BY AYSE GUNAYSU
From The Armenian Weekly
In Turkey today, a very high-tempo, high-tension action scene is unfolding, with a life-or-death fight at the top of the state apparatus. A volcano of corruption is erupting once more, releasing all the filth from below the surface. We’re seeing the sons of cabinet members being taken from their homes, alongside prominent businessmen, and put into custody; the mass removal of middle- to high-ranking security officers; and comprehensive changes in the juridical organization. But there are no prospects for a better Turkey, because both parties of this fierce fight belong to the “bad guy” club—the ruling AK Party and the informal but all-mighty clandestine organization of the “Gulen community.”
The audience is deprived of the expectation of a reward for watching these horrors play out. There is no hope for the emergence of a good guy, who will punish the bad and set things right. There is no need to wait for it, because there is no good guy at all in this action film. None of the already-few forces of democracy in Turkey have the slightest role to play in the plot.
The new enemies are, in fact, old comrades-in-arms. Until very recently, both were acting in perfect harmony in their evil-doings—their vulgar, gross denial of the genocides of Asia Mnior’s Christian population, their repression of the Kurdish resistance, their involvement in judicial scandals (Turkey has the highest number of political prisons in the world), in human rights violations of every kind, in public racism and discrimination, in the prisons where life becomes hell for the inmates.
The disintegrating state apparatus
Now, let’s take a short look at what happened: On Dec. 17, 2013, the İstanbul police detained 47 people for their involvement in corruption and bribery. The names of the detainees created a stir: they included the sons of three cabinet members, Muammer Güler, the Minister of Interior, Zafer Çağlayan, Minister of Economy, and Erdoğan Bayraktar, Minister of Environment and Urban Planning; Mustafa Demir, the mayor of the district municipality of Fatih (known for the much-debated “urban renovation project” that left thousands of Roma homeless); as well as a number of prominent businessmen, including the Iranian-Azerbaijani Raze Zarrab and Süleyman Aslan, the general manager of the state-run Halkbank. Newspapers have also reported that Egemen Bağiş, the Minister of European Union Affairs, may be a potential suspect of bribery related to businessman Reza Zarrab.
The police reportedly confiscated some $17.5 million used for bribery during the investigation; $4.5 million came from Aslan’s residence, and $750,000 from the Interior Minister’s son’s home. Prosecutors accused 14 people, including 2 sons of cabinet members, of corruption, fraud, money laundering, and smuggling gold. On Dec. 21, the court ordered their arrest. Reports indicated that a new investigation would be held on Dec. 26 involving Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s sons, Bilal and Burak, as well as certain al-Qaeda affiliates from Saudi Arabia, such as Yusuf Al Qadi and Osama Khoutub. But police officers in the Istanbul Security Directory, newly appointed by the government just a few days prior, reportedly refused to carry out the orders of arrest. The deputy director of public prosecutions also didn’t approve this new operation. The man behind this second investigation, Prosecutor Muammer Akkaş, was dismissed on the same day. Akkaş said he was prevented from performing his duty.
A few days later, on Jan. 7, the police force was purged, and the positions of 350 police officers were changed, including chiefs of the units dealing with fraud, smuggling, and organized crime.
The public’s amazing state of numbness
The only good thing in this show is the possibility that the Turkish people, still loyal to their “father state,” may take one tiny step towards doubting the morality of the entire mechanism that dominates their life. With each new scandal, the Turkish public is shocked at the extent of the corruption revealed. Yet, it always falls back into an everlasting state of oblivion, forgetting that corruption seems to be an integral part of the establishment.
The republican history is full of scandals that tell stories of large-scale irregularities, embezzlement, and abuse. Not very long ago, in 1996, the famous “Susurluk Accident,” during the peak of the armed clashes between the PKK and the Turkish army, had prompted many to believe that nothing would be the same again. The car crash victims included the deputy chief of the Istanbul police department; a member of parliament who led a powerful Kurdish clan serving as the paramilitary armed support of the Turkish army; and the leader of the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves, who was a contract killer on Interpol’s red list.
The scandal had revealed the close relations between the government, armed forces, and organized crime in a wide variety of unlawful activities that ranged from drug trafficking, gambling, and money laundering to extra-judicial killings and gross human rights violations in the Kurdish provinces. Although then-Interior Minister Ağar, who was shown to be closely involved with outlawed gang members, and then-Prime Minister Çiller, who led the state-sponsored assassinations, resigned after the scandal, no one received punitive sentences. Ağar was eventually re-elected to parliament as a leader of the True Path Party (DYP), and the sole survivor of the crash, chieftain Sedat Bucak, was released. In short, the perpetrators escaped justice. A number of Susurluk investigators subsequently died in car accidents suspiciously similar to the Susurluk car crash itself—two in 1997, and one in 1999.
The corruption that gave birth to Turkey
Nothing—no restructuring of the state apparatus, no reformulation of the founding values of the government, no enlightenment on the part of the Turkish public—came from this outpouring of immense filth that lay deep beneath the surface.
Corruption forms the very texture of life in Turkey, because corruption is the initiator, the founder, the very reason for its existence. Less than 100 years ago, it was founded on the massive plunder of Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian property, and the unlawful transfer of their wealth to the state and to the local Muslim population.
