s assassination. In the hours following the shooting, a 17-year-old suspect was caught. The public learned about the suspect via a picture of him posing heroically in front of a Turkish flag next to gendarmerie officers at a police station. He was treated as a national hero.
Weeks after, the person behind the planning of the assassination was also caught. In his interrogation, he pointed to an intelligence officer within the police department as the primary suspect. All three were put on a trial which lasted for five years. Rather than explicating the organizational links behind the assassination, the trial ended with the acquittal of the intelligence officer and the imprisonment of the killer and planner. Many were not satisfied with the outcome. After all, it was documented that almost eleven months before the assassination took place, the police had information that the people who would later on take central roles in the assassination were planning to assassinate Dink. His assassination was part of a bigger scheme—yet no one in the government was brave enough to call for an investigation that would go this far.
The assassinations of Father Santoro, Hrant Dink and the three Bible-publishers in Malatya have revealed a great rift between the Turkish state and the AKP government. One could argue that in handling these cases, the AKP had little power over the state. In fact, part of the argument was that Dink’s assassination was part of a bigger plan to bring down the AKP by causing havoc in the country and promoting a coup d’etat. In response, as the 5-year-long trial “Ergenekon” which was to follow these assassinations reveals, the AKP exerted power over the state, and obtained the opportunity to expose the networks that orchestrated those tumultuous times. However, AKP’s democratization (through the Ergenekon trial) had its limits—perhaps because individuals close to AKP circles were benefiting from the ongoing conflict, as were the military generals. The case itself revealed that the main purpose behind the investigations was more about disabling AKP’s political opponents than bringing criminals to justice.
July 2004: the Pamukova train accident
Image Source: www.ntvmsnbc.com
Major accidents with grave consequences are expected to harm the legitimacy of even the most faultless-seeming government officials. Accidents create a moral obligation that lays the ground for the resignation of the ministers responsible and in charge. In Turkey, by contrast, responsibility is hardly ever sought if those involved are prominent decision makers. Those at the top are rarely held accountable for failures. In July 2004, the newly installed high-speed train between Istanbul and Ankara was put on a test run. The train, which was carrying 230 passengers, crashed due to excessive speeding, killing 41 and injuring over 80. Although a trial was opened against Turkish State Railways (TCDD), only the train’s operators faced charges. And even though the Minister of Transportation, Binali Yildirim, stated that he would resign if necessary, the necessity, apparently, never materialized. As of February 2012, the case was dropped due to a statute of limitations. The irony is not lost on the public when in response to a train accident in Spain, Binali Yildirim who is still serving as the Minister, takes it upon himself to comment on the accident with the following words: “This looks similar to what we experienced in Pamukova”.
The high-speed train was one of the first major projects that the AKP was to undertake. Although its failure was not widely discussed in 2004, its ghost was brought back to earth as the AKP undertook yet another railways project in 2013: this time, an undersea tunnel connecting the Asian and European banks of Istanbul. The project went through despite the recommendation for a delay by the Chamber of Architects and Engineers, and their detailed presentation on the possibility of a catastrophe, in which the Pamukova accident was also cited. The very first day Marmaray was opened, the project experienced a power outtage, which brought the trains to a halt midway through the tunnel. People had to walk in the underwater tunnel to the next station in order to make it to the nearest exit. Few dared to ask what the possible death toll could have been had power been restored, possibly frying the dozens walking on the tracks. Once again, rather than seeking the responsibility of those in charge of the project, blame was laid at the door of the passengers: “halts were caused by people who pushed the emergency button out of curiosity.”
Back to 2013, back to corruption…
The crises listed above do not provide an exhaustive inventory of AKP debacles. We exclude, among others, events of major importance such as the detention of Turkish soldiers by the American Forces (in retaliation to Turkey’s refusal to take part in the Coalition Forces and grant access to these forces to use Turkish land and airspace in 2003) or the public outrage over the Turkish government’s sloppy response to the earthquake in the city of Van in 2011.
The point here is that despite crises of such a grand scale, the AKP, under the helm of Erdogan has still managed to be a behemoth occupying every space, adopting every value, and appropriating every ideology. Despite the many challenges it has faced, the AKP has continued to grow. Much of this success has been credited to its leader, Erdogan, whose political aptitude and personal charisma has kept a political party that is necessarily representative of various political factions and interest groups intact. Also, many credited the strength of the Turkish economy to the AKP's handling - in the macro, for example, bringing the inflation and unemployment rate down, paying off Turkey’s debt to the IMF, increasing GDP/capita, undertaking major infrastructure projects or turning the country into an investors' paradise. The economy may have played a role in many people turning a blind eye to the AKP’s previous failures. The same could be argued when it came to the AKP's fight against the Kemalist establishment. In this fight, the AKP gained the sympathy of supporters who may have had little interest in Erdogan’s religious discourse but rather greater interest in taking down a repressive statist regime. (Today, especially in the aftermath of the Hrant Dink trial and Gezi, it would not be too much of an exaggeration to argue that the AKP has lost that voter base completely.)
However, now is the time to ask: is the AKP really the omnipotent force we make of it? Let us stop for a second and reflect on what we make of this political machine. As people critical of the repressive form the AKP has taken over the years, we cannot simply continue blaming Erdogan’s conservative, nationalist and faithful/Islamic constituents (and they constitute a fragment of AKP voters) for fashioning this Sultan figure. Altogether, we have constructed a mirage of invulnerability, and turned the Prime Minister into the leader of a political party whose supreme power today drowns out our protests. Instead, we need to believe that it is a mirage after all. A recent New Yorker commentator writing on the corruption crisis starts the account with a trite yet relevant phrase: “the revolution always eats its children first”. For those who have constructed this revolutionary nightmare, the time is ripe to finally disappear. After all, once the strings holding the party intact are cut, both Erdogan and his followers would have to comply with the rules of physics and fall… because so does everything else.
