Nobody believes that the mass culling and reassignment of up to 10,000 public officials (most from the police department and the judiciary and many of whom are mid-level and senior personnel) so far by embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has anything to do with what the government purports is a fight against a “parallel structure,” a veiled reference to members of the Hizmet movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.
The personnel movements are simply an effort by Erdoğan to contain fallout from the massive corruption investigation that was exposed on Dec. 17, 2013, and to prevent new allegations from emerging.
I think that was the prevailing perception of the members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) in the European Parliament (EP) who debated a resolution on the annual progress report on Turkey earlier this week. When rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten, the Dutch politician who wrote the report, said the counterparty for the EP is the Erdoğan government as the political authority in Turkey and not a faith-based civic movement such as Hizmet, it was clear that the government’s ridiculous defense of creating a villain out of Hizmet amid corruption woes had totally collapsed.
Even an amendment that called on the Hizmet for more transparency, a motion that was publicly supported by Hizmet, was dropped by the members of AFET, perhaps to send a crystal clear message to Mr. Erdoğan that European politicians are not buying into a distraction deliberately created by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to fend off embarrassment caused by the corruption scandal. The arguments raised by Turkey’s EU Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in a private statement explaining his objections to rapporteur Oomen-Ruijten’s conclusions are insults to the intelligence of European politicians.
Çavuşoğlu said: “The recent investigations have demonstrated that there is an organization within the state, in fact, a ‘parallel structure.’ The adherents of this organization hold positions in different public institutions, including the judiciary and the police. A plot is set against the government by this organization at a time when Turkey is entering into an election period. …The existence of a parallel structure as such is the greatest threat to the rule of law and democracy. Turkey has been taking some legislative measures with a view to removing this threat that alleviates trust towards judiciary and law enforcement bodies, without prejudice to the principle of the rule of law.”
Just like most Turks, the Europeans also understood that Erdoğan keeps publicizing the unprecedented reshuffling of public officials as a fight against a parallel structure in order to mask his ongoing loyalist cadre-building in the executive and judicial branches. There has been overwhelming evidence leaked to the media in the last couple of months that reveals the systematic seeding of Erdoğan’s political Islamists into government agencies and the judiciary. Not just people who sympathize with Gülen, but liberals, Alevis, Kurds, social democrats and people who are affiliated with the opposition parties have also been profiled and targeted by the national intelligence agency. Based on this unconstitutional profiling and illegal screening, those already working in the public sector were either demoted or reassigned to low-profile positions and new applicants were barred from entering public service even at entry-level jobs.
Erdoğan’s continuing paranoia about Hizmet, the media, business advocacy groups and opposition parties (not to mention foreign powers) that, in his view, have all have joined forces to take him out of the picture, has somewhat shifted the center of the election campaign away from substantive issues. Yet he has failed to gain traction in the fight against his imaginary enemies in the face of the massive amount of incriminating evidence that has been coming out bit by bit every day implicating him and his family members. It is clear that Erdoğan has been micromanaging the country in practically every field. In fact, it appears that Erdoğan himself has created a “parallel structure” with his loyalists implanted not only in key positions in state institutions, but also in major corporations in the private sector.
For example, a leaked audio recording indicates that Erdoğan ordered Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ to help reshuffle the prosecutors in the İstanbul courthouse who were assigned to investigate the corruption claims after the scandal erupted. Another recording reveals that Erdoğan tried to secure a controlling influence within the popular Fenerbahçe sports club. Erdoğan’s blatant interference in the media was also exposed when he allegedly ordered media owners to fire critical editors and reporters. In yet another recording, he ordered his former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin to get a conviction on tax evasion charges for media mogul Aydın Doğan, who had been cleared in the lower courts. When his son’s phone was wiretapped by prosecutors in the course of the corruption probe, Erdoğan was also caught directing his son to get rid of some $1 billion stashed in his residences in İstanbul on Dec.17, the day of initial police raids.