Since then, since this tremendously large-scale theft, embezzlement, fraud, and corruption, we in Turkey all live on a vast land of sticky, stinky swamp, bubbling continuously, emitting nauseous vapors, fuming sickening smoke and, from time to time, creating small volcanoes that throw up the age-long filth the swamp has struggled to keep inside.
Parliament is now (as of Jan. 12) debating a government-proposed bill that would strengthen the Justice Ministry’s hold on a council that appoints judges and prosecutors and oversees their work. Opinion makers, academics, and politicians are on TV heatedly protesting (rightly) that this would put an end to the already feeble independence of the judiciary system.
The judicial system and denialism
From the start, the judicial system in Turkey was designed to serve denialism—the denial of the founding essence of the Turkish state, the genocide, the suppression of all opposition. It was the High Court of Appeals that, in 1974, decided that the minority foundations’ “1936 declarations”—given at the request of the government to record the immovable properties they presently possessed—should be considered to be the foundations’ charters and, therefore, unless it was clearly indicated that the foundation could acquire new immovables, acquisitions made after the declaration had no legal validity. So hundreds of immovables acquired by foundations after 1936 (by way of donation or passed on by elderly non-Muslim individuals, as they were once sources of income of the non-Muslim communities’ churches, hospitals, orphanages, cemeteries, and schools) were seized by the state. What was unbelievably unlawful in this decision was that these foundations of non-Muslim citizens of Turkey were referred to as the institutions of “foreigners”! Such is the lawlessness practiced by the highest body for justice in this country.
The swamp is sticky and contaminates everything that it comes into contact with. The recent scandal that led to a wide-scale cabinet reshuffling broke out during the so-called “peace process” between the PKK, the armed organization of the Kurdish liberation movement, and the Turkish government. While generally, individual Kurds and some prominent local officials in the Kurdish provinces display an honest and conscientious attitude towards Armenians’ demands for genocide recognition, recently one of the top-level Kurdish leaders, a woman, Bese Hozat, made anti-Armenian, anti-Greek, and anti-Jewish statements, causing great disappointment and resentment among democratic forces in Turkey.
In an interview with the Kurdish Firat news agency about the “parallel state” (a trendy phrase nowadays to refer to the Islamic Fethullah Gulen movement), Hozat said: “The Jewish lobby, the nationalist Armenians and Greeks are such parallel states. Such parallel states are in touch with one another and have interests from each other. Parallel states do not have formal and constitutional rights. It seems they do not have troops either, but they have an organized and a strong structure and they hinder the efforts for democratization in Turkey.”
It was only a couple of weeks before that Rupen Janbazian, in the Armenian Weekly, wrote how he was deeply impressed by his visit to Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd. “What is interesting, however, was that nearly a century after the genocide began, the descendants of those Kurds not only accepted our delegation in Dikranagerd with open arms, but actually apologized, time and time again, for the part some of their ancestors had in the genocide—something Armenians across the world wish to hear from the government of Turkey,” he said. “Hospitality is a trait Armenians have been known to value for millennia, but what we experienced in our six days in Dikranagerd was something I had, quite unfortunately, never felt in Armenia nor in the Armenian Diaspora, not to that extent, anyway. These people, who I had heard only negative things about from so many of my compatriots, were not only taking us to all the sites of Armenian civilization and culture in the city, but were giving us the factual, unadulterated history behind these places.”
The only hope for a ‘Good Guy’
Were Bese Hozat’s words an answer to Rupen Janbazian? No, this discourse has its roots in the original corruption, the initial one—the genocide and its denial, the one that gave birth to the still-fuming swamp that contaminates everything, even the politics pursued by the most radical opponent of the present Turkish state, the PKK.
These words reflect the dirty politics that the PKK leadership is itself caught up in, in this fight between the two bad guys, believing it has to choose the one that will maintain official power for the sake of the “peace process,” which will mean nothing if the original corruption is not revealed, recognized, and compensated.
These words also reflect the Turkish state’s biggest fear: the possibility of mutual understanding and cooperation between the politically involved Armenians and Kurds. The PKK leadership is forced to give into the government’s demands for a concession by declaring that it will not challenge the official Turkish thesis on the Armenian question.
But these words do not belong to the people of Dikranagerd who welcomed Janbazian. Here is how Janbazian described them in the Armenian Weekly: “One would assume that a stadium full of Kurds who don’t understand Armenian would be bored, uninterested, and ultimately indifferent—especially since we were speaking as representatives of a people who once called these lands ‘home.’ Yet, we witnessed the exact opposite that day. As I read out loud what we had written in the Western Armenian dialect of my forefathers, the audience watched and listened attentively. It almost seemed like they understood everything I said.”
It is clear that the politically conscious sections of the Kurdish people are far ahead of the PKK leadership, which is more interested in gaining ground in the negotiations behind closed doors than adhering to the ideal of justice.
The emergence of a “good guy” in this disgusting action film will depend on whether or not the movement for recognition from below can become strong enough to challenge the denialism that spews from the swamp of corruption.
Ayse Gunaysu is a professional translator, human rights advocate, and feminist. She has been a member of the Committee Against Racism and Discrimination of the Human Rights Association of Turkey (Istanbul branch) since 1995, and was a columnist in a pro-Kurdish daily from 2005–07. Since 2008, she writes a bi-weekly column, titled “Letters from Istanbul,” for the Armenian Weekly.