The reason for us to be encouraged to finally open our eyes and witness Erdogan’s downfall lies in the peculiarities of the latest episode of the crisis. The corruption case reveals obvious signs of weakness for both Erdogan and his AKP. Erdogan has never been this lonely in his ten years of rule as the Prime Minister of Turkey. In previous crises, he may have lost the support of liberals in Turkey, as well as minorities, Israel and the US. However, he still had the support of his own cabinet, the spiritual figure Fethullah Gulen, and many of the institutions (such as the police and the judiciary) arguably “infiltrated” by or representative of Gulen’s hizmet network. His prestige may have shattered those outside the Islamic movement, but inside, he was still impervious to criticism.
The corruption case, however, has deprived him of all these lines of support. First, the people who were once his closest allies no longer hesitate in directing their critiques at the Prime Minister. When the Minister of Environment and Urban Planning Erdogan Bayraktar handed in his resignation, he openly stated that his stepping down would also necessitate PM Erdogan relinquishing his position as the Prime Minister. Here was criticism coming from the inside, from one of the people close to the Prime Minister. Such an act, in AKP’s three-term rule, is unheard of.
Then, he lost the backing of hizmet circles, as well as his credibility within the larger Islamic movement. Today, rather than perpetuating ties with the hizmet network, Erdogan is purging those whom he believes to be followers of Gulen. He is attempting to bring the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, an institution chiefly in charge of appointing judges and prosecutors in Turkey, under the surveillance of the Ministry of Justice (which is a major violation of the principle of the separation of powers). He is also firing and reassigning police forces, thus reshaping the organizational schema of the police department. Although Erdogan argues that in doing this he is taking preventative measures against a coup d’etat against his AKP, his method of attack is no less coup-like.
Also in retaliation to hizmet, there are some signals that Erdogan is considering befriending his old enemy, the secular military, by reopening the trial on the previous coup d’etat plots: Sledgehammer and Ergenekon. Although this is still an idea in progress within AKP circles, experts argue that by showing that these trials, conducted by judges and prosecutors close to the hizmet circles, and reached a verdict on 2012 and 2013 respectively, were held in an unfair manner, Erdogan attempts to “vilify” Fethullah Gulen and “expose” the true face of his movement. As the local elections draws near, blaming hizmet for the current episode of the nation’s ills may be a strategic move aimed at regaining his constituents’ trust.
Finally, Erdogan seems to be losing one of his strongest pillars, Turkey’s economic figures and credit ratings. With credit rating companies sending the government warning signals and the Turkish lira seeing record lows against the American dollar (which, apparently, does not please investors and businessmen), the Turkish Prime Minister will have to do more than retaliate against his enemies. This is not the Gezi “gang” that he blamed for “smashing windows”. The threat, this time, comes from those who are (were) closest to him.
There is also an emotional or more intimate side of this story that most analyses often forgo - possible due to the fact that it offers a much less complicated explanation than the ones listed above. Corruption, in short, has a peculiar nature. Ironically, in today’s world, killing dozens of innocents is more easily justifiable than embezzling taxpayers’ money.
In previous crises the AKP has faced, the blame could have been placed in other quarters. As discussed above, Turkey’s Kemalist legacy, the Turkish military, Turkish media, Israel, the US, reckless train mechanics, Kurdish guerilla forces, Christian missionaries, spying minorities, among others, could have been singled out as primarily responsible for these failures. The blame could have been diverted.
However, with a corruption scandal that hits the friends closest to you, and is expected to hunt you down, it is hard to play the blame game. Not that Erdogan, as well as other ministers in the AKP are not attempting to do this. They are. But it no longer carries its power of persuasion because the scandal attacks the very moral foundation that he has built over years. The rhetoric before was that both the failures and successes were committed for the good of the nation. They were all undertaken with good intentions. As the AKP’s 2009 election jingle stated: “Everything is for this nation.” Erdogan and his ministers were servants of the nation and Allah. This rhetoric, equating them almost to the messengers of Allah, provided them with an aura of protection.
However, these corruption claims challenge this rhetoric in two ways. First, corruption leaves nothing for the nation to gain. While all the gains are personal, only the losses become collectively shared. And second, corruption is a sin; rather than serving Allah, one starts serving oneself—thus seeking personal and material gains rather than communal and spiritual ones. In short, corruption takes away from Erdogan’s repertoire both the worldly and otherworldly references. Whether this graft probe is yet another coup attempt against him or not, the damage is already done. For a politician that relies so much on the power of community and spirituality, which constitute the main themes around which he build his speeches, the question then is, can he succeed without them?
He may, but possibly not in this current configuration, where he serves as the Prime Minister of a tainted political party. Perhaps he could as a dictator or a Sultan in the true sense of those words, as someone who has absolute power, and therefore rules over all other institutional powers. AKP ingenuity has surprised us many times before. But today, facing a corruption scandal, and with the local elections only three months away, the future for Erdogan and his party looks alarmingly bleak. The AKP’s rise to power may have been an unexpected development. And despite the gravity of the crises it has faced in the past, equally unexpected has been its maintenance of power. Its retirement from power, by contrast, may not be so unexpected.
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