The rushed legislation that has granted the government broad powers over the judiciary with a restructuring of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the top legal body responsible for the regulation of judicial affairs, including the appointment and inspection of judges and prosecutors, was part of Erdoğan’s strategy to hush-up the corruption investigations. The Internet censorship bill that has caused outrage both in Turkey and abroad was also part of the same strategy to contain the fallout from the graft scandal. Apparently, even that was not enough. On Thursday night during a live TV interview, Erdoğan said he could even ban social media such as Facebook and sites like YouTube where critical messages about the government and damning leaks can be posted.
Therefore, the picture of Turkey is rather clear for many abroad, including European parliamentarians, to whom both the EU and Justice Ministers gave rather fuzzy and muddied assessments filled with slander and lies based on parallel structures during their meetings in in Brussels. Despite Erdoğan and his loyalists’ relentless demonizing rhetoric blaming Hizmet and others for all the wrongdoings in Turkey, Rapporteur Oomen-Ruijten’s EP report gave a rather different and very comprehensive analysis of what is actually going on in Turkey. The EP is troubled by the allegations of major corruption and concerned about the removal of the prosecutors and police officers in charge of the original investigations, saying in the report, “This goes against the fundamental principle of an independent judiciary and deeply affects the prospects of credible investigations.” The report also openly called on Erdoğan “to show full commitment to the democratic principles and refrain from any further interference in the investigation and prosecution of corruption.”
On the day the report on Turkey was debated by the committee, the Turkish justice minister made a trip to Brussels to convince EU officials that what Erdoğan is doing is best for the country and he met with a number of EU officials, including Oomen-Ruijten. During a TV interview after he returned to Ankara, Bozdağ was asked about the perception of Turkey in Brussels. He sounded frustrated and disappointed with how he was received by his interlocutors in the EU and he accused them of a lack of comprehensive knowledge about the recent legislation. He even accused them of being influenced by what he called a misinformation campaign about Turkey. It is obvious that the EU is not satisfied with the explanations provided by Turkish government officials and dismissed them as not credible.
That is why the EP report expressed deep concern regarding the HSYK law that gives the minister of justice a central role in governing the election, composition and functioning of the judicial council. The report specifically asked Turkey to consult closely with the European Commission and the Venice Commission and called for the revision of the HSYK law. Oomen-Ruijten’s report also criticized the Erdoğan government for the new Internet law, which it said “introduces excessive controls and monitoring on internet access and has the potential to significantly impact free expression, investigative journalism, democratic scrutiny and access to politically diverse information over the internet.” The government campaign to muzzle critical media through pressure on media owners, the dismissal of journalists, self-censorship, undue legal restrictions and accreditation barriers was also criticized in the EP report.
I believe the most important conclusion in the report, and one that is very relevant to today’s debate in Turkey, is the overriding theme of “inclusiveness and dialogue” that Ms. Oomen-Ruijten was able to successfully inject into the heart of the comprehensive report. The alienation and marginalization of so many diverse groups in Turkey for so many years and the lack of dialogue the Erdoğan government has with opposition parties, media, business advocacy groups and civil society organizations including Hizmet, have continued to generate a host of problems that weaken fundamental rights, democracy, and the rule of law in an EU-candidate country. The latest corruption scandal and the Gezi Park events prior to that simply made that bitter truth clearer. Oomen-Ruijten deserves huge credit for spelling out that key problem in Turkey in unequivocal terms.
Her report said that the European Parliament “underlines the importance and urgent need of further reforms for greater accountability and transparency in the Administration and the promotion of dialogue across the political spectrum and in society more broadly, in particular through proper involvement and a process of empowerment of civil society.” Then she talked about the importance of the rule of law, full respect for fundamental rights, the principle of the separation of powers and the importance of an impartial and independent judiciary for a truly democratic state.
Did the government get the message? I don’t think so. The Erdoğan government is even keen to export the same problems to Europe, where some 5 million members of the Turkish diaspora live. When the justice minister was in Brussels on Monday, he only talked to the government mouthpiece Anatolian news agency, declining to speak with the bureau chiefs of other private media based in Brussels. When he met with civil society groups, Bozdağ only invited those who are close to the government, rejecting meetings with representatives of many other groups, including the largest and oldest community groups in Belgium.